BRISTOL — Father Marinaldo Batista, CSP, was the pastor of St. Elizabeth Church in Bristol for a little over two-and-a-half years. But in that short time, the Brazilian-born priest made an impact in his parish and the surrounding community.
“He was known in town,” said Father Henry Zinno, the pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Bristol.
The news that Father Batista, 53, died from COVID-19 complications on April 1, Holy Thursday, “came as a shock” to the Bristol community, Father Zinno said.
“He was a wonderful priest,” Father Zinno said. “It’s a sad loss for our town and for St. Elizabeth’s.”
Father Batista, a priest-member of the Company of Saint Paul, had traveled to Brazil earlier this year to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his priestly ordination and to visit his elderly parents, who had been wanting to see him for quite some time, parishioners said.
While in Brazil, Father Batista’s parents and his brother became ill with COVID-19. In late February, Father Batista posted a video on Facebook Live, asking for prayers for his hospitalized father. At the time, his mother and brother were quarantined at a walk-in clinic. He was quarantined separately.
“The public health system in Brazil has collapsed,” Father Batista said in the Feb. 28 live video. Both of his parents subsequently died from the disease last month.
Father Batista himself was hospitalized after testing positive for the novel coronavirus in early March. He had been in the intensive care unit of the Santa Casa de Campo Mourão hospital since March 9.
“We’re devastated, absolutely devastated,” said Marie Mauricio, a member of the St. Elizabeth’s finance committee and treasurer of the parish Holy Rosary Sodality.
Mauricio said “thousands of people” over the last several weeks had been praying for Father Batista’s recovery. “We believed that God would warrant a miracle for him, to send him back to us,” she said. “He’d been doing such amazing work at our parish in the short time that he was here. We really wanted him to come back and finish what he started.”
Father Batista was installed as pastor of St. Elizabeth Church in August 2019. He had previously served as the pastor of Portuguese-speaking Catholic communities in Canada.
“God created him to be a priest, and it was on the feast of the priesthood, Holy Thursday, that he was called home. And on Good Friday, the day Our Lord the high priest died and was buried, so was Father Marinaldo,” said Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans of Providence, who concelebrated Mass at St. Elizabeth Church on Easter Sunday.
With a framed picture in the sanctuary of Father Batista holding a monstrance, Bishop Evans told the faithful that while they could grieve, they were not to feel sorry for Father Batista himself since he had now achieved his life’s calling.
“He has been called home as a faithful priest of God to be with him forever,” Bishop Evans said.
“In our Easter joy, let us remember that. Yes, we are sad for one another, but we must always remember, in gratitude, the work he did here and now we pray and hope he has been called home as a good and faithful servant who reaped the rewards of his labors.”
Posts on the St. Elizabeth Parish’s Facebook page indicated that Father Batista was buried in his family’s tomb, located in the city of Mariluz, Brazil; his hometown.
Mauricio had been in touch with Father Batista by phone, and last spoke with him a couple of days before he was hospitalized in early March.
Before he was admitted to the ICU, Mauricio said Father Batista told her he was experiencing some COVID-like symptoms, and that he believed he had contracted the virus. He was not overly concerned, though, and said he had no underlying medical issues.
“He always said, ‘I’m okay if something happens to me because death isn’t final,’” Mauricio said.
“He was such a people person. We’re all devastated. We’re in shock still.”
Father Batista was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Campo Mourão in December 1995. In Brazil, he served as a parish priest and as rector of the Major Seminary of Nossa Senhora de Guadalupe in Campo Mourão before studying for his master’s degrees in philosophy and theology in Rome.
In 2005, Father Batista moved to Canada to minister to the Parish of Nossa Senhora de Fatima, a Portuguese-speaking community in the Archdiocese of Edmonton. He served in that role until 2013, when he returned to Brazil and was appointed administrator of a parish in Campo Mourão.
Father Batista returned to Canada in 2014. There, he joined the Company of Saint Paul, a secular institute, though he remained incardinated with the Diocese of Campo Mourão. As a member of the institute, he was invited to minister to the Portuguese-speaking community of St. Elizabeth’s in Bristol.
“During his time at St. Elizabeth’s Church in Bristol, Father Batista gained the love and admiration of his parishioners and residents in the community. Father Marinaldo was devoted to improving his beautiful church and committed to providing support, hope, and guidance through the faith in God,” Steven Contente, the town administrator in Bristol, wrote on the St. Elizabeth’s Facebook page.
John Rego, the chairman of St. Elizabeth Church’s finance council, said Father Batista was well-liked in the parish.
“We have a diverse group of parishioners, and every group liked him,” Rego said.
“In a short time, he learned everybody’s name. He really took an interest in his parishioners.”
Rego also said the parish benefited from Father Batista’s financial management skills, adding that the pastor managed to encourage local tradespeople to perform needed repairs to the church at a bargain price.
“He saved our church thousands of dollars,” Rego said. “He was always tackling problems. If something needed repairs, he fixed it right away.”
“He was a great person,” Rego said. “He’s going to be deeply missed.”
The St. Elizabeth Parish community will honor Father Batista with a special Mass on April 10, at 11 a.m. Mauricio, of the parish’s Holy Rosary Sodality, said it will be difficult to replace him.
“As a pastor, he was serious about his job,” she said. “He was tough but that’s what we needed in our parish.”