PROVIDENCE — The Diocese of Providence’s observance of its 150th anniversary has drawn to a close and the consensus among the hundreds of faithful participating in Sunday’s glorious Solemn Holy Mass at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul was that there couldn’t have been a more soaring and spiritually uplifting way to conclude the sesquicentennial year celebration.
The Apostolic Nuncio (Pope Francis’ official representative to the Church in the United States and to its Government), Archbishop Christophe Pierre, D.D., J.C.D., and more than 15 bishops from across the region — including Archbishop Leonard P. Blair, of Hartford, the Metropolitan See of the Diocese of Providence — were among the honored guests at the June 26 Mass.
The papal nuncio arrived at the cathedral residence from T.F. Green Airport by police motorcade, with the U.S and Vatican flags flying from the fenders of his limousine.
For an hour before the Mass, the Gregorian Concert Choir and Orchestra, conducted by Monsignor Anthony Mancini, cathedral rector, accompanied by Philip Faraone, cathedral organist, filled the cathedral with powerful music.
Under bright, sunny skies, a long procession of honored guests, including members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and Knights and Dames of Malta, followed by diocesan seminarians, permanent deacons, priests, bishops and archbishops entered the cathedral from the square.
At the end of the main aisle, before the altar, several of the nearly three dozen members representing Knights of Columbus chapters from across the diocese formed an honor guard with swords drawn as the procession passed through.
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, the eighth Bishop of Providence, then blessed with incense the tomb of Bishop Thomas Francis Hendricken, the first bishop of the diocese before proceeding to the recently installed marble cathedra.
“Dear brothers and sisters, the Lord has done great things for us, we are filled with joy,” said Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, also on behalf of Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans, echoing the theme of the diocesan sesquicentennial year as he welcomed the hundreds in attendance, including representatives of parishes and schools, diocesan employees, priests, dedicated permanent deacons, consecrated women and men, along with diocesan seminarians, on the historic occasion. “These are the words that bring us together for our solemn celebration today.”
The bishop also thanked his fellow bishops from around the region who traveled to be there, especially the “native sons of the diocese,” who went on to serve as shepherds in other dioceses: Rochester Bishop Salvatore R. Matano; Worcester Bishop Robert J. McManus; and retired Worcester Bishop Daniel P. Reilly.
He then invited all to recognize with applause the sixth Bishop of Providence Louis E. Gelineau, who sat in choir in a wheelchair beside Bishop Reilly.
“He served this diocese so well for over 25 years and has continued to be a source of inspiration and friendship to all of us,” Bishop Tobin said of Bishop Gelineau.
The bishop also extended a special word of welcome to the diocese’s Metropolitan shepherd, Archbishop Leonard Blair, of Hartford, whom he described as a longtime friend.
He then thanked the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Pierre, the Holy Father’s personal representative to the United States, who extended the successor of St. Peter’s blessings upon the Diocese of Providence as he looked back over its history and also forward to its future.
“This occasion is good to realize that we are the local church but also the universal church,” Archbishop Pierre said.
In a lighter moment during his address at the beginning the papal nuncio took notice of the cathedral’s new marble cathedra.
“I’ve been impressed by the beauty of your cathedral; it’s quite a beautiful one. And by the way, I am told that the bishop is sitting in a new chair,” he said to smiles from those in attendance, many of whom were getting their first look at the new, ornate cathedra.
He then spoke of how the chair of the bishop is so important because he is really the shepherd of the local church. In looking through the program booklet before the Mass, he noted how impactful it was to see the names of all those who have shepherded the diocese over the last 150 years.
“To realize how many shepherds have succeeded one another and have led the local church and how each one has a personal story that is accompanied with the priests and the deacons and the religious, and with the members of the local church, it’s a beautiful opportunity today to celebrate what the church has been through in its history and how we build up the church step by step,” Archbishop Pierre said.
But as much as the occasion is one to look back to the founding of the diocese, it’s also just as important to look ahead as well.
“Let us also have a vision for the future, not just the past, not just the tradition,” he said. “We have the responsibility to continue to announce the good news. This is what Pope Francis asks us to do — to go out and announce the good news to the world. So let us give thanks to the Lord because he has been with us and he will continue to be with us through the end of time.”
Bishop Tobin who served as principal celebrant and homilist, said he drew inspiration for his homily from words once uttered by none other former New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady, whom the unabashed lifelong Pittsburgh Steelers fan jokingly described as “one of the great philosophers, one of the astute commentators of our time.”
The bishop said that Brady’s words “We’re still here,” seemed fitting for a retrospective on how much the Diocese of Providence has experienced over the last 150 years.
“We’ve been through the Great Depression, the great recession, the hurricane of 1938, the blizzard of 1978, periods of civil unrest, the steep decline of religious practice, the erosion of traditional moral values, church scandals, and now two pandemics,” he noted.
“We’ve witnessed amazing medical and scientific breakthroughs, the very beginning of flight, the exploration of outer space, the invention of the radio, television and telephone, and the birth of technology that has forever changed the way we navigate the world.”
Putting it all into perspective, Bishop Tobin noted how the past 150 years in the local church pales in comparison to the universal Church that was founded by Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago and built upon the foundation of the Apostles, especially diocesan patrons SS. Peter and Paul.
“Like St. Paul we can boast that we have ‘competed well, we have finished the race, we have kept the faith.’ And like St. Peter we have been clear and consistent in professing our faith in “Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God,” Bishop Tobin said.
He noted how the anniversary served as an opportunity to remember and celebrate all the blessings the Lord has given to the diocese over the years and how he has used the Church as his instrument to serve and bless the local community.
“Like a lighthouse standing strong in the Ocean State, the Church has inspired, educated, healed, sanctified and served countless souls, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, all in the name of Christ. Is it any wonder, then, that throughout our anniversary year, we have proclaimed that “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy!”
“Dear brothers and sisters, as we gather today in solemn prayer and thanksgiving, it is my dream, my hope and my prayer, that someday, perhaps even 50 years from now when this diocese celebrates its 200th Anniversary, that another veteran bishop will stand in this pulpit, in this glorious cathedral, and because of God’s unfailing grace, and the beautiful faith of this holy Church, that bishop will be able to say, boldly and with pride: ‘We’re still here!’”
Following the Mass all were invited into Cathedral Square, where food trucks offered free ice cream, frozen ice drinks and other sweets, and were a welcome sight for those emerging into the heat, with the mercury topping 90 degrees.
While people enjoyed the treats, a band of musicians from St. Patrick Parish played a variety of music, with songs ranging from Jimmy Buffet to Journey, with Marvin Berry and the Starlighters’ “Earth Angel,” added to the hit list, providing entertainment for every age.
“There couldn’t be a better way to close the anniversary year. The Mass was wonderful and the attendance at events throughout the year was just fabulous. I loved every bit of it,” said Maryann Altrui.
Deacon Bob Troia and his wife Arlene, parishioners of St. Rocco Church in Johnston, were overjoyed at how beautiful the closing Mass was.
“It’s beautiful. It’s such a coming together of the church community,” said Arlene.
“It’s an honor and it’s memorable,” Deacon Bob said. “This only comes around once every 150 years, and I’m glad I was here for this one, because I don’t think I’m going to make the next one.”
Bishop Tobin, still dressed in his vestments, happily took photos and interacted with countless faithful in Cathedral Square for more than an hour after the Mass in the hot sun.
“It makes me very, very proud of our diocesan church,” he told Rhode Island Catholic.
“As we’ve said so often, God’s been very good to us and today was an opportunity to recognize that, celebrate God’s goodness and thank God and thank all the people of our diocesan family. We’re very proud of our diocese and I’m very proud to be their bishop,” he said.
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