PROVIDENCE — Decades before Pope Pius IX established the Diocese of Providence, men and women religious were in Rhode Island, caring for the sick, educating the young and spreading the Gospel.
“Just think of the thousands of women and men of religious, consecrated life who have walked the streets of Rhode Island’s cities and towns, to care for the poor and to care for those in need,” Father Jonathan DeFelice, OSB, Assistant Moderator of the Curia & Vice Chancellor for the Diocese of Providence, said during a Nov. 8 Mass at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul to commemorate the Year of Consecrated Life.
Pope Francis proclaimed 2015 to be the Year of Consecrated Life, which started on the First Sunday of Advent in November 2014 and will end on Feb. 2, 2016, which is the World Day of Consecrated Life.
The Holy See said that the year, which also marked the 50th anniversary of Perfectae Caritatis, a decree on religious life, was to “make a grateful remembrance of the recent past” while embracing “the future with hope.”
“I am counting on you to ‘wake up the world. This is the priority that is needed right now: ‘to be prophets who witness to how Jesus lived on this earth,’” Pope Francis wrote to all consecrated people in a November 2014 apostolic letter announcing the special year.
Rooted in baptism, consecrated life takes a variety of forms. The Catechism of the Church says the consecrated life is characterized by the “public profession of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, in a stable state of life recognized by the Church.”
Hundreds of men and women religious from almost three-dozen religious communities in Rhode Island attended the Nov. 8 Mass, during which they stood and recited together their renewal of religious vows.
“I thought it was so beautiful to see all the major religious orders, the history of so many congregations here,” said Sister Mary Veronica, a member of the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia.
“We stand on the shoulders of giants,” she said. “It gives me a sense of gratitude to be part of this beautiful diocese.”
Representatives from the different religious orders presented framed certificates, describing their congregations’ charisms, to Providence Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans, the main celebrant of the Mass. The religious presented certificates in the order in which their congregations were established in Rhode Island, beginning with the Sisters of Mercy, who arrived in the Ocean State in March 1851.
The two newest congregations in Rhode Island are the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Word and the Daughters of Our Lady of the Garden, both of which arrived in Rhode Island in 2014.
During the Mass, Bishop Evans gave thanks to the religious orders for their contributions to the mission of the Church, in accordance with their respective charisms.
Father DeFelice, a priest of the Order of St. Benedict, said during his homily that men and women, from the beginning of the Church, have found particular ways to live out the Gospel, “inspired by the Spirit and assisted by God’ grace.”
Father DeFelice also quoted Pope Francis, who wrote in his November 2014 apostolic letter to all consecrated people that “from the beginnings of monasticism to the new communities of our own time, every form of consecrated life has been born of the Spirit’s call to follow Jesus as the Gospel teaches.”
“Think of how they built, taught and administered schools and colleges, and provided an excellent education to the young,” Father DeFelice said, adding that consecrated men and women have also cared for the sick and dying in nursing homes, as well as helping immigrants and catechizing generations of faithful lay Catholics.
“How grateful we all are,” said Father DeFelice, who also stressed the unity between those called to the consecrated life and other vocations in the Church, including diocesan priests and the lay faithful.
Said Father DeFelice: “Consecrated life is a gift to the Church. It is born of the Church. It grows in the Church and it is entirely directed to the Church.”
Sister Mary Agnes, of the Little Sisters of the Poor, a community that has been in Rhode Island since March 1881, later said that she was moved by the “spirit of unity” on display during the Mass.
“The consecrated life will live on forever, as long as we are faithful to our call,” said Sister Mary Agnes, who added that the Year of Consecrated Life has encouraged all religious to harken back to the essential elements of their vocations and to thank God for calling them to serve the Church in such a manner.
“God is still working,” said Father Charles Lintz, a Columban priest.
Dominican Sister Mary Veronica said the Year of Consecrated Life also gave religious an opportunity to reflect on their vocations, to develop a renewed sense of gratitude, to pray for vocations and to talk about their congregations with others.
Brother Paul Joseph, a member of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, praised the “fantastic liturgy” in the cathedral.
“It makes me feel that I’m part of a long-standing tradition in education in the state of Rhode Island, where thousands of students have come through our schools,” Brother Paul Joseph said.