What Makes a Priest a Potential Bishop?


Most Catholics will never know what those at the Vatican look for in a future bishop, but for some, the virtues demonstrated by some priests make it clear that they were destined for a miter and crosier. Father James T. Ruggieri exemplifies many of the qualities that turn a good priest into a bishop.

A man of unwavering faith

John Ruggieri, the oldest of the four Ruggieri brothers, shared his insight into the youngest brother’s early calling.

“At a young age, he really found his passion … when he told my mother and father that he wanted to be a priest,” John reflected. Once he announced this desire, “he never wavered.”

“His interest and his meaningfulness of being a priest just got richer, and richer, and richer.”

Growing up at Holy Angels Parish in Barrington, the family’s strong Italian roots fortified the boys’ faith in God. Even in boyhood, Father Ruggieri spent countless hours in service in and around the church. John observed his brother’s shift from a “quiet, introverted kid” to “an impactful preacher” after his years in the seminary. He shared a story of a nephew who had returned to the Church after hearing one of Father Ruggieri’s homilies.

To John, his brother epitomizes Pope Francis’ quote that priests should have “the smell of the sheep” – living among and for the people. Father Ruggieri demonstrated this by crusading to reopen the closed school at his parish and transform it into St. Patrick Academy, a high school for inner-city kids “who love Catholic education, but if it wasn’t for St. Patrick Academy, I don’t think they could afford a Catholic education,” John stated. Families pay what they can, and the rest of the tuition costs are raised through philanthropic efforts. Many people view this as a miracle and most graduates are accepted to quality higher educational institutes.

Being appointed bishop might have surprised his family, but not for long. It had long been obvious that the youngest sibling was special. However, the responsibility of being a bishop will be tremendous. “He’s going to rely on the Holy Spirit,” John commented, but as he’s seen, his brother always put his faith the Holy Spirit “and it’s not failed him. And if I have to bet, I’m going to bet he’s going to continue to be successful.”

John called his brother’s foundation “rock solid. It’s been rock solid since he was eight years old.”

A man of evangelization

As a revert to the faith, Rubelcy Herrera encountered Father Ruggieri in the spirit of evangelization. He helped organize retreats and concerts at St. Charles Borromeo Parish after his return to the faith, even taking a Life in the Spirit seminar there, then served for nine years at that parish. When St. Charles took an evangelization team to St. Patrick, Herrera decided to see what was going on at that parish.

“I noted that the community was small, and I felt the call to serve at St. Patrick,” he said. With Father Ruggieri’s blessing, he began taking over the monthly prayer meetings at the parish, which he has done for 19 years now, and explored other options for evangelization. “What’s really great about Father James since I met him was that he’s so open to God and he trusts God so much.”

Some of these retreats boasted 300 participants. “The amazing thing is that he was never afraid of anything that was for God,” Herrera said. He related a story of how he wanted to bring a famous speaker to the area and the costs involved in renting a hall large enough for the expected crowd were high, but Father Ruggieri told him to go ahead, not to worry about the money. More than 1,000 people came to the event, and at the end, the parish brought in the exact amount of money needed to cover the costs.

And when a retreat or seminar ends, Father Ruggieri picks up a broom and cleans. “He’s that person, and he does it with all his heart. And when you see a priest do that, you cannot expect for yourself to do something other than that.”

Within the Providence community, Father Ruggieri is known for his food truck, but Herrera added that the priest who drives the van also serves the food and socializes with the homeless on the streets – and he knows them by name. “It’s amazing. He knows every one of his sheep.”

A man of humility

Known as “Padre” to Hannah Sanchez, she stated that Father Ruggieri changed her life in many ways. As a teenager, she considered leaving the Church. “Padre” brought her back into the fold through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When she struggled with severe depression, he gave her the anointing of the sick. And when her newborn daughter, Audrey, was admitted to the NICU just after the announcement of his appointment, Father called to give her strength. “Throughout the lowest and highest and most mundane points of my life, he has always made time for me,” Sanchez remarked.

She has known Father Ruggieri for more than 20 years. She even credits him with her marriage. Had Father Ruggieri not brought her husband Andrew into the faith, the two of them would never have met through a mutual friend.

Years ago, she had asked Father Ruggieri which Bible passage best defines his priesthood. He quoted Luke 17:10 — a quote on “unworthy servants” — a verse that Sanchez and others see as quite fitting for this humble servant. Sanchez reiterated, “He embodies a deep humility — not the kind where he doesn’t see his value, but the kind where he knows his true value comes from Christ.”

She will miss his sense of humor and service to St. Patrick Parish. “Padre has transformed our community in the past two decades, but he has also helped and loved me on a personal level, and I could never sufficiently thank him.”