A common goal of the Portuguese who settled in Taunton and throughout Southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, was to keep their heritage alive. In the last post we that celebrating Festa was one way to do that.
Today we see a resurgence of the Festa and indeed a revival.
Back in the late 50's, and even before, there was another example of maintaining and increasing Portuguese cultural identity. For a certain group of Portuguese Americans the Coimbra Club of Massachusetts and Rhode Island did just that. I acknowledge the great help of Carolyn de Sousa who was treasurer of Coimbra from 1971-1973. Carolyn supplied me
with personal anecdotes as well as written history of the organization.
with personal anecdotes as well as written history of the organization.
The Coimbra Club was named for Coimbra University in Portugal. Coimbra University in Lisbon has an illustrious history. Considered a cultural icon, it was founded in 1290, now the oldest continuously operating university in the world. Interestingly, Coimbra is a public University.
The founding members of the Coimbra Club in Southeastern New England, among whom many Tauntonians were numbered, decided that their organization would be educational in nature. It would study the Portuguese culture in depth which would define their membership criteria . They would delve into historical ancient Portuguese philosophy, writings and art.
The eliteness of the Club in no way diminished the wisdom and gracefulness of others of Portuguese descent in the area. Although they required two years of formal post-high school education for membership, their Board was authorized to use equivalency discretion. One had to be of Portuguese heritage for membership, of course and had to be sponsored by two members.
Membership was voted on by the Board.
Like the round table dinners hosted by Father Louro at St Anthony's in the early to mid 1900's members of the Coimbra Club met to forge relationships among those with similar backgrounds.
( See The Art of Gracious Living, May 8, 2014 post on the Blog for more on Father Louro's dinners).
The Coimbra Club was an extension of the Portuguese classes at Ivy League Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Specifically, it was an outgrowth of the University Extension Division taught by Belmira E. Tavares. Several times a year the class would get together for dinner. Finally, at Sunderland's in Tiverton in 1957, they decided to formalize their gatherings. The name Coimbra was chosen since many members, including Ms. Tavares, attended Coimbra. The first President of the Coimbra Club, Dr. Correia-Branco, had graduated from there.
Belmira E. Tavares was from Fall River, MA. She was first a school teacher, then a school principal and created her classes at Brown University. She was the author of Portuguese Pioneers in the U.S. published in 1974. It is still being used today for historians and genealogists. The book focused on 7 parishes in the Fall River area and their families.
The original organizers of the Coimbra Club were:
Atty. Aristides Andrade : I knew Attorney (Aris) Andrade, he was a neighbor of ours on School St.
He passed away too young at the age of 54 years in 1964. Married to the indomitable Emma Andrade, he was the City Solicitor at the time.
Atty. Andrade is pictured here at a Fuller School function with Principal Sophia Dupont,
another member of the Coimbra Club. This puts a Village touch to the Club.
Other organizers: Dr. Rose Borges, Miss Mildred Braga, Dr. Joseph C. Carvalho, Miss Alice Clemente, Dr. Raymond R. Costa, Miss May Escobar, Mr. and Mrs. Williston Hobert, Mr. John Lima, Mr. and Mrs. Fernandes Lopes, Miss Pauling Luis, Miss Estelle Machado, Miss Laura Nobrega, Miss Mary Oliveira, Mr. Louis Rocha, Miss Cecilia M. Rose, Mr. William R. Silva, Mrs. Helen Sylvia, Dr. Othilia Veira, Dr. and Mrs. Gilbert Vincent, Miss Mary Viveiros and Joseph Fernandes.
The last name in this roster, Joseph Fernandes, deserves special attention. Born in Madeira, he lived many years in Norton, MA and is one of the luminaries of the Taunton/Norton area who highlighted the achievements of Portuguese Americans. Joseph Fernandes was a name I often heard growing up. We were so proud of this outstanding man.
Mr. Joseph Fernandes graduated from Boston University in 1947, later earning an Honorary Doctorate from Stonehill College in N. Easton, MA. He distinguished himself as a Navy Lieutenant in World War II and was awarded the ETO-Battle Stars Presidential Unit Citation. He exemplified the quintessential Portuguese American immigrant whose talents flourished in the U.S.
Active in his successful business, he was at the same time deeply involved in the Portuguese American experience. Proud of his heritage, he :
* was President of the Portuguese Times and the Portuguese Cable Channels
which served 65 communities ,
*received the Peter Francisco Award in 1966 (do you know who Peter was?
Find out in an upcoming post). \
*received the Order of Prince Henry Society's Man of the Year in 1995,
Joseph Fernandes 1923- 2007
Active on the International level he was appointed by President John F. Kennedy as Special Consultant for the State Department's Alliance for Progress at Puente Del Este, Uruguay.
Joseph Fernandes was awarded the Bicentennial Salute to Leadership Award by Secretary of the Treasury William Simon in 1976, The Leadership Award by President Ford and the Prime Minister's Award Medal from the State of Israel.
He was one of the original founders of the Coimbra Club, founded the Portuguese American Foundation, was chair of the Portuguese Cultural Foundation, chaired the Portuguese Cultural Foundation, was honorary President of the Portuguese Cultural Union, and President of the Association for Development of the Catholic University of Portugal.
Scholar, entrepreneur, statesmen, Portuguese American and gentleman extraordinaire. A
wonderful example of the membership of the extraordinary Coimbra Club.
Another distinguished member of the Club was Ret. Lt. Col. Rudolph (Rudy) de Silva, once Mayor of Taunton and a former POW in the Korean War. Rudy spent 23 years in the Army and his service also included the Vietnam War. He was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor,
the Army Commendation Metal and the Purple Heart.
There are many other distinguished members of the Coimbra Club. I just am not aware of them...will you share if you do? The Village was well represented. We have mentioned Atty. Andrade and Sophia Dupont. Also, friend and Fuller School classmate high school teacher,
Cecilia Mendes Rodier must be included in the list.
Coimbra Club Insignia
The Club met four times a year, members often attending with their spouses (who did not have to be of Portuguese descent). They met at venues all over Southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. They sometimes met at the Fernandes Compound in Norton, MA .Their programs included Fado artists from Portugal, for example.
School teachers and principals as well as a superintendent, lawyers, business men and more gathered to augment their Portuguese heritage. Don't you wish that you could peek back in the past at gatherings such as this and listen and learn and be astonished? Researching this topic, as well as so many others, I am struck once more of the impact Portuguese Americans had on so many fronts.
Not only from the Village where I grew up, but as part of the Greater Taunton experience. A small Village, a small City, a plethora of strong people nourished by their cultures, excellent teachers and school system, and by their faiths.
As its members aged, the Coimbra Club membership diminished
and finally the organization disbanded.
Writing this blog is such an honor for me. Uncovering the accomplishments of those I write about, which are so often hidden. Writing about those who went beyond their known horizons to reach distant goals is a joy.
Gratitude is due to those who have fed this blog, growing it with their willingness to share our heritage. Contributors such as Carolyn de Sousa with this blog post and others. Of course, our incredible Village and Taunton historian Arlene Rose Gouveia takes prime place.
What would I do without you?