Father Mike loved and was well loved. A true Priest and Pastor. More than exemplary of our Faith, he embodied it.
Longtime Mount Carmel pastor Bafaro man of action, conviction in WorcesterBy Bill Doyle
Telegram & Gazette Staff
Posted Dec 4, 2019 at 8:16 PM
WORCESTER – Worcester Community Cable Access Executive Director Mauro DePasquale remembers driving down Main Street with the Rev. Michael P. Bafaro more than 20 years ago and noticing the vacant Home Federal Savings Bank.
DePasquale told Bafaro, who was president of WCCA’s board of directors at the time, that the former bank building would make a much better home for the community television station than the organization’s cramped, low-ceiling studio in the basement of the Northworks Building on Grove Street and jokingly asked him to say a few novenas.
Soon afterward, Bafaro arranged for WCCA to purchase the building.
“It turned out that he was friends with the owner,” DePasquale recalled.
The building remains WCCA’s home and a studio is named in Bafaro’s honor.
“He could work with people,” Bafaro’s brother, Vic, said from his home in Mesa, Arizona, “and get things done. He was friendly, outgoing and he would pull strings if he needed to because he knew everybody.”
Vic Bafaro remembers his brother telling him if people told him he lacked the money to do something, he’d insist that Divine Providence would help pay for it.
After being ill for several years, Bafaro, longtime pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel-St. Ann Parish, died at 92 at St. Vincent Hospital on Thanksgiving Day.
Bafaro was born and raised in Worcester and graduated from Classical High School. He planned to join the Air Force, but while delivering newspapers a neighbor leaned out a window and told him he should become a priest and he did. After serving as a curate at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in East Millbury and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, he told then-Bishop Bernard Flanagan that he felt the calling to become a missionary. Coincidentally, just a few minutes earlier Bishop Flanagan had received a letter from Rome asking for volunteers to become missionaries in Peru. Bafaro taught himself Spanish and worked for 12 years in Peru.
He returned to Worcester in 1976 as coordinator for the Spanish Speaking Apostolate for the Worcester Diocese and spent the rest of his priesthood advocating for the Latino community.
Retired Worcester Juvenile Court Judge Luis Perez will eulogize Bafaro at his funeral at 11 a.m. Thursday at Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Our Lady of Loreto Parish on Massasoit Road. They met when Perez was 11 and he played basketball at Mount Carmel and they became closer after Bafaro became the Spanish Apostolate.
“He became an instant leader within our community,” Perez said, “because he spoke out on many issues that were confronted with the Latinos here back then.”
Bafaro was a founder of the Centro Las Americas, a nonprofit, multicultural social services organization on Sycamore Street today known as CENTRO, and he received the organization’s first lifetime achievement award. Perez remembers Bafaro insisting that night that his work wasn’t done.
Bafaro also chaired the Affirmative Action Committee of Worcester and received the Eleanor T. Hawley Award from the city’s Human Rights Commission.
“He very much understood part of the role as a parish priest and a diocesan priest,” Bishop Robert McManus said, “is to have influence on the common good of our society. So the idea of people saying a priest should stay in the sacristy or just concern himself with the parish Masses … He certainly took care of his parish, but he also saw the priestly ministry as extending into other areas of public life. I think he took a great satisfaction in that.”
Bafaro served as pastor of Our Lady of Loreto Church for two years and at Our Lady of Mount Carmel-St. Ann Parish for 22 before retiring from active ministry in 2007, long before Mount Carmel closed, was torn down and merged with Our Lady of Loreto.
“He wouldn’t have allowed that,” DePasquale said.
Bafaro founded the Pro Deo Club of Mount Carmel, was instrumental in the construction of the Mount Carmel Apartments for low-income and handicapped persons, and initiated an addition to the parish center to house the Italian-American Cultural Center.
“He was a visionary,” DePasquale said, “and he saw that people in the parish were getting older. So he fought very hard to use some of the parish property for the elderly so they could be close to the church.”
Bafaro hosted more than 100 episodes of a show on WCCA TV called “Our Neighborhood,” in which he interviewed local people, even the homeless.
“On his TV show,” said his good friend, Monsignor Francis Scollen, pastor at St. Peter’s Church, “he’d interview people and ask them a question and then answer it for them. It was hilarious. We used to tease him. He was a real character.”
Bafaro wrote about his experiences in Peru in his book, “Stand Tall, Be One: My Life as a Radical Priest.” He fought to better the lives of his parishioners despite resistance from the government and militia groups. One night he woke up to see a gun pointed at his head, but he refused to be deterred.
People who knew him agreed that he could be a radical in a way.
“He was radical,” Perez said, “because he was pushing things within the city and the church to open up the doors of opportunity for people. It wasn’t just in saying Mass. He went out and spoke against the Vietnam War, he spoke against the oppression of people. He did not stand still. He wanted Worcester to be a better place for all of us, just not a few. I think he succeeded on many occasions.”
“He just went against the system all the time,” said Joan D’Argenis, longtime director of religious education at Mount Carmel. “He did what he wanted to do, what he believed in. If he believed in it, he didn’t back down. He’d fight to the very end.”
Bafaro believed in equality for everyone, D’Argenis said.
Monsignor Stephen Pedone, pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Our Lady of Loreto Parish, used to be an altar server for Bafaro at Mount Carmel.
“He had a lot of energy,” Pedone said. “He really rallied for the underdog. He was at center of the vortex, he was like a tornado. Larger than life, but he could be stubborn. If he wanted something, no was not an option, but he was a good man.”
Scollen remembers Bafaro fittingly singing “My Way” at the 50th anniversary celebration of his priesthood.
He never turned down anyone who asked for help.
“It didn’t matter if he knew you or not,” recalled Anna Gentile, 83, a longtime Mount Carmel parishioner, “if he had only a dime in his pocket, he’d give it to you.”
He also had a way of speaking to people.
“Whenever I spoke to him,” DePasquale said, “he would bring God into the picture. He made you feel like God was right there listening in or he was just upstairs and he was going to come down any minute.”