From St. Martin of Tours ripping his cloak in half to shelter a homeless wanderer through St. Vincent dePaul and his Daughters of Charity rescuing unwanted babies from the streets of Paris right up to the chaplains who anoint the patients daily at Rhode Island Hospital, the Catholic Church has been at the forefront of social services and charitable enterprises for two millennia. For thousands of years the Church was the right arm of charity and education throughout the Western world. Although secular governments have taken over much charitable work, the Church and religious communities still look after Biblical “orphans and widows in their tribulation.” The Diocese of Providence maintains twenty-eight charitable programs at eleven sites throughout the state. From St. Antoine’s Home on the Massachusetts border to St. Clare Home on the Atlantic shore line, the Church answers needs. The diocese tends to pre-born infants through the Human Life Guild and ministers to senior citizens through the Respite Care and Neighborhood Friendly Visitors programs.
Some aspects of the diocesan involvement in charitable enterprises are legendary. Father Anthony Robinson’s initiative in founding the St. Martin de Porres Center on Cranston St. offering neighborhood activities and educational programs and certainly Henry Shelton’s cooperation with Bishop Russell McVinney in pursuing social justice in fair housing and equal employment needs are already an integral part of diocesan history. Project Hope is a long-time diocesan outreach program that offers various forms of assistance — food and counselling — in each of Rhode Island five counties. Lately two quite effective and quite critical ministries have been established by Bishop Tobin. Keep the Heat On campaign for fuel assistance during the winter months and Emmanuel House on the edge of South Providence for over-night shelter for homeless men both offer vital assistance to hurting families and individuals. Affordable housing is also offered to persons in critical circumstances in former convents in Pawtucket and Warren.
The Diocese of Providence is keenly aware of the good number of Hispanic immigrants who have moved into Rhode Island’s many cities and towns. Answering the religious and social needs of many of these newcomers has been ably handled by area parishes. The diocese however does staff a Multi-Cultural Office and Ministry coordinating the needs of new immigrants as well as the growing number of Black Catholics who make their spiritual homes in Rode Island’s Catholic churches. English as a Second Language (ESL) is sponsored by the diocese at various urban areas.
The Catholic Church is sometimes wrongly criticized for caring for infants before birth and before abortion and then disregarding these infants and these mothers after a baby is born or a woman has unfortunately procured an abortion. Project Rachel offers counselling, consolation and constructive measures to women who have come to regret aborting their babies. The Cabrini Fund offers some financial support to working families who are struggling with childcare costs for their small children. It is clearly a calumny to suggest that the Church defends the pre-born child but then neglects the post-natal family. The Church supports the disadvantaged from cradle to grave.
The Catholic Church in Rhode Island is not just concerned with children and the aged. The diocese ministers to the needs of young men and women and the necessities of mature adults as well. The name Dottie Levesque comes readily to mind when one recalls her extended ministry to the divorced and re-married in this diocese. Bereavement and marriage counselling is still available through the diocesan offices. The St. Matthias ministry offers support for persons in substance abuse recovery. The sacramental ministry to the state’s hospitals in Cranston and at Wallum Lake as well as the extensive ministry to the many prison facilities in Cranston and in Central Falls are deserving of special commendation. On a given day, 3,500 persons are incarcerated in Rhode Island. Martha Paone and her many volunteers — priests, deacons and laity — bring the Gospel message to these imprisoned men and women.
Considering the vast outreach of the diocese’s Social Ministry it is easy to see why the capital campaign Grateful For God’s Providence has set a goal of $50 million to ensure the services of this office and its many helpers in answering the needs of Rhode Island’s unborn, its poor, its disadvantaged and its aged. The Providence diocese’s long record of effective charity must be maintained.