PROVIDENCE — In Rhode Island, there are about 600,000 Catholic worshippers served by 240 priests, with 134 priests in active ministry and 106 retired throughout the Diocese of Providence. Communities benefit greatly from a committed priest, someone who is the “right fit.” Father John Soares, the pastor at St. Thomas Church in Providence, has found that special bond with his parishioners.
A winding journey led Father Soares to the tight-knit community at St. Thomas, where he has served for the past 11 years.
Father Soares grew up in Warwick as the fourth of five boys who all attended Warwick Public Schools. His family was active at St. Rita’s Church where he served as an altar boy and went on to became a lector, religious education teacher, and also becoming involved with St. Rita’s Catholic Youth Organization (CYO).
“I had always thought about the priesthood but I was waiting for that big voice of God to call me,” Father Soares said.
Father Gerald Beirne, his pastor at St. Rita’s, was a guiding influence in his decision to join the priesthood. Father Soares was urged to attend a retreat for men who were considering joining the priesthood.
“Once I was there, I realized God doesn’t use His big voice, but rather the voices of others!” Father Soares exclaimed.
He was officially ordained on June 13, 1992, and was ready to find a community where he could passionately spread the word of God while connecting with parishioners on a deeper level.
Before reaching his current home of St. Thomas, he spent 12 years as the Catholic chaplain at the University of Rhode Island, assistant pastor at Christ the King Church in Kingston and served as the diocesan Scout chaplain for both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
As a priest who was involved in CYO and Scouting, Father Soares is sensitive and troubled by the news about abuse scandals around the country.
“My prayers are always for the victims, especially if the abuser hurt their relationship with God,” Father Soares said. “No one should use God as an instrument of fear.”
Since 1993, the Diocese of Providence has been at the forefront of protecting children from abuse. The Office of Compliance established a strict reporting and investigating process that was in place nearly 10 years before the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops formalized procedures to protect children in 2002. Bishop Thomas J. Tobin also formed the Advisory Board for the Protection of Children and Young People which meets regularly to discuss ways to strengthen the Diocese’s protection policies.
“I believe the diocese has done a very good job of protecting children in the last 2 decades,” Father Soares said. “Many of the cases we hear on the news or read in the paper are older cases that are resurfacing. This does not make them any less difficult, and we need to reach out to those victims and assure them of the church’s support.”
Father Soares has peace of mind knowing that all of his employees at St. Thomas Regional School completed Safe Environment Training and employ proper boundaries with children at the school. He spends as much time as he can interacting and imparting knowledge upon the children in his parish.
“I wish I could clone myself so that I could spend more time at the school interacting with the students, faculty and staff,” he noted with a laugh. “I very much enjoy working with kids.”
Father Soares realized that he was placed in the perfect parish for him when his mother passed away recently.
“The number of folks who attended her wake and funeral, who sent Mass and sympathy cards has been amazing in this tough time,” he added. Father Soares was proud to share that a recent new staff member at St. Thomas remarked that “she’s never seen a parish like this one, it’s much more like a family.”
With the rest of his life ahead of him, Father Soares is “joyful” of his tenure at St. Thomas and excited to be invited into and trusted with the most important parts of people’s lives — performing marriage ceremonies, baptisms, first Communions and helping to shape their children’s religious education experience.