Providence Bishop Emeritus Robert E. Mulvee remembered as a ‘good and gentle shepherd’

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — When Bishop Emeritus Robert E. Mulvee, D.D., J.C.D., 88, died following a brief illness on Friday, Dec. 28, at St. Antoine Residence in North Smithfield, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin asked the faithful to pray for the peaceful repose of his soul and for the consolation of all those who mourn his loss.

“Bishop Mulvee was a good and gentle shepherd of God’s people. He was a faithful follower of Christ who served the Church with dignity and compassion,” Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, the eighth bishop of Providence appointed by St. Pope John Paul II in 2005 to succeed the retiring Bishop Mulvee, said following his death.

In his Rhode Island Catholic column, “The Imitation of Christ,” Bishop Tobin writes this week about how he first came to know Bishop Mulvee through their work on a committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Years later, their paths would cross in Providence.

In retirement, he recalled how Bishop Mulvee would often visit diocesan offices with a few pleasant words or stories to tell.

“When I last saw Bishop Mulvee, on Christmas Eve, he was very tired and was sleeping soundly, so we didn’t speak, but I welcomed the opportunity to sit with him silently and reflect on how our paths as bishops had intersected,” Bishop Tobin writes.

Bishop Mulvee served as a shepherd in the Diocese of Providence for 10 years, beginning in 1995, when he was appointed by the Holy Father to serve as coadjutor bishop for the first two of those years to then-Bishop Louis E. Gelineau.

“I’m sure he’s got a good place with the Lord because he did his work conscientiously and did it very well and for the right purposes for which we are ordained as priests and bishops. He gave great service to the Diocese of Providence,” Bishop Emeritus Gelineau said, reflecting on the passing of Bishop Mulvee.

It was Bishop Mulvee, his old friend and colleague since their early seminary days in Ottawa, who came in 1995 to serve as coadjutor bishop in order to help ease Bishop Gelineau’s transition into retirement as he approached 25 years in Providence.

“It was a long and wonderful and very good friendship; we’ve helped each other in many ways and he was always available,” Bishop Gelineau said.

“During those two years that he was my coadjutor he helped me very much to get ready for my retirement, and then he took over and did a great job for those [eight additional] years that Bishop Mulvee was here.”

In 1997, after serving alongside Bishop Gelineau for two years, Mulvee became the seventh Bishop of Providence. His episcopal motto, “As One Who Serves,” epitomized his lifelong commitment to the teachings of Jesus Christ and his church.

From 1999 until 2005, when Bishop Mulvee retired, Msgr. John Darcy served as his vicar general, chancellor and personnel director.

“Bishop Mulvee was such a delight,” said Msgr. Darcy, who now serves as pastor of St. Margaret Parish in East Providence, on the bishop’s passing.

“We had many opportunities for private conversations about the diocese, about the priesthood, about seminary formation. He was such a wonderful bishop to the priests; he really knew them and cared for them very, very deeply. That was his greatest attribute I would say.”

Msgr. Anthony Mancini, rector of the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, first met Bishop Mulvee in 1978 in Manchester, New Hampshire, where, as a newly ordained priest himself, was attending the ordination of a brother priest.

“I could not have known at that time that he would become my bishop, my mentor and a dear and cherished friend,” Msgr. Mancini said of then-Manchester Auxiliary Bishop Mulvee.

Years later, when Bishop Mulvee was installed in the Diocese of Providence, he appointed Msgr. Mancini as cathedral rector. The two would develop a wonderful friendship over the next 15 years as they each lived at the cathedral residence.

“Bishop Mulvee was a priest’s priest with the heart of a true shepherd,” Msgr. Mancini recalled of Bishop Mulvee.

“He was always concerned for the well-being of his priests and a great promoter of priestly fraternity.”

Msgr. Mancini said his shepherd took an active interest in the welfare of the diocesan seminary, telling him that the priesthood is all about three things: “Kindness, kindness and kindness.”

“I can honestly say that I have never met a kinder or more generous man than Bishop Mulvee. He had an enormous capacity for friendship and a keen sense of humor. There was no pretense in Bishop Mulvee despite his having achieved high office in the Church.”

Flo Hainey, who served as secretary to Bishop Mulvee for his entire tenure in Providence — as well as for portions of the episcopacies of Bishops Gelineau and Tobin — recalled in the days following his death how generous he was.

Each Christmas that she had worked for him while in office, and also often after he retired, Hainey would sit down with Bishop Mulvee to help him prepare his Christmas gift-giving list.

In November, the bishop excused himself in the middle of the gift-planning session because he wasn’t feeling well and needed to pay a visit to his doctor. They agreed to reconvene as soon as possible.

With Bishop Mulvee’s health continuing to decline, his list would not be completed this Christmas.

“He was most generous,” Hainey said. “He was such a people person, warm and loving, caring; he cared. He took the time. He was deeply loved and had the most wonderful personality.”

“I am blessed to have known him. He was a grace in my life.”

As generous as he was in wanting to give material gifts to others, Bishop Mulvee was also generous in giving of his time.

“If you had an issue, he would never turn anybody away. He would just listen,” Hainey recalled.

“He was the kindest, most compassionate person. I never, ever, saw him angry.”

Known for taking a pastoral approach to matters, Bishop Mulvee, who had a deep devotion to Our Lady, and who once told Msgr. Mancini that the “Memorare” was his favorite prayer, often visited the infirm and provided comfort to those who experienced a loss in their lives. This was especially notable during the infamous Station Nightclub fire in February 2003, a tragedy that claimed the lives of 100 concert-goers in West Warwick.

As a shepherd, Bishop Mulvee displayed much reverence for the sacraments, especially matrimony. He delighted in commemorating the many years that married couples remained committed to each other by offering special Masses in their honor.

In the mid-1980s, a full 15 years before the standard for dealing with clergy sexual abuse matters was announced in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, Bishop Mulvee was known for implementing a zero tolerance approach to clerical sex abuse.

He took a strong pastoral approach in meeting with those who said they had been abused in the past.

“It was part of the scene and I dealt with it. I met with the victims,” he told Rhode Island Catholic in a 2017 interview as he marked the occasion of his 60th anniversary as a priest and 40th as a bishop.

In October 2000, he showed a special devotion to the Blessed Mother, honoring her by leading 400 faithful from across the diocese on a three-night pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the Holy Year.

Less than a year later, when the terrorist attacks of 9/11 hit very close to home, Bishop Mulvee celebrated a Mass at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, offering his unwavering support for his friend and fellow shepherd Bishop Kenneth Angell, who lost his brother David and sister-in-law Lynn on American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to be flown by terrorists into the World Trade Center.

He was also known as a true friend and mentor to many pursuing a priestly vocation at the Seminary of Our Lady of Providence, a holy place where his presence was often felt. In addition to visiting the seminary on holy days and to lead Holy Hours, Bishop Mulvee would also make it a point to visit on other occasions, even just to connect on a social level to see how his future priests were doing.

When in Rome, Bishop Mulvee would visit local seminarians studying at Pontifical North American College, even taking some of them with him to the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican to visit the pope.

Msgr. Raymond Bastia, the vicar of Finance for the diocese, remembered from his days as pastor of St. Ann Parish in Providence how supportive Bishop Mulvee was of the priests who served the faithful with him.

“He demonstrated support for the ministry of our priests in practical ways and he remained mindful of their pastoral efforts during some very difficult times for the diocese,” Msgr. Bastia recalled, noting how his caring ways extended to lay people as well.

“The Bishop was always kind and gentlemanly. He had a wonderful, pastoral way of relating to both laypersons and clergy.”

Retiring in 2005, Bishop Mulvee split his time between Providence and South Florida, spending winter seasons in a climate which he said added years to his life by allowing him to remain active when the mercury plummeted in New England.

“He loved being in the warm weather and the sunshine,” Msgr. Darcy said. “He was enjoying that very, very much.”

In retirement, Bishop Mulvee continued to assist the diocese by presiding over pontifical ceremonies and confirmations.

In 2017, Bishop Mulvee was honored by the Diocese of Providence with a Lumen Gentium award in the category of Administration and Stewardship in recognition of his lifelong dedication to the Church and his service in the diocese.

Upon learning of Bishop Mulvee’s passing, the Vatican’s Secretariat of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin sent Pope Francis’ condolences to Bishop Tobin and imparted his Apostolic Blessing upon the Diocese of Providence.

“The Holy Father was saddened to learn of the death of Bishop Emeritus Robert E. Mulvee and he asks you kindly to convey his heartfelt condolences to the clergy, religious and laity of the Diocese of Providence,” he wrote.

“In commending the late Bishop to the love and mercy of Christ the Good Shepherd, he joins in your prayer of thanksgiving for the many graces that accompanied his years of priestly and episcopal ministry. To all who mourn Bishop Mulvee in the sure hope of the Resurrection, His Holiness cordially imparts his Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of peace and consolation in the Lord.”

With the reception of Bishop Mulvee’s body at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, along with public visitation and vespers scheduled for Wednesday, and a concelebrated Mass of Christian Burial on Thursday, Rhode Island Catholic will have full coverage of these events in our January 17 edition.