More than 1,000 fill cathedral for bilingual Votive Mass to pray for bishop-elect


PROVIDENCE — The Cathedral of SS. Peter and Peter Paul was overflowing with more than 1,000 faithful participating in a bilingual, Farewell Mass for Bishop-elect James T. Ruggieri on April 11, with Bishop Richard G. Henning as the principal celebrant and homilist.

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A large group of musicians provided upbeat liturgical music grounded in the Hispanic culture in which the pastor known as “Padre James,” or “Father James” conducted much of his ministry at St. Patrick and St. Michael churches in Providence.

“We are all here tonight because this man has made a difference in our lives,” Bishop Henning said of Bishop-elect Ruggieri. “He has changed our world. There’s something at work in his ministry that we all witness. In a very real sense, we give glory to God this evening, not for the qualities of Bishop-elect Ruggieri, but for the quality of his surrender to and identification with that same Lord Jesus. It is really through him that the Lord has touched our lives.”

Bishop Emeritus Thomas J. Tobin and former Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans concelebrated, along with the bishop-elect, who offered some personal reflections on the gravity of the moment for him.

“As I prepare to leave our diocese to become Bishop of the Diocese of Portland, I leave so grateful at having had the chance to be formed by this local church by so many people,” he said.

“Thank you for the formative role you’ve played in my life, my priesthood,” he said. “I’m grateful and so glad to be sharing this Mass with you tonight. So many of you, in many ways, have inspired me, and challenged me, and motivated me, and I thank you. It means so much to have you here tonight to share this Mass with me.”

He also offered his thanks to the bishops present for their “fraternal and fatherly support” and their guidance, as well to his brothers priests, along with the deacons, religious and family members present.

He paid a special tribute to his mother, Irene Ruggieri, whom he described as a very special woman in his life.

“My mother is my first teacher in so many ways,” he said. “Along with giving me the gift of life, the gift of our Catholic Christian faith is the greatest gift that you could have possibly given to me. Thank you,” he said to rousing applause.

He smiled as he recalled how his mother reacted to the news that he had been called to serve in Portland, Maine, after the retirement of Bishop Robert Deeley was accepted by Pope Francis.

“Why Maine? Why are you going to Maine? Don’t they need you in the Diocese of Providence?” she asked.

Irene Ruggieri watched her son celebrate his farewell Mass from the front pew.

“It’s wonderful. I was so happy for him,” she said, noting that her late husband, John, who passed away about 22 years ago, would have loved to see this moment.

Peggy Ruggieri, wife of the bishop-elect’s oldest brother, John, spoke of the bishop-elect’s kind nature.

“He’s the most humble person you’ll ever meet. It’s pretty amazing. He is truly a shepherd.”

Following the Mass a large collation was held in the cathedral hall, taking many people two hours to have an opportunity to extend their well-wishes to the bishop-elect as he prepares for his ordination in Portland on May 7.

Victor Perez, a St. Patrick communicant and volunteer in the parish’s Special Religious Education Program (SPRED), said it was very sad for he and his family to see Bishop-elect Ruggieri leave.

“We are happy because the pope selected the best for the job. We know that. We are happy that he’s going and sad at the same time,” he said.

“We follow Father James wherever he goes, don’t worry. We’re going to be moving to Maine pretty soon. That’s a fact; my wife was already looking.”

Irma Rodrigues, coordinator of the SPRED program praised the bishop-elect, remarking, “He’s the shepherd that smells like the sheep.”

Angel Perin, 22, has long known the bishop-elect from his involvement in youth ministry at St. Patrick.

“What makes Father James so special is the fact that he lives his duty as a priest in the most remarkable way possible, in the way that all priests are called. He’s just an exemplary man all around. He exemplifies high degrees of virtue.”