By RICK SNIZEK, Executive Editor

Bishop Evans remains 'a priest of the Lord'


MOULTRIE, Ga./PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Driving through Southwest Georgia, as Rhode Island Catholic did last summer, it takes a little effort to reach the small town of Moultrie, which is located about 20 miles west of I-75, a little more than an hour from the Alabama border. The town of about 14,000 is named after William Moultrie, a military captain and patriot in the American Revolutionary War.
But taking the back roads is worth the effort as the quaint community rewards intrepid travelers with a picturesque downtown lined with charming shops and restaurants. In its center, the iconic and architecturally pleasing Colquitt County Courthouse looms over the town square. With its distinction of being situated in the heart of the best agricultural county in Georgia, Moultrie evokes an overall family-friendly feel.
It is on this land that the future seventh auxiliary bishop of Providence was born.
Robert Charles Evans was born in Moultrie to the late Ivey Evans and Lolita (Baldisseri) Evans on Sept. 2, 1947.
Although young Robert Evans would only reside here for the first six months of his life before the family moved to Providence’s Federal Hill, the small-town values of faith, humility and hope would forever remain imbued in the future prelate.
He grew up on “The Hill,” raised on the second floor of a triple decker at 19 Spruce St. He was a member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish and attended Providence public schools before going on to graduate from Our Lady of Providence Seminary High School in 1965. Throughout, he would make friendships that have stood the test of time.
Diocesan Vicar for Finance and Planning Msgr. Raymond Bastia has known Bishop Evans for 65 years, since both were altar servers at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church.
“We’ve known each other for a long, long time,” he said of Bishop Evans. “His pastoral devotions have always been well-known. His kindness to people, his openness and his sometimes-self-deprecating humor – all have been hallmarks of his career.”
“His genuine care for people has always been noticed and admired in him and he’s given many years of service here,” Msgr. Bastia said of his longtime friend and brother priest.
In addition to serving Mass together at their home parish, the two also attended the same schools through seminary, but as contemporaries, with Bishop Evans being one year senior.
Bishop Evans earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Our Lady of Providence College Seminary, in Warwick, in 1969, and was assigned by Bishop Russell J. McVinney to the Pontifical North American College in Rome, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in sacred theology in 1972 from the Pontifical Gregorian University. The following year, he earned a master’s degree in theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum).
When Bishop Evans was ordained to the priesthood in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, by Bishop James A. Hickey on July 2, 1973, Msgr. Bastia, who still had one more year of study before his own ordination, received one of his first blessings the following day.
In 1973, then-Father Evans was assigned as assistant pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Westerly and in 1974, was appointed assistant pastor of Holy Angels Church in Barrington and chaplain at Roger Williams College in Bristol. In the summer of 1978, he served as assistant chaplain at both Rhode Island Hospital and Roger Williams Hospital in Providence; then in September 1978 as assistant pastor of St. Lawrence Parish in North Providence. In 1979, he was assigned to St. Mark’s Parish, Cranston as assistant pastor.
Bishop Evans began his service in diocesan administration when he was appointed administrative secretary to Bishop Louis E. Gelineau in December 1983. In 1987, he was assigned to advanced studies in canon law in Rome. In 1989, he was awarded a licentiate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University. Returning to the Diocese of Providence that year, he served as vice-chancellor with residence at St. Margaret’s Parish, Rumford. In June 1991, he was appointed pastor of St. Anthony’s Parish in Woonsocket, chancellor of the Diocese of Providence and director of the Office of Priests Personnel.
He was named a Prelate of Honor by Pope John Paul II in 1993 with the title of Reverend Monsignor. From 1992-1997, he was resident at St. Joan of Arc Parish, Cumberland, and later in residence at Our Lady of Mercy Parish, East Greenwich. In 2001, Bishop Robert E. Mulvee released Msgr. Evans to serve as director of the Institute for Continuing Theological Education and as a faculty member at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
From 2005 to 2007, he served as secretary at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C., and in February 2007, he served as pastor of St. Philip Church in Greenville and adjunct faculty member of the Seminary of Our Lady of Providence.
On October 15, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI named him auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Providence. Two months later, on December 15, 2009, the Most Rev. Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, D.D., consecrated Bishop Evans at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul as Evans’ dear mother, Lolita, looked on lovingly from the front pew.
Bishop Tobin delivered the homily, explaining that a bishop is anointed to be a prophet “imbued with the Word of God and commissioned to preach that word to the Church and the world.”
The Word of God is “sometimes comforting, sometimes directing, and sometimes challenging, and should be preached fearlessly and boldly, in season and out of season,” he said.
One of the most poignant moments of his episcopal consecration came when Bishop Evans’ dear mother, Lolita, reached out and lovingly touched her son’s hand as he tenderly touched her cheek while processing out with his crozier in hand at the end of the Mass. She displayed such profound joy for her son.
Two years later, on July 28, 2011, Lolita passed away at the age of 89.
“I was pleased she was able to attend the Mass of Ordination since she had just been released from the hospital and as it turned out was readmitted shortly after my consecration,” Bishop Evans recalled.
“I know that she was very happy that day, being surrounded by family and friends. At Bishop Tobin’s suggestion, I placed the Chrism-infused zucchetto I wore at my consecration in her coffin — just a little something for her to present at the Pearly Gates!” he said, with his usual touch of upbeat humor, making what would normally be a sad remembrance a little less so.
In December 2019, Bishop Evans marked the 10th anniversary of his episcopal consecration, expressing his own humility at having been chosen for the office.
“First and last, I remain a priest of the Lord, not through any merit of my own, and surely not as a career choice,” he said. “I believe that each and every priest can witness to the Lord’s own words that we have not so much chosen him as he has chosen us.”
On Sept. 2, 2022, his 75th birthday, Bishop Evans offered his resignation to the Holy Father, as required by canon law.
“His fidelity to the church, his fidelity to the faith and to the Holy Father — all of those things have been hallmarks of his episcopate. His assistance to Bishop Tobin and his loyalty to the bishop has always been paramount and evident,” Msgr. Bastia said.
“His vision has always been to embrace the people of the diocese and to offer them his ministry. To offer them his care, his respect, his love. All of those things you can trace back into his years of service in the diocese.”
The Most Rev. Salvatore Matano, J.C.D., bishop of Rochester, is a native son of Providence who has known Bishop Evans since his days at Our Lady of Providence College Seminary, before both went off to Rome for their priestly formation.
“He has a very keen mind. He’s very intellectually competent, very well-versed in theology, an excellent Canon lawyer with many different attributes to endear him to others. He’s very pastoral in his work. He always makes himself available and reaches out to everyone,” Bishop Matano told Rhode Island Catholic in an interview.
“In seminary, he always was a very affable person, very kind and very considerate of others. From the earliest days you could see in him clear leadership skills.”
Bishop Matano and Bishop Evans, who is one year his junior, both were also called to serve at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C.
“I know that cooperative spirit that has always been a part of his ministry and certainly will continue for the benefit of the bishops and for the benefit of the diocese and its faithful,” he said of the continued service Bishop Evans will give to the diocese.
The Most Rev. Robert J. McManus, S.T.D., bishop of Worcester, has known Bishop Evans from the time he returned from the seminary in May, 1977, to be ordained a transitional deacon. The two had a number of priest friends in common and soon became good friends.
In September 1984, Bishop Emeritus Gelineau sent then-Father McManus to Rome for graduate studies. When he returned from Rome in June 1987, then-Father Evans was assigned to return to Rome where he had studied as a seminarian at the Pontifical North American College.
“When he returned from Rome in 1989 with his J.C.L., he and I worked together for a number of years in the Diocesan Office Building. In February 1999, when I was ordained auxiliary bishop of Providence, then-Msgr. Evans was kind enough to serve as master of ceremonies of the ordination ceremony,” Bishop McManus told Rhode Island Catholic.
“Bishop Evans is a ‘Man of the Church’ who has served the Diocese of Providence very well as a priest and an auxiliary bishop, and he has done so with deep faith, a keen intellect and an engaging and pleasant personality. I pray that Bishop Evans will enjoy much happiness and good health during his retirement. Ad multos gloriosque annos, Bishop Evans.”
Diocesan Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia Msgr. Albert A. Kenney, said that he has been well-served by Bishop Evans’ vast experience as a man of God.
“Bishop Evans lives the Joy of the Gospel. He truly thinks with the mind of the Church,” Msgr. Kenney said.
“I have profited from his wisdom and years of experience. Bishop Evans has served the Church in a variety of roles — including challenging and delicate matters — and always kept smiling. Our diocese has been richly blessed by his episcopal ministry. I will miss his daily presence at the office but will hold dear the lessons I have learned from him.”