As the Diocese of Providence celebrates its 150th anniversary through June 26, 2022, Rhode Island Catholic is featuring profiles of the men who have served as diocesan shepherds through its history.
When Bishop Kenneth A. Angell, D.D., after serving for 18 years as Bishop Louis E. Gelineau’s auxiliary in the Diocese of Providence, was appointed to lead the Diocese of Burlington, Vermont in 1992, Bishop Gelineau suddenly found himself without assistance at a time when he needed help more than ever. The arthritis he long had endured worsened to the point that he required knee replacement surgery.
It took three years for help to arrive, but in 1995, Pope John Paul II approved Bishop Gelineau’s request for a coadjutor bishop – one who assists him in his duties until his retirement or death, with the right of succession.
Bishop Robert E. Mulvee, the seventh Bishop of Wilmington, Delaware, was welcomed to the Diocese of Providence to serve as coadjutor on March 27, 1995. When Bishop Gelineau retired a little more than two years later, on June 11, 1997, Bishop Mulvee became the seventh Bishop of Providence.
A bishop’s episcopal motto is carefully chosen to reflect the ideals they hold most dear in their leadership of the faithful. When Bishop Mulvee was installed to serve in the Diocese of Providence, he chose as his motto the phrase, “As One Who Serves,” words, many have said, which genuinely epitomize his tenure.
As had Bishop Gelineau and other bishops before him, Bishop Mulvee asked the Holy See for an auxiliary bishop to help him in his administration of the diocese. On December 1, 1998, Pope John Paul II named Msgr. Robert J. McManus, a Rhode Island native who served as the diocese’s vicar for education, as auxiliary bishop. Msgr. McManus was ordained a bishop in the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul on February 22, 1999.
As a shepherd, Bishop Mulvee displayed much reverence for the sacraments, especially matrimony and holy orders, commemorating the many years that married couples remained committed to each other by offering special Masses in their honor, and also in presiding over the Holy Hour for Vocations on the eve of ordinations to the priesthood.
He was known as a true friend and mentor to many pursuing a priestly vocation at the Seminary of Our Lady of Providence, a holy place where his presence was often felt. In addition to visiting the seminary on holy days and to lead Holy Hours, Bishop Mulvee would also make it a point to visit on other occasions, even just to connect on a social level to see how his future priests were doing.
In October 2000, Bishop Mulvee showed a special devotion to the Blessed Mother, honoring her by leading 400 faithful from across the diocese on a three-night pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the Holy Year.
Less than a year later, when the terrorist attacks of 9/11 hit very close to home, Bishop Mulvee celebrated a Mass at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, offering his unwavering support for his friend and former Providence Auxiliary Bishop Kenneth Angell, who lost his brother David and sister-in-law Lynn on American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to be flown by terrorists into the World Trade Center.
Bishop Mulvee also took a pastoral approach to everyday matters, often visiting the infirm and providing comfort to those who experienced a loss in their lives. This approach was especially notable during the infamous Station Nightclub fire in February 2003, a tragedy that claimed the lives of 100 concert-goers in West Warwick.
He also took a strong pastoral approach in meeting with those who said they had been abused in the past.
In the mid-1980s, a full 15 years before the standard for dealing with clergy sexual abuse matters was announced in the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, Bishop Mulvee was known for implementing a zero tolerance approach to clerical sex abuse.
The Most Reverend Robert E. Mulvee was born February 15, 1930, in Boston, the son of the late John F. and Jennie T. Mulvee. He studied for the priesthood at Saint Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, Connecticut; Saint Paul Seminary at the University of Ottawa, Canada; and the American College at the University of Louvain in Belgium. He was ordained for the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, on June 30, 1957, at Louvain.
He served at a number of parishes in New Hampshire for several years before returning to Europe for graduate study. In 1964, he completed his doctorate in Canon Law at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome and also received a master’s degree in religious education from the University of Louvain. Later that year, he was named assistant chancellor of the New Hampshire Diocese and began a career in which he held numerous diocesan and parish positions.
Pope Paul VI named him a Papal Chamberlain with the title of Monsignor, in 1966. In 1977, he was named the first Auxiliary Bishop of Manchester.
In 1985, Bishop Mulvee was appointed the seventh Bishop of Wilmington, Delaware, where he served as shepherd until 1995, when he came to Providence.
Bishop Mulvee retired in 2005, splitting his time between Providence and South Florida, spending the winters in a climate which he once told Rhode Island Catholic has “added years to my life” by allowing him to remain active when the mercury plummets in the north.
For the remainder of the year he would visit the diocesan chancery building, often stopping in at offices to say hello, maintaining contact with those who served him in the diocese, as well as meeting new employees.
When Bishop Mulvee passed away at the St. Antoine Residence in North Smithfield after a brief illness, on Dec. 28, 2018, he was remembered fondly by the eighth Bishop of Providence, Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin.
“Bishop Mulvee was a good and gentle shepherd of God’s people. He was a faithful follower of Christ who served the Church with dignity and compassion,” Bishop Thomas J. Tobin said.
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin was principal celebrant for Bishop Mulvee’s Mass of Christian Burial, which was concelebrated by 15 bishops, including Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley, O.F.M., Archbishop of Boston; Hartford Archbishop Leonard P. Blair; Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans; Bishop Emeritus Louis E. Gelineau; Bishop Emeritus of Multan Ernest B. Boland, O.P.; and Bishop of Worcester Robert J. McManus, who served as auxiliary bishop to Bishop Mulvee.
A cadre of priests serving as pallbearers carried the body of Bishop Mulvee out of the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul for the final time. The funeral procession departed for St. Ann Cemetery in Cranston, where he was laid to rest.
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