PROVIDENCE — While 2020 has so far been a history-making year in the diocese, as it joins the world in responding to the devastating global novel coronavirus pandemic, officials are looking ahead to next year when it will mark a joyful milestone in its history, as the diocese prepares to celebrate its sesquicentennial.
On Sept. 8, 2021, the feast day of the Blessed Mother, the Diocese of Providence will begin a nine-month-long celebration of the 150th anniversary of its founding.
“The 150th anniversary is a very significant moment in the life of the diocese,” Bishop Thomas J. Tobin told Rhode Island Catholic. It is a major milestone and it’s a chance again for us to reflect upon the past and to remember with gratitude, and with prayer, all of those who have gone before us — to keep their memory alive.”
“It’s an opportunity for us to again thank God for all the blessings he’s given to this diocese for 150 years; it’s amazing. It’s also an opportunity to look to the future and to renew our faith, renew our commitment, to renew our zeal for the years coming forward.”
Although the Diocese of Providence was founded in February, 1872, after the bull of Pope Pius IX was promulgated on January 31, 1872, New England’s unpredictable winters led the sesquicentennial planners to build a nine-month celebration around key feast days in the church.
“If we had a nice celebration of Mary on her birthday, Sept. 8, to kick off our sesquicentennial year, we can devote all of our activities and programs of our jubilee year to the patronage of our Blessed Mother,” Bishop Tobin said.
The official concluding celebration and Mass are slated to take place on Sunday, June 26, 2022, the Sunday closest to the feast day of the diocese’s patrons, Saints Peter and Paul.
“We’re planning a very large and solemn and joyful liturgical celebration,” the bishop said.
The celebrations slated to take place between those dates, which are still in the planning stages, will, at Bishop Tobin’s direction, feature four major elements throughout.
A liturgical and devotional element, with special liturgies and devotions offered throughout the year, will highlight special feast days and celebrations.
An educational component, which will include the Catholic schools and religious education, will focus on providing instructive programming about the history of the diocese through guest speakers and lectures for the community to participate in. This effort could also feature a display of mementos and keepsakes that people could visit and learn from, as well as a series of articles in Rhode Island Catholic.
A third element crucial to the celebration is a focus on diocesan social service and Catholic Charity outreach. The diocese plans to encourage special initiatives in parishes and communities during the jubilee year to emphasize the important social justice and charitable outreach work the church provides.
The final element is a renewed emphasis on one of the church’s key themes: evangelization.
The bishop said that a renewed focus on evangelization is needed to reenergize the faithful, who have suffered much in light of the pandemic, which has made it more difficult for them to attend Mass and enjoy the vibrancy in their parishes and schools that they once did.
“This will be an opportunity to really do some outreach and commit ourselves to evangelization again, so much of which takes place at the parish level,” Bishop Tobin said.
The bishop said he hopes that the faithful will embrace the historic significance of this coming moment in the history of the diocese, and they will call to mind all of its former bishops and priests, deacons, and faithful religious who’ve served so well over the past 150 years, as well as all of our ancestors in faith who’ve helped us to become all that we are.
“We stand on their shoulders. We build on their foundations of faith that they have given us. So it’s an opportunity to keep their memory alive and to prayerfully remember them with gratitude. And it’s also a chance to move into the future,” Bishop Tobin said.
“It is a chance for us to renew our zeal, renew our faith, renew our commitment to the future. And it’s not just about closing the door on the past, it’s about opening the door on the future. The diocese has been here a long time and pray to God it will be here for a long time.”