A true servant of the people

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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 Robert E. Mulvee was installed to serve in the Diocese of Providence, he chose as his motto the phrase, “As One Who Serves,” words, it is said, which genuinely epitomize his tenure here.

“He is truly a man who is here to serve the people he shepherds,” it was shared in the nomination of Bishop Robert E. Mulvee for the Lumen Gentium award for Administration and Stewardship that he will be honored with on May 17.

A Boston native, who had served as Auxiliary Bishop of Manchester, New Hampshire and then as Bishop of the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware, Bishop Mulvee was named by the Vatican in 1995 to serve in the Diocese of Providence as coadjutor to Bishop Louis E. Gelineau. Bishop Mulvee served alongside Bishop Gelineau until June 1997 when he became the seventh Bishop of Providence.

Known for taking a pastoral approach to matters, Bishop Mulvee often visited the infirm and provided comfort to those who experienced a loss in their lives. This was especially notable during the infamous Station Nightclub fire in February 2003, a tragedy that claimed the lives of 100 West Warwick concert-goers.

“He never forgets that he is first a pastor and priest,” his nomination stated.

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.

In the mid-1980s, a full 15 years before the standard for dealing with clergy sexual abuse matters was announced in the 2001 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, Bishop Mulvee was known for implementing a zero tolerance approach to clerical sex abuse.

He took a strong pastoral approach in meeting with those who said they had been abused in the past.

In October 2000, he 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 fellow shepherd 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.

“His compassion and kindness was warm and comforting at the most difficult times in someone’s life,” Bishop Mulvee’s nomination states.

He was also 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.

Since his retirement in 2005, Bishop Mulvee has split his time between Providence and South Florida, spending the winters in a climate which he says has “added years to my life” by allowing him to remain active when the mercury plummets.

For the remainder of the year he visits the chancery building often stopping in at offices up and down the hallways to say hello, showing that he has not lost contact with those who served him in the diocese, as well as meeting new employees who likewise have been called to service.

Over the next several weeks, Rhode Island Catholic will feature profiles of the 17 winners in the 10 categories of the diocese’s 2017 Lumen Gentium Awards, which formally recognize those who ‘toil in the vineyard’ in service to the Lord, and minister to those in greatest need in their parish or community. The honorees will be awarded during a dinner at Twin River Event Center in Lincoln on Wednesday, May 17. Guests wishing to purchase tickets to the dinner — whose proceeds will support diocesan senior priests, many of whom continue to serve in our diocese well into their older years — are asked to register online at www.dioceseofprovidence.org/lumen-gentium-awards. For any questions about the event, please call 401-277-2121.