PROVIDENCE — Agnes Chretien, a parishioner of St. Pius V in Providence will soon be honored with a Lumen Gentium Award in the category of Community Service & Charitable Outreach.
One of 12 children, it was the values that were instilled by her deeply devout parents, John and Margaret Cooney, that initially sparked a lifelong commitment to ministering to the poor.
“We grew up proud to be Rhode Island Catholics. It was our lives, how we were brought up,” said Chretien. “I wake up in the morning and I’m grateful. My faith is part of my everyday life. It’s like a second glove.”
Along with a tremendous influence from her family, her professional career as a social worker also prepared her to serve those in greatest of need.
“I worked for 33 years in the welfare department,” she said. “I saw what poverty looks like and how it affects the family and their whole life. I’ve always had a calling to serve the poor. You see Jesus in the face of the poor and God leads us to them.”
Father Augustine Judd, O.P., pastor of St. Pius V Church, shared that after the sudden death of Chretien’s beloved husband Ron when her daughter Kathleen was 12 years old, it was her deep Catholic faith and the support of family and friends that helped her through those difficult years. She has used her experiences to help and support others in their own moments of great sadness.
“The deaths of Ron and a number of her brothers and sisters have given Agnes a profound sensitivity toward the bereaved,” said Father Judd. “With a fellow parishioner, she established the Bereavement Ministry at St. Pius in 2010. At about the same time the diocesan Our Lady of Sorrows Bereavement Program was being developed. They have collaborated ever since.”
Chretien shared that the faith based nature of the program, which focuses on prayer and psalms, offers great consolation to so many.
“They think we work wonders, but in reality it’s them and God. It’s a wonderful thing,” she said.
Chretien has also chaired the Outreach Committee at St Pius V since 1995. Along with her charitable works, she is a faithful participant in Eucharistic Adoration, a lector and Eucharistic Minister and is a member and past chairperson of the Pastoral Council. She is also active in the Thirty Week Club, the Centennial Committee as well as the Jesse Tree. In 2007, she took on a soup ministry that a parishioner had been doing privately for Crossroads. In 2008, Crossroads was no longer in a position to accept the soup and rather than let the ministry go, Chretien arranged to bring the soup ministry and sandwiches to Emmanuel House, the diocesan homeless shelter. Thanks to her persistence and organization, the soup ministry has been in operation for the past 21 years.
“Agnes does this in such an understated way that no one really knows how much she does for others,” said Father Judd. “She quietly answers the needs of the poor and needy wherever she goes. She lives her life guided by the Holy Spirit humbly walking the Gospel way. As Pope Francis said in Evangelii Guadium, ‘Works of love directed to one’s neighbor are the most perfect manifestation of the interior grace of the Spirit.’”
Over the next several weeks, Rhode Island Catholic will feature profiles of the winners of the diocese’s 2018 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 16. Guests wishing to purchase tickets to the dinner — whose proceeds will support Diocesan Hispanic Ministries — are asked to register online at www.dioceseofprovidence.org/lumen-gentium-awards. For any questions about the event, please call 401-277-2121.