Rare papal honor bestowed at cathedral Sunday

Hon. Thomas J. Caldarone Jr., presented for investiture into hallowed Order of St. Gregory the Great

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PROVIDENCE - The Honorable Thomas J. Caldarone Jr., 89, a retired associate justice of the Rhode Island Superior Court, has become the first person in 20 years to be invested by the Bishop of Providence in the Order of St. Gregory the Great, a high papal honor.

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Caldarone, who served on the bench for 10 years, and has been very active in his home parish of the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, as well as faith and civic-minded groups across the state, was invested during morning Mass at the cathedral Sunday by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, who nominated him for the Vatican honor.

“This is a rare and privileged recognition that is given to outstanding and faithful Catholics by the Holy See, by the Vatican,” Bishop Tobin said.

“He is indeed, without a doubt, a distinguished gentleman who has lived his faith in his personal and his public life as a very faithful and lifelong and generous Catholic,” he said of Caldarone. “He is a wonderful and great example to all of us, so we are all very proud of him today and congratulate him.”

The Order of Saint Gregory the Great was founded by Pope Gregory XVI in September 1831 for the purpose of honoring loyal and well-deserving citizens of the Papal States. Today the title of Knight of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great is bestowed on persons who distinguish themselves for outstanding virtue and notable accomplishments on behalf of the Church and society.

Diocesan Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia Msgr. Albert A. Kenney, presented Judge Caldarone to Bishop Tobin for investiture into the Order of St. Gregory the Great.

“Today, the Church of the Diocese of Providence rejoices as our Holy Father, Pope Francis has bestowed this illustrious honor upon the Honorable Thomas J. Caldarone Jr., for his outstanding witness to the faith of Jesus Christ, his commitment to the Catholic Church, and the building up of the kingdom of God on Earth,” Msgr. Kenney said.

Msgr. Kenney read the official translation of the Apostolic Letter affirming the appointment as a Knight of St. Gregory, which was made based upon Caldarone’s outstanding merits, accomplished for the good of the Church and for the promotion of the Catholic cause.

“As a sign of our benevolence and appreciation, we hereby select, appoint and proclaim you, Thomas J. Calderone of the Diocese of Providence, a Knight of St. Gregory the Great of the Civil Class, and authorize you to enjoy all the privileges attached to this honor. Given in Rome at St. Peter’s, Peter Cardinal Parolin, Secretary of State,” the letter said.

As Caldarone stood before the altar, facing Bishop Tobin, the diocesan shepherd presented him with the symbols of his investiture.

First, he presented to him the medal of the Order, an eight-pointed cross, cast in red enamel, and featuring a medallion bearing the image of Saint Gregory the Great in the center and the words Pro Deo et Principe on the reverse side, hanging from a red ribbon with gold borders. The cross of the civil division is surmounted by a crown of green oak leaves. A bi-cornered plumed hat and a court sword complete the official regalia.

Following the Mass Caldarone took the podium to thank the dozens of invited guests and many others who attended a collation in his honor in the cathedral hall.

“The conferring of this papal honor of knighthood is the most glorious and significant occurrence in my life,” Caldarone said. “I am deeply grateful to our Bishop of Providence Most Rev. Thomas Tobin for his efforts on my behalf to receive this honor.”

“The investing of this knighthood has strengthened my Catholic faith and my desire to emulate the life of this great papal saint. I pursue the doctrine of my Catholic faith with great pride and gratitude.”

Born to Thomas J. Caldarone, a captain in the Providence Fire Department, and Margaret Caldarone in Providence on March 7, 1927, Caldarone, like his siblings, received the sacraments of initiation at his mother’s home church, St. Ann’s, in Providence.

An excellent student, he attended public schools from kindergarten through college. Although he wanted to attend Catholic schools, his family could not afford the tuition. After high school, he joined the Navy and is a Veteran of World War II. He and his fellow sailors had spent time preparing for an invasion of Japan that he says they were fortunate they did not have to launch, given the potential for significant Allied casualties.

Upon his discharge in 1946, he attended the University of Rhode Island on the GI Bill. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering. After a few years working in the engineering field, he enrolled in Boston University Law School and graduated with a Juris Doctorate in 1957. In that same year, he was sworn in as a member of the Rhode Island Bar and was admitted to practice in the United States District Court for Rhode Island.

Over the next few decades, Judge Caldarone, who never married, would develop a talent for both law and politics.

In 1959, he was appointed Legal Counsel to the director of Public Assistance of the City of Providence. In 1960, he was appointed Legal Counsel for the State Department of Social Welfare and in 1961, he was appointed Chief of Legal Services for the same department. At the end of that term, he focused his attention on developing a full time legal practice (Ragosta & Caldarone). In 1965, he was appointed to the Rhode Island Selective Service Board by the late President Lyndon B. Johnson and in 1968 he was appointed as a Governor’s representative of the Rhode Island Consumers Council. In 1975, he was appointed Chief Administrative Officer and Deputy Attorney General of the Department of Attorney General. At the end of his tenure with the Attorney General’s Department, then Governor J. Joseph Garrahy appointed him Director of the State Department of Business Regulations, a position he held for seven years. In 1984, he was appointed Associate Justice of the Rhode Island Superior Court by Governor Garrahy. He served on the bench for 10 years, presiding over some of Rhode Island’s major cases.

In addition to his professional responsibilities, Judge Caldarone was, and still remains active in a variety of Catholic and civic organizations. He is a lifetime member of the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island Order of the Sons of Italy in America. Over the years, he held the offices of president of his local community lodge, grant trustee, grand orator and vice president of the State Grand Lodge.

In 1980, he was awarded rank of Cavaliere in the Order of Merit by the Republic of Italy in recognition of his many cultural, charitable and civic contributions to the Rhode Island community. He served as a member of the Board of Directors of the DaVinci Center for Community Projects; a board member of the Management Committee of the Oak Crest Village Condominium Association, a member of the Catholic Diocese of Providence Social Ministry, a member of the steering committee of the Rhode Island Christian Men’s Breakfast Group and a Eucharistic Minister at the Cathedral of SS Peter and Paul.

James Gilcreast, a past state deputy of the Rhode Island State Council of the Knights of Columbus, has served with Caldarone for years in the Christian Men’s Breakfast Group.

“He’s a wonderful man, devoted to the Church, a fine jurist, an exemplary. It’s a well-deserved honor, and it’s quite an honor,” Gilcreast said.

Also in attendance were Caldarone’s niece, Marguerite Burgess, and nephew, Louis Caldarone.

“I always remember him being part of the Church,” Burgess said of her uncle.

Louis Caldarone said his uncle was speechless — something unusual for the jovial man who delights in striking up conversation wherever he goes — when he learned he had been chosen for investiture.

“He is so proud of this,” he said.

Caldarone