From the Friday, June 7, 2024 Issue

On May 25, the Most Reverend George W. Coleman, who faithfully served as the Seventh Bishop of Fall River from July 2003 to September 2014, died at Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River, where earlier in the week he had undergone surgery. He was 85 years old. 

In announcing his death, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., who succeeded Bishop Coleman, said, “While we mourn his passing and will miss him dearly, we are also consoled by the promise of the resurrection, and the certainty that he, a good and faithful servant of the Church, will be rewarded for all the good he has done in this life, and will be our new intercessor in heaven.”

Bishop da Cunha is asked that all join him in prayer for the eternal repose of his “beautiful soul and for the consolation of his family, friends, clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Fall River.”

In December of this year, Bishop Emeritus Coleman would have observed his 60th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. He was recognized for this significant milestone at the diocesan Chrism Mass in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fall River this year during Holy Week.

It was in that same cathedral where he was ordained a bishop and installed as the leader of the Diocese of Fall River on July 22, 2003. That began an 11-year tenure of dedicated, faithful, humble, and competent ministry as he worked to fulfill the many responsibilities of being bishop. He retired at the age 75, as required, and was succeeded by Bishop da Cunha on September 24, 2014. In retirement, while able, Bishop Emeritus Coleman continued to serve the Diocese, often assisting with parish Masses.

His appointment to the episcopacy came as he was serving as administrator of the Diocese of Fall River following the transfer of then Bishop Sean P. O’Malley, OFM Cap. to the Diocese of Palm Beach in Florida in the fall of 2002.

A native of the Diocese, he was born in Fall River on February 1, 1939, the son of the late George W. and Beatrice K. (Shea) Coleman, and raised in Somerset, along with one sister, Eileen, of Milford, Mass.

He graduated from the former Msgr. James Coyle High School in Taunton in 1957 and then attended Holy Cross College in Worcester. He prepared for the priesthood at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton and at the North American College in Rome, where he also earned a graduate degree in sacred theology from the Gregorian University.

He was ordained a priest in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on December 16, 1964.

His first assignment was as parochial vicar at St. Kilian’s Parish, New Bedford, where he served from 1965 to 1967. He was then assigned to minister in the same capacity at St. Louis Parish, Fall River, until 1972, and from there to Our Lady of Victory Parish, Centerville, until 1977.

He was then appointed to direct the Diocesan Department of Education, a post he held for eight years, overseeing Catholic schools, parish religious education and campus ministry programs in the diocese.

In 1982 he also became pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Fall River.

He left both posts in 1985 to become pastor of Corpus Christi Parish in Sandwich, where he served until 1994. From 1990 to 1994 he was dean of the Cape and Islands Deanery.

In August of 1994, Bishop O’Malley reorganized the administration of the Fall River Diocese and appointed then Father Coleman to the position of Vicar General and first Moderator of the Curia.

Later that same year he was named by Pope John Paul II to the rank of Prelate of Honor with the title of Reverend Monsignor.

On October 22, 2002, he was elected to serve as Administrator of the diocese by his peers on the College of Consultors following Bishop O’Malley’s transfer.

At a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated in August 2014, a few weeks before his retirement, Bishop Coleman recalled in his homily that shortly after becoming bishop, he received a letter from a third grader who expressed his hope that the new job would be “fun.” Bishop Coleman continued, “It has been fun, only surpassed by the ever-deepening joy of being Christ’s instrument” in the Diocese.

Father Riley Williams, pastor of Holy Name Parish in Fall River, had a special bond with Bishop Coleman and has many fond memories of their time together. 

‘‘I first met then-Monsignor Coleman when I was in high school: he gave me my diploma from Bishop Stang while he was diocesan administrator, and shortly thereafter accepted me as a seminarian. I remember one time, reading my seminary evaluation that noted the importance of physical fitness, he said, ‘You know, there are some who would say that I’m not one to talk about exercise…’ and I didn’t know whether it was safe to laugh or not!

‘‘As I got to know him better, under his quiet exterior I came to know Bishop Coleman as a sincere and committed Christian. He felt the weight of the responsibility that rested on his shoulders, and always, according to his capacity and ability, sought to respond to needs as best he could. In particular, he wanted to help bring healing to the wounds caused by sexual abuse by the clergy.

‘‘I really came to know him best when he retired and lived in my home parish’s rectory in Osterville. There I saw the joy with which he embraced returning to parish life, and the people at my home parish still remember him with great affection. He was also a frequent visitor at Corpus Christi in East Sandwich, where he had been pastor and I was then assigned as Fr. Harrison’s assistant. Once, at the closing of the Year of Mercy, he was giving Holy Communion to the servers, and I saw him stop. When I went over to him, he said, as cool as a cucumber, ‘I think this server has fainted!’ – and, sure enough, a ten-year-old server has fainted right into him, and he stood there to support him until I could come and assist”.

As with many priests in the Diocese from an earlier generation, Monsignor Barry W. Wall met the future bishop in the 1950’s working at summer camp.

‘‘Back then, seminarians of the Diocese served as counselors at our two summer camps, Cathedral Camp and St. Vincent de Paul Camp. Many enduring friendships among our priests were formed at camp.

‘‘I met George Coleman at Cathedral Camp in 1959. He had completed two years at the College of Holy Cross and was preparing to enter St. John’s Seminary College in Boston. 

Usually, on the day the camp season came to an end, the seminarian counselors went to Lincoln Park to celebrate. When I was less than eager to get on the roller coaster, George said, ‘It has to be safe, its on a rail’. He was a railroad train enthusiast all his life.

   ‘‘While he was serving as Vicar General, and Moderator of the Curia under Bishop O’Malley,  we would go on short trips to destinations in this country. Cardinal Sean has always been quick to acknowledge the wholehearted support he had for Bishop Coleman.”

When Bishop da Cunha was appointed in Fall River, the transition in leadership was seamless. 

‘‘When I became Bishop, he stayed away completely. He respected that I was the Bishop and when I consulted, he would be helpful with information, but he never told me what to do.’’

‘‘It was a gentle, humble and respectful way of not wanting to make his previous experience as Bishop my way of doing things. He was  professional and respectful of proper protocals, and let me do things my way,” Bishop da Cunha said.

In addition to his sister, Eileen Keegan, he is survived by one nephew, Christopher Keegan and his wife Diana, two great nephews, Matthew and Patrick Keegan all of Milford, MA, and cousin Cindy Day of Falmouth.

A wake and Vigil service for Bishop Coleman took place on Thursday, May 30, at St. Mary’s Cathedral. A Mass of Christian Burial for him was celebrated on Friday, May 31, also at St. Mary’s Cathedral.

At least 13 bishops from dioceses in New England attended Bishop Coleman’s funeral.

The homily was given by the Very Rev. David Pignato, secretary to Bishop Coleman for four years.

‘‘As we commend the noble soul of Bishop Coleman to the great mercy of God, we have the consolation of knowing that he lived his whole life for Jesus Christ.

‘‘And his faith inspired the choice of his Episcopal motto, Dominique Sumos.

”He believed with great conviction that the Paschal mystery explains the reality of our lives and he lived with hope in the resurrection and the gift of eternal life that Jesus Christ offers to those who are faithful.

‘‘I never heard Bishop Coleman speak of the sacrifices that he had made and was continuing to make for God. Instead, I heard him speak often to all that God has done for him by inviting him to be a priest and then a bishop,” Father Pignato said.

The video of the Mass of Christian Burial has been posted on the diocesan YouTube channel. Please visit

Donations in Bishop Coleman’s memory may be made to the Diocese of Fall River Clergy Retirement Fund, c/o Chancery Finance Office, 450 Highland Avenue, Fall River, MA 02720.

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