Retirement of Fr. Beirne

Retiring pastor counts his blessings

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GREENVILLE - As Father Gerald E. Beirne reflects on his long and active ministry in the Diocese of Providence, he is grateful for the many blessings that God has bestowed on him and for the opportunity to minister to the countless number of people in the ministries and parishes where he has served.

"Looking back, it's clearly where I fit and where I belonged," the priest said, referring to his almost 44 years as a priest. Father Beirne will retire on Feb. 12 as pastor of St. Philip Church, where he has served for 16 years.

The Pawtucket native credited Father George F. Gorman, now a resident of St. Antoine Residence, North Smithfield, and the late Msgr. John W. Struck, for influencing his priestly vocation. Both priests served at St. Leo Church, Pawtucket, where the future priest's family worshipped and where and he and his two brothers attended the parish school.

"Those priests were very good role models," Father Beirne recalled. "They were holy men with both feet on the ground."

The priest also noted that two widely-acclaimed Bing Crosby movies, "The Bells of St. Mary's" and "Going My Way" were also great influences on his decision to follow God's call to the priesthood, as they also were for his younger brother, Father Robert M. Beirne, pastor of St. Anthony Church, Providence.

Father Beirne said that among his many assignments, the one that stood out was his ministry as a hospital chaplain. He was appointed by Bishop Louis E. Gelineau on May 13, 1976, to serve as chaplain at Rhode Island and Roger Williams hospitals, and became diocesan coordinator of hospital chaplains on Nov. 3, 1977. He served for almost four years before becoming pastor of St. Rita Church, Warwick.

"The time at the hospitals was certainly a milestone," Father Beirne said. "You learn so much about human nature."

The priest said that once he settles into retirement, he is contemplating volunteering one day a month in hospital ministry.

He described his service at the hospital as a "powerful and important ministry" that allowed him to work with a cross section of the population and hear stories about great hardships and long-term disabilities, as well as uplifting and inspiring tales of great courage. The priest said he was always impressed with the hospital staffs and physicians, and the great responsibility that these individuals accepted as they cared for patients on a daily basis.

Father Beirne also fondly remembered his ministry at St. Martha Church, East Providence, where he was an assistant from 1963-69.

"I was the 'boy priest' at St. Martha's," he recalled, smiling, adding that he started the parish CYO, as well as the diocesan CYO Quiz Bowl. The priest is an avid trivia buff and wrote a syndicated newspaper column about Catholic trivia for several diocesan newspapers throughout the United States, including for The Providence Visitor, during the 1980s.

Father Beirne, who was ordained by Bishop Russell J. McVinney on June 9, 1962, studied for the priesthood at Our Lady of Providence Seminary, Warwick, and St. Bernard Seminary, Rochester, N.Y. The priest has served under four diocesan prelates - Bishops McVinney, Gelineau, Robert E. Mulvee and Thomas J. Tobin.

"They've all been good, honest men," Father Beirne said. "I hope that I've done my duty by them."

The energetic priest emphasized that he has enjoyed his ministry at St. Philip's, a large parish that now serves almost 3,000 families and one that has witnessed tremendous growth in recent decades.

"It's a busy place," the priest said, admitting that ministry in a quiet parish would have been more difficult. "I want it to be busy. I want it to be more than a church (building). I want it to be a parish."

Father Beirne stated that during his ministry, the parish has added Perpetual Adoration in Our Lady's Chapel, and implemented "PEP," an acronym for Parish Expansion Project.

"It took 'Passion,' 'Energy' and 'Perseverance' to implement it," the priest said, offering another interpretation of the acronym. The project connected the parish school to the parish center, which provides space for middle school classrooms. St. Philip School has also added a pre-school during Father Beirne's tenure as pastor.

Anyone who knows the active priest knows that Father Beirne is an avid Red Sox fan. In fact, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of sports trivia, and is an active member of the Society of American Baseball Research. Father Beirne is the author of "The New England Sports Trivia Book," published in 1983 by Yankee Publishing Inc. Copies of the out-of-print book can still be found for sale on the Internet.

In retirement, the priest will reside in Narragansett. He plans to attend Red Sox spring training in Florida and the annual Society of American Baseball Research Convention in St. Louis. Mo. In April, he will be accompanying a group of Catholic pilgrims to Our Lady of Garabandal in Garabandal, Spain, a popular destination for pilgrims.

Father Beirne also plans to assist in parishes when needed and to enjoy a few rounds of golf. He credits his current assistant, Father Peter J. Sheehan, a former Marine and golf pro, for offering him a few pointers to help his game.

"He taught me the proper way to use a putter," Father Beirne acknowledged, breaking into laughter. "The putter is a golf club designed to hit the ball part-way to the hole."

(This article originally appeared in The Providence Visitor)