Bishop Gelineau marks 40 years as grateful shepherd

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PROVIDENCE – On Thanksgiving Eve, 1971, then-Msgr. Louis E. Gelineau received a surprise when he was called into the office of Burlington, Vermont Bishop Robert Joyce and was told that Pope Paul VI had chosen him to be the next Bishop of Providence.

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More than four decades after that memorable day, a grateful Bishop Gelineau celebrated a historic milestone last Sunday when he offered a Mass of Thanksgiving for the 40th Anniversary to the Episcopate in the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul.

The congregation greeted the smiling bishop with a standing ovation and applause as he took the seat he occupied for a quarter of a century.

Clergy, religious, family and friends filled the cathedral to honor Bishop Gelineau, who was installed as the sixth Bishop of Providence on January 26, 1972, and served for 25 years before becoming bishop emeritus on June 11, 1997.

In his homily, Bishop Gelineau, echoing the message of the first reading (Jeremiah 1.4-9), reminded those gathered to always follow God’s plan. He recalled that when he learned of Pope Paul’s wish to appoint him Bishop of Providence, he was “stunned.”

Then-Msgr. Gelineau, who served as vicar general of the Diocese of Burlington, Vt., consulted Bishop Joyce, who told him that it was “the will of God” that he serve in Rhode Island.

Describing his 25 year-long episcopacy as one marked by trust, confidence and happiness, Bishop Gelineau noted that those years were not without several challenges, including increased secularization, the weakening of family values, a growing disrespect for the sanctity of all human life, and the beginning of the clergy abuse scandal.

Reflecting on his motto, “Rejoice in Hope,” Bishop Gelineau emphasized that Jesus continues to give his followers the graces to overcome obstacles and to build his kingdom.

“God has always been there for me,” Bishop Gelineau said, expressing his gratitude for the assistance of many “helping hands” – clergy, religious and laity – who used their talents to help build God’s kingdom in the Diocese of Providence.

Bishop Gelineau added that during his life he has received many blessings, including the opportunity to serve as chaplain to “God’s special people” for the past eight years at the St. Antoine Residence in North Smithfield.

“I will always remember this day,” Bishop Gelineau said, thanking Bishop Tobin for suggesting the Anniversary Mass be celebrated.

Describing Bishop Gelineau’s long episcopacy as “remarkable” but noting that it shouldn’t be measured by the “quantity of years” but rather “by the quality of service,” Bishop Tobin announced the establishment of the Bishop Louis E. Gelineau Fund, an endowment to support evangelization efforts in the diocese.

“Thank you for being such a good shepherd,” Bishop Tobin said of his brother bishop, noting that Bishop Gelineau made a “lasting contribution” to the diocese and changed many lives for the better during his long ministry.

Music for the historic Mass was provided by the Gregorian Concert Choir, led by Msgr. Anthony Mancini, and accompanied by organist Philip Faraone. Father Charles Maher, pastor emeritus of Blessed Sacrament Church, Providence, read from the Letter of St. John during the Communion meditation, entitled “Rejoice in Hope,” composed by the late Dr. C. Alexander Peloquin. Father Maher also read the selection at Bishop Gelineau’s episcopal ordination in 1972.

St. Thomas Church, Providence, parishioners Ronald and Adriene Trottier attended the Anniversary Mass because of their special friendship with the bishop, who married the couple at Holy Ghost Church many years ago.

“It was a beautiful day,” Ronald Trottier recalled. “Our guests were astounded to see that we were being married by the bishop.”

Peter Lentini, a communicant of St. Brigid Church, Johnston, and state treasurer of the Knights of Columbus, Rhode Island Council, said that the bishop has been a faithful supporter of the Knights’ efforts in the diocese and nationally.

“Bishop Gelineau is one of the best friends of the Knights of Columbus,” Lentini said.

Edward Coletti, who served as a medical assistant in the operating room at Our Lady of Fatima Hospital for many years and a lifelong parishioner of Holy Ghost Church, Providence, noted that the bishop had presided at many of his family’s funerals.

“He is the people’s bishop,” Coletti remarked. “Once he learned your name and could associate it with a face, he never forgot you.”

Gertrude Richotte, a resident at Chimney Hill Apartments in Cumberland, said the residents there welcome Bishop Gelineau once a month when he leads the rosary and celebrates Mass.

“He is such a caring man,” added her husband Henry, who noted that Bishop Gelineau visited him at the Landmark Medical Center several times during a long hospitalization a few years ago.

Msgr. George Frappier, pastor emeritus of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, Woonsocket, served in Bishop Gelineau’s administration as secretary for Family Life and Social Ministry. He described the bishop as always being “joyful and hopeful.”

“He was just a pure delight to work with and work for,” Msgr. Frappier recalled, adding that collaboration was one of the hallmarks of Bishop Gelineau’s episcopacy.

Msgr. Frappier added that Bishop Gelineau possesses an “absolute love for people,” and has always considered the recommendations and suggestions of others.

“He is energized by meeting and working with people,” Msgr. Frappier said.

According to Msgr. Frappier, the bishop supported his priests and lay staff by presiding at family funerals and accepting invitations to anniversary celebrations and other events.

“He was never too busy to do anything he could do for you,” Msgr. Frappier acknowledged.

Father Robert Perron, ordained by Bishop Gelineau at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, West Warwick, in 1981, described the bishop as “insightful and caring.”

“He added a great deal to my life,” Father Perron said, recalling the bishop’s annual gathering with diocesan seminarians studying in the Washington area when he attended the annual fall meeting of the United States Catholic Conference held in the nation’s capital.

As an administrator, Father Perron noted that Bishop Gelineau was always innovative by supporting team ministry and parish unifications, including the formation of Holy Spirit Parish in Central Falls in 1997, created by uniting Holy Trinity, St. Matthew and Notre Dame parishes.

Father Perron noted that when Bishop Gelineau presided at the Confirmation Mass last year at Holy Family Parish, the confirmation candidates presented the bishop with a watercolor portrait of Pope John Paul II, painted by Father Perron.

Unbeknownst to Father Perron or the candidates, the bishop’s homily was about Pope John Paul II’s call for the faithful to always be open to God’s plan.

“It was an amazing night,” Father Perron recalled.

Bishops Tobin, Robert C. Evans, Robert E. Mulvee, Daniel Reilly, Ernest B. Boland, O.P., Francis X. Roque and Robert McManus and more than 50 clergy were in attendance. Fathers Ronald Brassard and Timothy Reilly served as masters of ceremonies.

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