PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Bishop Emeritus Robert E. Mulvee, D.D., J.C.D., 88, died Friday, Dec. 28, at St. Antoine Residence, North Smithfield, following a brief illness.
“Bishop Mulvee was a good and gentle shepherd of God’s people. He was a faithful follower of Christ who served the Church with dignity and compassion. Please pray for the peaceful repose of his soul, and for the consolation of all those who mourn his loss,” Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, the eighth bishop of Providence appointed by St. Pope John Paul II in 2005 to succeeded him, said in a statement.
Bishop Mulvee served as a shepherd in the Diocese of Providence for 10 years, beginning in 1995, when he was named by the Vatican to serve as coadjutor to then-Bishop Louis E. Gelineau.
After serving alongside Bishop Gelineau for two years, in 1997 he became the seventh Bishop of Providence. His episcopal motto, “As One Who Serves,” epitomized his lifelong commitment to the teachings of Jesus Christ and his church.
From 1999 until 2005, when Bishop Mulvee retired, Msgr. John Darcy served as his vicar general, chancellor and personnel director.
“Bishop Mulvee was such a delight,” said Msgr. Darcy, who now serves as pastor of St. Margaret Parish in East Providence, on the bishop’s passing.
“We had many opportunities for private conversations about the diocese, about the priesthood, about seminary formation. He was such a wonderful bishop to the priests; he really knew them and cared for them very, very deeply. That was his greatest attribute I would say.”
Known for taking a pastoral approach to matters, Bishop Mulvee often visited the infirm and provided comfort to those who experienced a loss in their lives. This was especially notable during the infamous Station Nightclub fire in February 2003, a tragedy that claimed the lives of 100 concert-goers in West Warwick, Rhode Island.
As a shepherd, Bishop Mulvee displayed much reverence for the sacraments, especially matrimony and holy orders, commemorating the many years that married couples remained committed to each other by offering special Masses in their honor, and also in presiding over the Holy Hour for Vocations on the eve of ordinations to the priesthood.
In the mid-1980s, a full 15 years before the standard for dealing with clergy sexual abuse matters was announced in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2001 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, Bishop Mulvee was known for implementing a zero tolerance approach to clerical sex abuse.
He took a strong pastoral approach in meeting with those who said they had been abused in the past.
“It was part of the scene and I dealt with it. I met with the victims,” he told Rhode Island Catholic in a 2017 interview as he marked the occasion of his 60th anniversary as a priest and 40th as a bishop.
In October 2000, he showed a special devotion to the Blessed Mother, honoring her by leading 400 faithful from across the diocese on a three-night pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the Holy Year.
Less than a year later, when the terrorist attacks of 9/11 hit very close to home, Bishop Mulvee celebrated a Mass at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, offering his unwavering support for his friend and fellow shepherd Bishop Kenneth Angell, who lost his brother David and sister-in-law Lynn on American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to be flown by terrorists into the World Trade Center.
He was also known as a true friend and mentor to many pursuing a priestly vocation at the Seminary of Our Lady of Providence, a holy place where his presence was often felt. In addition to visiting the seminary on holy days and to lead Holy Hours, Bishop Mulvee would also make it a point to visit on other occasions, even just to connect on a social level to see how his future priests were doing.
Retiring in 2005, Bishop Mulvee split his time between Providence and South Florida, spending winter seasons in a climate which he said added years to his life by allowing him to remain active when the mercury plummeted in New England.
“He loved being in the warm weather and the sunshine and getting pool therapy for his leg and his back,” Msgr. Darcy said of the way that Bishop Mulvee preferred to treat some of his ailments over the years. “He was enjoying that very, very much.”
In retirement, Bishop Mulvee continued to assist the diocese by presiding over pontifical ceremonies and confirmations.
In 2017, Bishop Mulvee was honored by the Diocese of Providence with a Lumen Gentium award in the category of Administration and Stewardship in recognition of his lifelong dedication to the Church and his service in the diocese.
Humble Beginnings in Boston and New Hampshire
Born in Boston on Feb. 15, 1930, Robert Edward Mulvee, the son of the late John F. and Jennie T. Mulvee, was considered a late vocation because he didn’t discern a life of priestly service until he was in high school.
He entered Newman Prep School for one post high school year to compensate for not having studied Latin earlier.
It was during this time that a visit to the school and talk from then-Cardinal Richard Cushing encouraged him to follow the path that led him to where he is today.
“We have more priests in Boston than we’ll ever need,” Bishop Mulvee told Rhode Island Catholic, recalling the cardinal's message to the students. “You won’t become a pastor of your own parish until you’re in your 60s. Go to a diocese that needs you.”
Heeding the advice, which his fellow classmates did as well — with not one of his classmates going on to study for the Archdiocese of Boston — the young Mulvee prepared for the priesthood at Saint Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, Connecticut; Saint Paul Seminary at the University of Ottawa, Canada; and the American College at the University of Louvain in Belgium.
He was ordained for the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, on June 30, 1957 at Louvain.
"I was ordained in Belgium at Louvain with only my one brother present,” he recalled of his ordination day.
“You didn’t come home for ordination; you were ordained right at the seminary.”
Over the next several years he would serve at a number of parishes in the Granite State before returning to Europe for graduate study.
In 1964 he completed his doctorate in Canon Law at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome and also received a master’s degree in religious education from the University of Louvain. Later that year, he was named assistant chancellor of the New Hampshire Diocese and began a career in which he held numerous diocesan and parish positions.
In 1966, Saint Pope Paul VI named him a papal chamberlain with the title of monsignor.
On April 14, 1977, at the age of 47, he was ordained at St. Joseph Cathedral as the first auxiliary bishop Manchester.
Bishop of Wilmington, Delaware
After serving for eight years as an auxiliary bishop in Manchester, Bishop Mulvee was installed in 1985 as the seventh Bishop of Wilmington, Delaware.
The next 10 years in Wilmington would be some of the most active and exciting years of his ministry.
He served for part of that time as board member with Catholic Relief Services, traveling to some of the most far-flung outposts around the world. It was during this time that met St. Teresa of Calcutta.
Reading like a chapter from a spy novel, Bishop Mulvee recounted a trip he took on behalf of the organization to post-war Vietnam.
It was a period of instability in which he had to trade his U.S. passport for an Irish one, with the permission of State Department authorities, so that he could visit local churches in Saigon to determine how they were faring under communist rule.
Ditching their government minder by telling him that they would be celebrating Mass together in the church for 90 minutes, Bishop Mulvee and his the local priest offered a shorter Mass then proceeded into a small side chapel to discuss church business in private.
When he asked the priest what he needed to serve his congregation, the priest replied money, but was doubtful that anyone from the outside could get that to him.
Hearing this, Bishop Mulvee smiled and produced a thick money belt he had been told to wear on the trip and handed it to the priest. It was filled with $100 bills.
“He cried when he saw it,” he remembered.
During his time with CRS he also visited Vladivostok, Russia, bringing goodwill wishes from the people there directly to Pope John Paul II, with whom he met at the Vatican a couple of days later, as well as India, on two occasions.
Back in Wilmington, he enjoyed serving as the shepherd of one of only a handful of dioceses in the nation whose territory overlaps parts of two states.
“It was a unique experience which I loved,” he recalled, despite sometimes having to fly from one part of the diocese to the other and also holding dual ceremonies, such as two Chrism Masses, two Christmas Masses.
He also developed a close rapport with then-Senator Joe Biden, who lived in Wilmington. Biden, who would go on to become vice president, was a longtime parishioner in the diocese.
“He would come over for breakfast,” Bishop Mulvee recalled, noting how Biden would call first to ask if he were having coffee and if so, ask him to put two cups on so they could discuss church and world issues around the kitchen table.
In 1995, after serving a decade as shepherd in Wilmington, Bishop Mulvee came to the Diocese of Providence where he would serve for the next decade, until the age of 75, when Saint Pope John Paul II accepted his letter of retirement on March 31, 2005.
Bishop W. Francis Malooly, the ninth and current bishop of Wilmington, issued a statement on the passing of Bishop Mulvee.
“We are saddened to learn of the passing of our friend, brother, and predecessor, Bishop Robert Mulvee,” Bishop Malooly said. “I had the pleasure of working with Bishop Mulvee as part of the Maryland Catholic Conference while I was serving in the Archdiocese of Baltimore during his ten years tenure as Bishop of Wilmington. The people of this diocese had a great affection and admiration for Bishop Mulvee, and he loved and cherished them."
“He was a dedicated and faith-filled leader who will be greatly missed. I join the Catholic community of Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore in sending our heart-felt condolences to Bishop Tobin and the Catholic community of Rhode Island during this time of shared loss.”
In addition to his work with Catholic Relief Services, where he served as chairman of the Human Resources Committee, Bishop Mulvee was active on boards and committees including the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C.; Providence College; Salve Regina University; Saint John XXIII Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts; and the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C.
In Providence, Bishop Tobin called for prayers at the passing of Bishop Mulvee.
“Grant we pray, almighty God, that the soul of your departed servant Bishop Robert Mulvee, to whom you committed the care of your family, may enter into the eternal gladness of his Lord. Amen.”
Funeral arrangements are as follows: Reception of the body will be on Wednesday, January 9, 2019 at 3 p.m., at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, Providence. Visitation will follow in the cathedral until 7 p.m., followed by evening prayer at 7 p.m. A concelebrated Mass of Christian Burial will be offered on Thursday, January 10, 2019 at 11 a.m. in the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, Providence. Burial will follow in St. Ann Cemetery, Cranston.
Any donations in memory of Bishop Mulvee can be made to support either the diocesan homeless shelter Emmanuel House, or to The Most Reverend Robert E. Mulvee Endowment Fund for the Education of Seminarians:(c/o Stewardship and Development Office,1 Cathedral Square, Providence,R.I.,02903.
This story will continue to be updated.