September 1 has brought change to the clergy assigned to serve our Parish, as it did in numerous parishes in the Archdiocese. “Move Day,” as it has come to be known in the Archdiocese of Boston, has been June 1 for the past 10 years or so. This year it is September 1 because, like everything, it was delayed due to the pandemic. 

Last year, the Catholic Community of Billerica bid gratitude and farewell to Fr. Shawn Allan, and welcomed me on June 1. This year with grateful hearts we bid farewell to Fr. Hal Obayashi and welcome Fr. Jean Sassou (Archdiocese of Garoua) as our new Parochial Vicar.

Fr. Hal faithfully served the Catholic Community of Billerica for six years (give or take a few months) during its first years of collaboration. I know that I speak for Fr. Shawn in expressing our gratitude for Fr. Hal’s ministry in his years in Billerica. I particularly appreciate Fr. Hal’s advice and guidance in my first year in Billerica, and his fraternity and friendship (along with the other resident clergy) during the “stay at home” period of the pandemic.

As we previously announced, after a few months of down time to address some health maintenance, Fr. Hal will accept a new assignment from the Cardinal. He will continue to reside here until he begins his new assignment. Normally we would have given Fr. Hal a proper send-off, but due to the pandemic restrictions, we are not able to at this time. I am sure he would be happy to receive your expressions of blessings, gratitude and good wishes in a note or email. Perhaps when we are again able to gather socially, Fr. Hal might be able to come to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving with us. Until then, we send him forth with blessings of health and happiness in his future ministry.

Fr. Jean Sassou is in no way a stranger here in Billerica, as he has resided here and assisted us for over a year, while serving as the chaplain at Tewksbury State Hospital. In addition to all of that, Fr. Jean has been working toward his Doctorate in Scripture Studies. While he enjoyed his ministry at Tewksbury State Hospital and found it to be very fruitful, in mid to late winter Fr. Jean and I began talking about an opportunity to return to parish ministry.

When I proposed that possibility to the Archdiocese, I was delighted that they were open to considering Fr. Jean for ministry here in Billerica. Fr. Jean brings unique gifts to his ministry at Saint Matthew. Fr. Jean is a native and citizen of Cameroon in western Africa. A priest of the Archdiocese of Garoua, Fr. Jean hails from a young, growing, and vibrant Church. (The Archdiocese of Garoua is less than 100 years old.)

Fr. Jean’s love for the Lord and His Church, coupled with his gentle pastoral presence as he cares for the people of God, will be a welcome gift to our community. Knowing that English is his second language, Fr. Jean is well aware of his accent – and of our accent as well. Therefore, let us acknowledge that and enter a mutual understanding and commitment to make the effort to become accustomed to each other. Fr. Jean enjoys sports (I am told he can be a bit competitive) especially Soccer and Basketball, and he is an avid Celtics Fan. It is an honor and privilege both personally and as a parish community to welcome Fr. Jean’s ministry to Saint Matthew Parish.

– Father Paul J. Aveni, Pastor