Bishop Evans reflects on his life of ministry

‘No one knows or loves the Diocese of Providence more than Bishop Evans,’ says Bishop Tobin


It’s been nearly three months since the Holy Father, Pope Francis, accepted the resignation of Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans, D.D., J.C.L., on November 23, 2022, but the latter, admittedly, is still not yet fully accustomed to hearing the title “former Auxiliary Bishop” before his name.
Perhaps it’s because, despite what his official status indicates, Bishop Evans has remained active in his ministry since his retirement.
“Much of what I had done as a priest and then bishop I continue to do,” Bishop Evans, 75, said in an interview with Rhode Island Catholic last week on his life in retirement.
“I will continue to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation and assist Bishop [Thomas] Tobin and Coadjutor Bishop [Richard] Henning in any liturgical functions entrusted to me.”
Bishop Evans will also assist at parishes if requested and, together with local clergy, will continue to be available to provide emergency pastoral care for Catholic patients at Kent Hospital, in Warwick.
For two or three days each week he will continue to maintain an office at the diocesan chancery, albeit a much smaller one than he had occupied at the other end of the second floor for the 13 years of his episcopacy.
“I think that what I will miss most is trying to be of service to my brother priests of the Diocese of Providence,” Bishop Evans said.
As auxiliary bishop his primary responsibility was to serve as Secretary for Ministerial Services and Director of Priests Personnel, which entailed working with the Priests Personnel Committee in order to suggest to Bishop Tobin priestly assignments.
“There were a number of occasions when we assisted priests who were in difficult circumstances or needed particular attention. In this capacity, I like to think we reflected Our Lord’s commission to Saint Peter to strengthen his brothers,” Bishop Evans said.
“There is no vocation without its trials and difficulties, but a vocation is nevertheless God’s choice of how he wants us to serve him in this life. And God doesn’t make mistakes. He gives us the grace of perseverance provided we are sufficiently humble to accept the help proffered.”
Among the more high-profile events he oversaw during his episcopacy, Bishop Evans was tasked with organizing the ad limina visits to the Holy See for the bishops of New England in 2011, when the prelates met with Pope Benedict XVI, and then in 2019, when they met with Pope Francis. He called these events “truly memorable.”
During the visits, the bishops visited many of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, where each was free to express any concerns they had while curia officials presented any that they had.
“Such occasions remind us that the Catholic Church is truly a universal family of believers struggling to build the Kingdom of God as best we can,” Bishop Evans said.
Bishop Evans was appointed to serve as titular bishop of Aquae Regiae and auxiliary bishop of Providence by Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 15, 2009. Two months later, on Dec. 15, 2009, he was consecrated to the episcopacy by the Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, D.D., in the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, becoming the seventh auxiliary bishop in the history of the Diocese of Providence.
Assisting Bishop Tobin as co-consecrators were Providence Bishop Emeritus the Most Rev. Louis E. Gelineau, D.D., J.C.L., S.T.L., for whom Bishop Evans once served as priest secretary and master of ceremonies, and the Most Rev. Salvatore Matano, J.C.D., a former Diocese of Providence vicar general and moderator of the curia who was then serving as bishop of Burlington, Vermont, now of Rochester, New York.
At his consecration, Bishop Evans smiled humbly in the glow of admiration as the audience of more than 1,200 people filling the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul broke into applause.
“The ministry of a bishop, as well as that of a priest, is not measured in terms of achievements or successes but is understood only in the language of faith, hope and love,” Bishop Evans said when Pope Benedict XVI appointed him in 2009.
On November 23, 2022, the day Bishop Evans’ retirement was approved by the Holy Father, and the same day that the Most Rev. Richard G. Henning, D.D., S.T.D., was announced as the new Coadjutor Bishop of Providence, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, noted that the moment carried mixed emotions for him, and surely for all faithful in the diocese.
“I have known Bishop Evans for more than 50 years since we were seminary classmates. And for almost 50 years now Bishop Evans has served the Diocese of Providence as a priest and, in the last 13 years, as a bishop,” Bishop Tobin said in a press conference in the cathedral hall.
“No one knows or loves the Diocese of Providence more than Bishop Evans and we are all deeply grateful for his ministry. He is deeply loved and highly respected in this diocese.”
Bishop Tobin, who himself will turn 75 on April 1 and submit to the Holy Father his own intention to retire, said he was pleased that Bishop Evans would continue to serve in his ministry, offering prayerful support and liturgical and sacramental assistance. Whenever the pope accepts his resignation and he officially retires, Bishop Tobin will be immediately succeeded by Bishop Henning.
On January 26, during a Mass of Reception for Bishop Henning at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, the Most Rev. Christophe Pierre, D.D., J.C.D., apostolic nuncio to the United States, also took the occasion to congratulate former Auxiliary Bishop Evans on his recent retirement, and to honor him for nearly 50 years of ministry as a priest and bishop in the Diocese of Providence.
“Bishop Evans thank you, and may God bless you with good health; enjoy your retirement,” the papal nuncio said.
Bishop Henning said that he has enjoyed the opportunity to share in fellowship with Bishop Evans since his arrival in the diocese.
“One of the great gifts in coming to the Diocese of Providence has been the opportunity to befriend Bishop Robert Evans,” he said. “His sense of humor, fraternal charity and personal witness are a daily blessing to me. I also rely on his good judgement and deep knowledge of the Diocese of Providence. I am very grateful that even in retirement he remains full of zeal for the mission!”
Bishop Evans told Rhode Island Catholic that he has been very pleased to have served with Bishop Tobin, and it is fitting that both are “finishing the race,” in their daily ministries at about the same time.
“Bishop Tobin and I were classmates at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, both of us being ordained on different dates in 1973 for different dioceses. Bishop Tobin has made no secret that he has fought the good fight and is finishing the race. I believe he has been an extraordinary shepherd, pastorally, doctrinally and administratively,” Bishop Evans said.
“He can move into the next phase of his life with his head held high and his sense of humor intact. However, about his rooting for a certain sports team, I won’t comment,” he added, jokingly referring to Bishop Tobin’s penchant for promoting his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers over the New England Patriots at every opportunity.
As for the future of the Diocese of Providence, Bishop Evans says that the faithful will be in very capable hands with their new shepherd.
“I am greatly impressed with Bishop Henning. He has a deep academic background but is motivated primarily by a genuine pastoral concern for priests,” he said, noting that as an auxiliary bishop, Bishop Henning was entrusted with a ministry similar to his in working with the priests in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, and for the People of God.
“I think the faithful of the Diocese of Providence will find in him a gentle, articulate and dedicated shepherd who is willing to commit wholeheartedly to serving in this corner of the Lord’s vineyard.”
Reflecting on the entire 50 years of his ministry, since he was ordained to the priesthood in 1973, Bishop Evans said the Catholic Church has faced many challenges.
“Chief among these are the scandals resulting from the abuse of minors,” Bishop Evans said.
“The justifiable need to maintain boundaries between adults and children has resulted in an understandable distancing in the interaction between youth and priests.”
He described another challenge as being the so-called “liturgical wars,” wherein the form of the celebration of Mass is “often the result of a conviction among some priests that certain liturgical forms are preferable, and these forms are foisted upon the faithful with an implicit judgment that they are the only genuine way to worship.”
A final challenge affecting not just the Diocese of Providence, but the Catholic Church throughout the Northeast and Upper Midwest of the United States is the significant population shift that has necessitated the merging of parishes, exacerbated by a decline in priestly vocations.
“On the other hand, the Catholic Church in what used to be called the Bible Belt is booming,” he observed.
As for his own future now that he has retired, Bishop Evans said that he wants to make the most of the free time he has now that his calendar is a bit more open.
“I have formulated no concrete plans regarding my future, but now that my schedule permits, I would like to visit friends and classmates throughout the United States. Some of my closest priest and lay friends are no longer with us and I don’t want to miss the opportunity now afforded me.”