‘People’s Bishop’ led diocese for a quarter century

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PROVIDENCE — He has been called the “People’s Bishop” for his zest for interacting with his flock and his uncanny ability to remember everyone by name and face after meeting them.

New to the diocese when he was installed here in January 1972 from his native Diocese of Burlington, Vermont, Bishop Louis E. Gelineau asked for and received help from many who were pleased to be of service.

“He has an absolute love for people and is never too busy to do anything he could for you,” it was shared in the nomination of Bishop Louis E. Gelineau for a diocesan Lumen Gentium award in the category of Administration and Stewardship.

As an administrator, Bishop Gelineau is credited with creating the vicariate structure — still employed today — which organizes the day-to-day operations of the various diocesan ministries under the aegis of individual vicars who report to the bishop.

“I appointed vicars in each of the major areas of our ministry,” Bishop Gelineau said. “That proved a great big help for me. I didn’t know the diocese when I came and I’ve had great helpers, great priests and lay people, and no one ever never refused when I asked them to take on a leadership role. It gave me a sense that I didn’t have to be involved in every decision.”

This management structure allowed him to spend more time visiting parishes across the diocese and interacting with the faithful, as well as visiting the sick both at home and in the hospital.

Although he retired from the episcopacy in June 1997 after serving for more than 25 years as a bishop, Bishop Gelineau remains committed to ministering to the elderly and infirm as evidenced by his continued celebration of Mass for those living in the Saint Antoine community where he also resides.

In 1973, he established a permanent diaconate program and in 1976 ordained the first permanent deacons to serve as assistants to the bishop as well as chaplains to state institutions and nursing homes. The deacons began serving in parishes in 1994.

Responding to the wave of immigrants making their way to Rhode Island, Bishop Gelineau in August 1974 developed the Immaculate Heart of Mary community as a place for the Spanish-speaking newcomers to worship. At the recommendation of a committee, he also sought to broaden the number of Spanish-speaking clergy and pastoral assistants to help better serve the spiritual needs of this burgeoning group.

In 1979, the diocese began a lay leadership institute to train individuals to serve as commissioned lectors and extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. The first group to complete the two-year program was commissioned at the cathedral on June 21, 1981.

During his administration Bishop Gelineau also helped spearhead Providence Haiti Outreach after visiting the island nation some 30 years ago and experiencing firsthand the poverty that still exists today.

The ministry continues to operate, now under the leadership of Father Robert Perron and a Board of Directors, growing from a school with two classrooms serving 50 students to one with more than 350 children enrolled each year.

The final years before Bishop Gelineau retired were filled with activity.

In February 1995, Bishop Gelineau embarked on a successful three-year, $40 million Vision of Hope Campaign to allow the diocese to provide needed resources to support older projects and to undertake new ones.

Also in 1995, the Vatican approved his request for a coadjutor bishop to assist him in his work.

Bishop Robert E. Mulvee, a Boston native who was serving as Bishop of Wilmington, Delaware, was welcomed to the diocese in March.

“I had known him before. I was happy and he was happy,” Bishop Gelineau said of the appointment.

“I was really blessed by being asked to come here to begin with and to become a bishop in a prestigious diocese like this one. It’s a wonderful diocese and there were many people over the years that I received such great help from.”

“It was a gift from God.”

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.