LINCOLN — 1,000 individuals gathered for the annual Lumen Gentium Awards banquet hosted by the Diocese of Providence at the Twin River Event Center on Wednesday, May 17. Bishop Thomas J. Tobin presented awards to 17 recipients who were honored for their dedicated service to the Church and the greater community as demonstrated through their examples of leadership and faith.
“This is like a family reunion for our diocesan church,” said Bishop Tobin. “We’re so grateful for everyone’s presence tonight. This is so very exciting and very joyful and very impressive.”
As noted by Bishop Tobin, the Lumen Gentium Awards were established in 2013 with the intention of honoring a small group of individuals from within the Diocese of Providence for their ongoing work in areas related to parish service, Catholic education, diocesan administration and interfaith relations.
“When we started five years ago with a very simple idea of trying to honor some of the people in our diocese for their distinguished service, we started with the idea of perhaps having 200 people in a small room somewhere,” he said.
Now in their fifth year, the awards have grown to a sold-out event of 1,000 individuals who gather to honor those leaders in their parish and faith communities whose commitment to service and respect for the Church serve as a testament to the strength of the Catholic faith in Rhode Island.
“The Church in the Diocese of Providence is alive and well and it’s a very, very powerful force for good in our state,” said Bishop Tobin. “It is so very clear that the spirit of God is certainly among us in our diocesan Church. God’s grace and your deep and active faith to your brothers and sisters is a powerful combination.”
In keeping with the tradition and spirit of giving honored by the awards, proceeds from this year’s dinner will benefit the Senior Priest Retirement Fund to support the daily needs of diocesan priests in their retirement from active ministry. Since 2013, the Lumen Gentium Awards have raised close to $300,000 to support various ministries, including Catholic elder services, food pantries, the diocesan men’s homeless shelter and Catholic education.
Following the dinner, Msgr. Albert Kenney, diocesan Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, as well as chairman of the Lumen Gentium Committee, announced the names of the recipients as Bishop Tobin presented the awards.
Among those honored during the evening were Bishop Emeritus Robert E. Mulvee and Bishop Emeritus Louis E. Gelineau, each of whom received a Lumen Gentium Award in the category of Administration and Stewardship for their many years of prudent leadership in shepherding the Diocese of Providence.
Bishop Mulvee, who this year celebrates 60 years since his ordination to the priesthood and 40 years as a bishop, said in an interview prior to the event with Rhode Island Catholic Executive Editor Rick Snizek that originally he had planned to go to Lourdes, France, to celebrate the milestone anniversaries but reconsidered when he learned he would be honored with a Lumen Gentium Award.
“The Lumen Gentium just struck me as a perfect time to celebrate my anniversaries because you are receiving it with people who are chosen from the Diocese of Providence, men and women, of different ages, and with different talents, different gifts, but they were all helping to let the light of Christ shine in the Diocese of Providence, in their own way equally,” he said. “There could be no other ceremony that would do all that.”
Other clergy and religious honored during the evening included Sister Mary Angelus Gabrielle, a Sister of Mercy who accepted a Catholic Education Lifetime Achievement Award for her more than 50 years teaching in Catholic schools, and Father James Ruggieri, pastor at St. Patrick Church, Providence, who received a warm welcome from parishioners as he accepted an award in the category of Evangelization.
Samuel Seda, who attended the awards dinner with his wife, Veronica, and son, was among the St. Patrick parishioners who came out to support their pastor. Seda expressed his admiration for Father Ruggieri and recalled the warm greeting he received the first time he met him.
“He’s a very special person. To put it in fitting words, I’d say he’s the shepherd that smells like the sheep. He has a giving and humble heart,” he said.
Seda’s son, also named Sam, shared his experiences with Father Ruggieri as an altar server at St. Patrick’s, adding that the priest has a sense of humor but is not afraid to share God’s word firmly and with conviction.
“He’s a saint. No bones about it really,” said Sam, 14. “He’s a holy man. I’ve never met someone more holy than him.”
Among the lay recipients honored during the evening, Marie Wilson, a parishioner at St. Benedict Church, Warwick, was honored in the category of Parish Service for her many years of volunteering at the parish and her dedication to the diocesan Special Religious Education, or SPRED, program.
“She shares herself with everybody for years and years. No matter what you ask her, she’s always there,” said Vicki Morin, whose daughter, Lisa Wilson, is Marie’s daughter-in-law, and who attended the event with a large group of family and SPRED participants.
“One word: giving. Just gives of everything. Pure love. And my father-in-law right by her side the whole time,” added Lisa.
Georgette Duguay, who received an award in the category of Respect Life, said she was impressed with the accomplishments and service of her fellow award recipients.
“I keep looking at the book every so often and I keep saying there are so many people out there that give of themselves so often,” she said. “I read one of the articles of the recipients and it’s amazing how people can be so generous.”
Duguay said she was overwhelmed and honored to have her work with Prolife Across America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading a pro-life message through advertising campaigns, recognized at the annual awards dinner.
“It was very impressive and the award is absolutely beautiful,” she said.
Vanesa Zuleta, who received an award in the category of Distinguished Catholic Youth, shared the sentiment. A volunteer with Capuchin Youth and Family Ministries who plans to pursue a graduate degree in Theology and Ministry at Boston College in the fall, Zuleta said she found out she would receive a Lumen Gentium Award on the same day as her acceptance to Boston College and took the news as an affirmation that the Lord is watching over her vocational path.
“It was another reaffirmation – ‘Lean in and I’m going to take care of you,’” she said.
Other categories in which recipients were honored with a Lumen Gentium Award included Parish Service, Community Service and Charitable Outreach, Friend of the Diocese, Catholic Education, Public Service and Communications.
2017 Lumen Gentium Award winners
Administration and Stewardship:
Bishop Louis Gelineau, Bishop Robert Mulvee
Catholic Education: Dan and Paula Baker, Patricia Draper, Sister Mary Angelus Gabrielle (Lifetime Achievement Award)
Communications: Justin Katz
Community Service and Charitable Outreach: Gary Furtado
Distinguished Catholic Youth: Vanesa Zuleta
Evangelization: Reverend James Ruggieri
Friend of the Diocese: Ron and Kati Machtley
Parish Service: Joao Marques, Phyllis Queally, Salvatore Raspallo, Joseph Robenhymer, Marie Wilson
Public Service: Burton Stallwood
Respect Life: Georgette Duguay