As One Who Serves: Bishop Robert E. Mulvee Laid to Rest

Diocese celebrates life of seventh Bishop of Providence during Mass of Christian Burial


PROVIDENCE — A fellow bishop once ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Emeritus Robert E. Mulvee was chosen to honor his mentor as he was laid to rest last week.

Bishop John O. Barres, bishop of Rockville Centre, Maryland, was ordained a priest on October 21, 1989, in the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware, by Bishop Mulvee and has great respect for the way he lived his life of service.

“The key thing about him is that he was a contemplative, he was a missionary and he was a spiritual teacher,” Bishop Barres said of Bishop Mulvee in an interview with Rhode Island Catholic before Bishop Mulvee’s Mass of Christian Burial on Thursday, Jan. 10, at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul.

Bishop Mulvee died on Dec. 28, 2018, after a brief illness. He was 88.

“His intimacy with Christ opened his heart to intimacy with such a wide range of people,” Bishop Barres said.

He delivered the homily, comparing Bishop Mulvee to one of Jesus’ disciples whose heart burned with Christ’s compassionate presence during the journey on St. Luke’s Road to Emmaus.

“He walked with the Risen Lord through the hardships and crosses of losing his mother Jennie at the age of 13 and losing his father John at the age of 18, and he walked with his beautiful extended family through every baptism, marriage, funeral and moment of need,” Bishop Barres said.

“He walked with the Risen Lord through the parishes of Rhode Island, Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and beautiful New Hampshire, always preaching and teaching with humility, compassion and an obvious understanding and involvement with the crosses and challenges that real-life families and parishes experience.”

Bishop Mulvee had a pastoral charism grounded in humility and a wide range of pastoral experiences, inspiring the everyday parishioner, the everyday family, the poor and those who are hurt carry every dimension of the Cross of Christ, he said.

Bishop Mulvee was also remembered for being a great supporter of holy priests who would lovingly lead their parishes while going out and evangelizing to the world.

Bishop Barres told the story about how beloved Bishop Mulvee was in his previous diocese before coming to Providence.

“When the priests of the Diocese of Wilmington came up to Providence for Bishop Mulvee’s Installation as coadjutor in February of 1995, many of them wore buttons at the luncheon reception that read: ‘Return Mulvee and no one gets hurt!’” he said to laughter from those gathered.

“He encouraged us. He gently corrected us. He joked and laughed with us. He inspired us,” Bishop Barres said.

Bishop Mulvee’s experience with multiple myeloma and many other daily health challenges allowed him to experience some of the agony of the Cross.

“He knew theologically and experientially, that the life of a Catholic bishop, a shepherd to his people, is a beautiful and royal road to the Cross, a Cross that may be carried with confidence, joy and grace,” Bishop Barres said.

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin was principal celebrant for the Mass, 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.

Bishop Tobin welcomed the bishops, more than 100 priests and 35 deacons, consecrated women, seminarians and lay faithful, along with members of the diocesan family, including some Catholic school students and guests who traveled to be there, saying he was honored and very grateful for their presence at the funeral Mass.

“In a very particular way, welcome to the loving family and dear friends of Bishop Mulvee,” Bishop Tobin said. “Although this is certainly a moment of sorrow and loss for you, I hope you will consoled by the warm memories of Bishop Mulvee with a promise of our friendship and prayers, by the loving embrace of our Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Providence, and of course by the comforting grace of Jesus, our Good Shepherd.”

“We pray in sorrow at his passing. We will certainly miss his kind and gentle presence among us. We also pray with confident hope that the Good Lord in his Divine Providence will welcome Bishop Mulvee to his father’s house and give him the reward promised to all who’ve spent their lives in the service of Christ and his Church.

Cardinal O’Malley remembered Bishop Mulvee from their time as shepherds of adjoining dioceses.

“When I was bishop in Fall River he was my neighbor in Providence and I used to see a lot of him,” Cardinal O’Malley said in an interview with Rhode Island Catholic.

“He’ll be fondly remembered, sorely missed. He was happy to have been able to join the bishops of New England this summer for our retreat in Kennebunkport. That was the last time I saw him and he was a wonderful man.”

Hartford Archbishop Emeritus Daniel A. Cronin, who introduced Bishop Mulvee when he came to the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul as coadjutor in 1995, said he knew Bishop Mulvee for a long time, back to when Mulvee first served as secretary to Bishop Ernest Primeau in Manchester, New Hampshire.

“He and I were both Bostonians, so we had a lot in common and got along very, very nicely together and always had an exchange of views when we got together.”

There was a certain kidding that used to go on between them as from one side, there was a similarity in their looks.

When Bishop Mulvee would ask Archbishop Cronin if he were going to attend a particular function, his response was, “No, you go and take my place. And he would say the opposite to me.”

Rochester Bishop Salvatore R. Matano, who initially served under Bishop Mulvee at the chancery in Providence, before being appointed pastor of St. Sebastian Parish, and then moving to Washington, D.C., to serve at the Apostolic Nuniciature, said that Bishop Mulvee made a very smooth transition from coadjutor to the seventh Bishop of Providence in 1997.

“He had great respect for all that had been done before him and began to create his own very positive history in the diocese,” he said.

“He was a gracious, dedicated bishop and extremely concerned for the people who were entrusted to his care. He was a very good listener and a very understanding bishop of the realities of the concerns of his people,” Bishop Matano recalled.

Father Giacomo Capoverdi was the first priest of the Diocese of Providence ordained by Bishop Mulvee as an ordinary.

“The beautiful thing about him is that he was very fair-minded,” he said. “He treated priests very fairly and very pastorally. He was very gentle and kind. You could tell that he was very sincere, very grandfatherly.”

Paul Mulvee, Bishop Mulvee’s older brother by three years who was the only family member present when he was ordained in Belgium, sat in the front pew before the open casket and choked up as he reflected on his brother in an interview following the visitation on Wednesday night.

“He was wonderful. Very, very thoughtful, very kind. I’ve heard the word kind used repeatedly. I also found him very non-judgmental. I think that was just part of his pattern from childhood,” he said.

He said he always marveled at how his brother, despite having a high IQ, never flaunted it.

“He and many of the parishioners with whom he came in contact benefitted by the wide and varied education that he had,” Mulvee said.

Carol Sullivan, a niece of Bishop Mulvee, traveled along with her family from the Boston area to attend the service.

“I remember when he got on the boat to go to Belgium,” she said. “I saw him off and four years later he came back a priest. We just adored him.”

Following his ordination, the big discussion was how to address Father Mulvee. Should they call him Father Robert, as the side of the family residing in Pennsylvania did, or Father Bob, the preference of the New Englanders?

“We decided on Father Bob,” she smiled.

Jim Gilcreast, past state deputy of the Rhode Island Knights of Columbus, joined many other Knights serving as the Honor Guard over the course of Bishop Mulvee’s visitation in the cathedral the night before and the Mass of Christian Burial.

Gilcreast said that the bishop had joined the Knights Council 120 in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, when he was 18 years old, and remained committed to the organization through much of his life.

“He never missed a Supreme Council international convention, both in Delaware and Rhode Island,” he said admiringly of Bishop Mulvee’s service.

Patricia Arcieri was in attendance with her son Oliver, a student at St. Philip School in Greenville.

She felt it was important for her son to join her in paying tribute to Bishop Mulvee’s life and ministry.

“This is the first time he has had an opportunity to witness something like this and to not only celebrate Bishop Mulvee’s life, but also what he has done for the diocese,” said Arcieri.

Sister Maria Francesca, O.P., principal of Pius V Elementary School in Providence, said that students from St. Pius V asked to attend the Mass of Christian Burial for Bishop Mulvee, adding that it was important for them to honor the bishop.

“This is beautiful a beautiful celebration of the life of our shepherd,” said Sister Francesca. “We are especially grateful for the gift of his priesthood and his episcopal ministry and all of the beautiful fruits that have come from his vocation.”

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 before the funeral procession departed for St. Ann Cemetery in Cranston.

Bishop McManus, who served as auxiliary bishop to Bishop Mulvee and delivered the homily during Solemn Vespers at the cathedral the night before the funeral, blessed his casket with holy water at the gravesite on the cold and overcast day.

“He was a man of deep faith, he gave great confidence and hope to people in all types of difficulties,” Bishop McManus said.

“He was a priest’s priest — he loved the priesthood and had great care for the seminarians, and for the seminary in Providence.

“As St. Pope John Paul II said, ‘Without the priests there is no Eucharist, and without the Eucharist there is no Church,’ and he believed that with every fiber of his being.”

Assistant Editor Laura Kilgus contributed to this report.