Facing Alzheimer’s with faith

Ontario parish rallies behind longtime pastor who retires after diagnosis

Father John Vieira speaks with a parishioner at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish (image from Inland Catholic Byte)

Father John Vieira gathers with the Portuguese community at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish every Sunday to celebrate Mass in their shared native tongue. 

 Conceived in the Azore Islands and raised among the Portuguese farming community in Ontario, Fr. Vieira takes great comfort in this cultural touchstone. It is also helping him adjust to a daunting new chapter in his life: living with Alzheimer’s Disease.

He had led St. Elizabeth Ann Seton as pastor from 2008 until June, when it was announced in a letter from Bishop Gerald Barnes that Fr. Vieira would be retiring from active ministry to address health concerns related to his early onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis. He is 57 years old.

While St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioners and Fr. Vieira’s brother priests throughout the Diocese were surprised and saddened by the announcement of his diagnosis, Vieira, himself, has adopted a remarkably simple and even upbeat response to his health challenge.

“Things happen. You have to live with it,” he says. “You have to keep on truckin’, doing the things you can do.”

Last Fall he said parishioners began to point out that he was having difficulty locating the correct pages in the Roman Missal during Mass. In early 2018 he consulted with his doctor, and he was eventually diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. He offered his resignation to Bishop Barnes in May.

“I’m sad. He’s still so young,” says Filomena Silvera, a St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioner who sings in the choir at Sunday Portuguese Mass. “He’s a wonderful, humble, kind person. We’re grateful for the years he was here as pastor.”

Another parishioner, Irene Dinis, credits Fr. Vieira with bringing her husband back to the Church. When her husband passed away earlier this year, Dinis told Fr. Vieira he was the priest her husband wanted to celebrate his funeral Mass. Though he was reluctant at first because of his condition, Fr. Vieira agreed.

“He did a beautiful service,” Dinis recalls. “He talked about how involved we were in the Portuguese community.”

Dinis and others who regularly attend and minister at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s Portuguese Mass say they sometimes have to help Fr. Vieira find his place when reading from the Missal at Mass. His presence remains important to the Portuguese community, they say, and there is concern that when he is no longer able to celebrate their Mass it will be cancelled.

Full story at Inland Catholic Byte.

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