PC, St. Pius community make 90th birthday extra special for neighborhood woman

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PROVIDENCE — In the entryway of the home that her family has lived in since 1939, Mary Garvey sat in her wheelchair on a warm Sunday in May with her grandson Robert and his wife Sarai Vanner smiling by her side. It was just moments before that she learned she would soon be greeted with a very special surprise to celebrate her 90th birthday.

Within moments of Garvey peeking around the corner of her front door, dozens of cars lined the street, slowly parading by one-by-one, in front of her house — and then turning around to say “hello” once more. Familiar faces honked their horns and held signs out their sunroofs, Many waved and blew kisses out the window — all wishing their friend a happy 90th birthday.

While a formal birthday party with her beloved friends was out of the question, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, that did not stop loved ones from marking Garvey’s milestone with a social-distanced celebration.

Garvey, who has lived in the Smith Hill neighborhood all of her life, was born on May 3, 1930, to her Irish immigrant parents Peter and Annie Dolan. The connection to her neighbors in the Providence College and St. Pius Parish community — barely a block away — has formed strong bonds and wonderful friendships. It was these dear friends that made up most of the birthday parade.

When Dr. Holly Taylor Coolman, assistant professor of Theology at PC, realized Mary would be coming to such an important milestone, she knew they had to do something. 

 “In many ways, I would describe Mrs. Garvey as the heart of the neighborhood and parish. We want her to know that we have not forgotten her now.”

Garvey has been a member of Saint Pius V Parish since 1939 and is a proud graduate of St. Pius V School. In 1946, she married Francis Garvey at St. Pius V; they were married for 48 years until Francis’ passing in 1994. In her years as a parishioner, she has headed the St. Pius School Alumni organization, spearheaded the parish Club Dominicana for over 20 years, and was honored with the St. Pius V School Veritas Award in 2003 for her many years of service to the school.

Garvey and her family also have deep ties to Providence College. She worked briefly in the Admissions Office and the Residence Life Office until 1978, when she became the administrative assistant in the Theology Department (formerly called the Religious Studies Department). In 2017, Garvey was awarded the college's Torchbearer Award for distinguished service to the college.  

Her two brothers also graduated from PC and her father was one of the first security guards on campus after having been a Providence policeman for 26 years. Garvey’s daughter, Anne, is a PC graduate.

In her 39 years of service to the Theology Department, Garvey brought a wonderful spirit of service and hospitality to students and faculty alike and was loved by all, said Dr. Gary Culpepper, associate professor of Theology at PC, who helped to organize the birthday parade.

“Mary is a very loved member of the St. Pius and PC community and has made an extraordinary impression on many people throughout her life,” he shared. “She is a woman of real Catholic faith, who has extended herself in generous service to so many. Everyone who heard of the idea was excited to participate, as they would want to do more for Mary but realize that we are all limited at this time.”

Garvey’s grandson Robert and his wife Sarai expressed their deep appreciation for all who visited and all who helped to plan such a special birthday for their grandmother.

“Robert and I are grateful to the community and especially Mr. Culpepper for setting it all up. It was a beautiful gesture and Grama was very surprised and touched,” Sarai said.

Following the parade, Garvey told Rhode Island Catholic how moved she was to have so many wonderful visitors pay her a visit.

 “I was thrilled. They are all such thoughtful people. Those are all PC people and their families, plus my pastor and parish. It was very nice. It was a complete surprise and so much fun.”