PROVIDENCE — Sesquicentennial. It’s not a term one often uses in casual conversation, but that is about to change in the Diocese of Providence.
Midway between a centennial and a bicentennial, a sesquicentennial represents a time period spanning 150 years, a milestone quite worthy of major celebration.
Organizers of the Diocese of Providence’s sesquicentennial celebration are planning a nine-month series of events that will engage the faithful on multiple levels, including the celebration of solemn liturgies, presentations by high profile guest speakers, a variety of concerts, a festival of the arts and the promotion of 150 acts of charity across the diocese to commemorate the milestone anniversary. Over the course of the celebration, Rhode Island Catholic will feature retrospectives on the history of the diocese and each of the eight shepherds who have led it.
Beginning Sept. 8 and lasting until June, 26, 2022, the Diocese of Providence will host an ongoing celebration of the sesquicentennial of its founding in February, 1872. The central theme of the celebration — embossed on the anniversary logo beneath the welcoming outstretched arms of Christ — is rooted in the sacred scripture of Psalm 126: “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.”
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin said he chose this theme because it summarizes very well the diocese’s aspirations for its 150th anniversary.
“On one hand it thanks God for all the gifts and blessings of the past; indeed the Lord has been good to us. And because of that, as we reflect upon that, we are filled with joy as a diocesan Church,” Bishop Tobin told Rhode Island Catholic in an interview last week.
“But it also gives us a sense — as we express our gratitude for the past — and a reason to go forward to the future in hope and in confidence and in joy. So it combines the elements of the past and the future and that’s what I hope to enkindle through our celebration of our 150th anniversary.”
The diocesan celebration will begin on Sept. 8, the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady, with "A Night to Honor Mary" at 6 p.m. in the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, and will continue through June 26, 2022, when the commemoration of the 150th anniversary will conclude with a solemn closing Mass at the cathedral at 1 p.m., to which the apostolic nuncio to the U.S. and all of the New England bishops have been invited.
That Sunday is the closest to the patronal feast day of SS. Peter and Paul.
In the months between the opening and closing celebrations, an extensive, multi-faceted program of dynamic guest speakers, concerts and artistic events is being planned by the diocese’s 150th anniversary Cultural and Educational Events Committee.
The lineup includes presentations by popular author of works on Catholic Church history Mike Aquilina (Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. at St. Philip Parish in Greenville); Gloria Purvis, host of “The Gloria Purvis Podcast” from America Media (Oct. 16 at 11 a.m. at McVinney Auditorium), following the Human Life Guild Mass at 9:30 a.m. at the Cathedral; a concert by the world-renowned Vienna Boys Choir (Dec. 5 at 3 p.m. at McVinney Auditorium); a talk by famed author and columnist George Weigel (March 23 at 7 p.m. at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich); a concert on the Providence College lawn by the Hillbilly Thomists, a band composed of Dominican friars (April 21 at 7 p.m.); and a special visit by New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who will speak at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul on May 15.
Other activities are being planned throughout the year, such as a Diocesan Festival of the Arts, which will be held on May 21 from noon to 5 p.m. at St. Philomena School.
“We’re also developing with our department of Catholic Charities and Social Ministry a program we are calling 150 Acts of Charity in which we will invite our parishes, our schools and organizations to launch new works of charity and justice or to enhance the works of charity and justice that they’re already doing,” Bishop Tobin said.
“And they will be honored by the diocese with a certificate or a plaque to recognize that they did expand our work of Catholic Charity and Social Justice on the occasion of our 150th anniversary.”
Diocesan Vice Chancellor Father Nathan J. Ricci, who is also serving as chair of the Cultural and Educational Events Committee, has been developing with the Catholic Extension Society of the USA a special calendar that will highlight the 150-year history of the Diocese of Providence.
The calendar will be available to the faithful from parishes which chose to participate in the drive.
“That’s going to be a very tangible memento of the 150th anniversary of the diocese, but it will also allow us to relive a great deal of our history in various ways,” Bishop Tobin said.
Events are also being planned with individual groups and organizations, such as an Evening with the Permanent Deacons of the diocese, planned for late September.
The bishop said that a similar gathering is being planned for the religious and consecrated men and women ministering in the diocese.
“I hope a lot of the programs that we have ordinarily have will also reflect the anniversary theme — the catechetical programs, social justice programs, seminarian and vocation programs – I hope a lot of the things we do all the time will reflect the theme as well,” he said.
Father Ricci said the 150th anniversary of the Diocese of Providence marks an important milestone in the life of our local Church and provides an opportunity to give thanks to Almighty God for his countless blessings.
“Especially due to Bishop Tobin’s zeal for the diocesan sesquicentennial, we are pleased to host a variety of engaging events throughout the diocese. Solemn liturgies, musical ensembles, and inspiring reflections by nationally known speakers will showcase the history and good work of the Church in Rhode Island. We hope many Catholics will join us in these important celebrations, almost all of which are free to the public,” Father Ricci said.
The diocese reached out to the Vatican to obtain a copy of the papal bull promulgated by Pope Pius IX on February 16, 1872 to establish the Diocese of Providence. At that time, the First Vatican Council had just concluded and things were still very unsettled in Rome.
The Vatican department involved in the establishment of the diocese at that time was the Propagation of the Faith — the missionary congregation of the Holy See.
“Because we were still mission country at that time,” Bishop Tobin said with a smile.