The Portuguese Mutual Association of Our Lady of Light, Inc. celebrates its 115th anniversary
FALL RIVER – Tucked away in a quiet Fall River neighborhood on Somerset Street, the Portuguese Mutual Association of Our Lady of Light, Inc. may go unnoticed by some, but it’s celebrating 115 years of existence.
“We are the oldest Portuguese mutual aid society in Massachusetts and one of the oldest in the country,” said association secretary Victor Nóbrega.
To mark this historic milestone, the organization’s ranch-style headquarters filled with members and well-wishers last Sunday to pay their respects to its former trustees and deceased members, award scholarships, celebrate their Saint – Spirit and share a meal of traditional Holy Spirit soup and roast beef.
“We bring this hall to life and still do a lot of things even if we are not always very visible in the community,” Nóbrega said proudly, while noting that the association has undergone challenges and changes over the years. years, but has adapted and struggled despite the vicissitudes.
The organization was established in 1907 by a group of Portuguese immigrants with the aim of providing death and sickness benefits to its members. Since many of its founders were from the Azorean town of Fenais da Luz on the island of São Miguel, the association was created under the patronage of Our Lady of Light.
“The death benefit could not exceed $500, depending on the number of members,” association treasurer Esmeralda Hermenegildo explained, noting that the payment at the time was calculated on $1 per member with a maximum of 500. members.
“The health benefits were $10 a week,” she pointed out. “These amounts are small by today’s standards, but it was a lot for these families before Social Security existed.”
At one time, the society had its own section at Notre-Dame Cemetery, where Avenue Notre-Dame de la Lumière still exists to this day.
The organization no longer provides health benefits, but continues to provide death and sickness benefits to its members.
“We can offer benefits of up to $10,000 at a fraction of the cost of a larger business organization,” Hermenegildo pointed out. ” We are doing very good. If all of our members died today, we could pay all of their benefits…twice the number of our members in fact.
At the same time, the company continues to focus its efforts on solidarity, in particular by providing assistance to people in need.
Over the years, the PMA of Our Lady of Light has also been linked with other local organizations, including the band Our Lady of Light and a brotherhood of the Holy Spirit.
Although the Philharmonic Band is an independent organization today, it owes its creation to society and still bears the same name.
In the 1970s, when Luís Costa was president of both organizations, it was discovered that the property of the association belonged to both organizations and that if one of them ceased to exist, its members would not be entitled to their share of assets.
Consequently, the Our Lady of Light Society Recreation Association was formed to administer the property, and it still manages the Somerset Street property and a single family home as an investment property.
Since its inception, the company has been hosted in different locations. Until 1967 the meeting place was St. Michael’s Club, located at 63 Webster St. It then moved to 129 Pitman St., but returned to St. Michael’s Club in 1970.
Two years later, it moved to 220 County St. until a deadly fire in 2006 destroyed the building when members of the Our Lady of Light Society were praying in preparation for a celebration of the Holy Spirit. Four people were killed and at least a dozen were injured.
Despite the great pain and deep scars caused by this tragic event, the company managed to stay strong, moved to the current location and continued to strive for goodwill with its sights on the future.
“We want to continue moving forward with a firm footing, worthy of our ancestors,” Nobrega said.
In 2006, Our Lady of Light Scholarship Foundation Inc. was founded. Scholarships are awarded each year to students of Portuguese ancestry.
On Sunday, scholarships were awarded to Morgan Ledo, who is studying mechanical engineering at Roger Williams University, and Colin Hargraves, a finance student at Stonehill College.
The company has supported many events and initiatives of interest to the Portuguese community over the years. Between 1977 and 1982 went so far as to make part of its facilities available to the Portuguese Consulate in New Bedford for the benefit of decentralized consular services.
The company has received numerous prestigious awards and citations from the Portuguese government as well as national and local authorities. Among several of its treasures, one can find a rare flag of the Portuguese monarchy.
Although the society has weathered the storms and stayed true to its goals, its current president, Jon Caetano, noted that, similar to what is happening with other local social and civic organizations, it is increasingly becoming more difficult for the organization to achieve the objectives that its founders set for themselves. .
He said one of his main goals is to attract and engage more young people in the activities of the society to ensure its longevity.
“I am an immigrant who came here in 1984 from S. Miguel,” he told O Jornal. “It was a pleasant surprise to see that Portuguese culture was so alive at the time. Thirty-eight years later, I see that the number of cultural initiatives has fallen sharply.
A retired veteran who served 22 years in the US Navy and fought in two wars, Caetano said he feels American first and foremost, but is also a proud Portuguese who loves the culture of his country.
“As a Portuguese-American, I want to keep our Portuguese culture alive for as long as possible,” said Caetano, who came to the United States when he was 15. He has been involved with the company for approximately 30 years and served as president for two and a half years.
“It is important to maintain our culture and our friendships,” he concluded.
For more information on the PMA of Notre-Dame de Lumière, call 508-679-8676.
Lurdes C. da Silva can be contacted at [email protected] To read more stories about the Portuguese-speaking community in English and Portuguese, please visit ojornal.com.