EAST GREENWICH — “In giving the world priests, He gives us His own Son’s mediators on earth, earthen vessels that we are, and imperfect and weak as we can be. No priest knows why God has called him, but every priest surely knows that God has called him.”
With these words, former Auxiliary Bishop of Providence Robert C. Evans greeted a filled church at Our Lady of Mercy Parish during the liturgical celebrations for the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination.
On November 23, 2022, the Holy Father accepted Bishop Evans’ letter of resignation from office (what the Church officially refers to as retirement, and which canon law mandates for bishops who reach their 75th birthday).
The ceremony for this special occasion was celebrated with both reverence and noble dignity. Concelebrants included the clergy of Our Lady of Mercy parish, as well as visiting bishops from nearby dioceses, including Archbishop Leonard P. Blair, of the Archdiocese of Hartford; Bishop Salvatore R. Matano, of the Diocese of Rochester; Bishop Robert J. McManus, of the Diocese of Worcester; Bishop William D. Byrne, of the Diocese of Springfield; and Bishop Robert P. Deeley, of the Diocese of Portland.
Bishop Matano delivered the homily. Though serving as bishop of a New York diocese, Bishop Montano has close ties to the Diocese of Providence, having been ordained a priest in 1971 for the Diocese of Providence, two years before the ordination of Bishop Evans.
Bishop Matano began his sermon by bringing attention to a current crisis in the Church, something brought about, in part, by incomplete or even erroneous understandings of the nature of the priesthood.
Beginning in the middle of the last century, many Catholics began to adopt a vision of the priesthood rooted in “the denial of the Sacramental character of the priesthood” and the desire to “define the priesthood in purely sociological terms,” which went against the attempts of the Second Vatican Council to bring about renewal in the Church.
The Council’s call for renewal was rooted in the Church’s perennial teaching of the priest as one who acts “in persona Christi,” or in the person of Christ. Priests are therefore called, Bishop Matano said, to conform themselves to the self-sacrificial love of Christ for the Church in a special manner.
“The priesthood is in need of integral restoration,” Bishop Matano preached, “not because Jesus Christ has redefined or altered the priesthood, but because of human frailty and other attempts by humans to redefine what Christ has given to us.”
“We are now called, as priests and bishops, in union with our Holy Father, to restore the beauty of the priesthood, by our own fidelity to, and in imitation of, Jesus Christ, the eternal High Priest and the Good Shepherd.”
Restoring the priesthood requires a contemplation of the fundamental features of what the priestly ministry entails. The priesthood, Bishop Matano noted, is inseparably linked with the preaching of the Gospel in such a way so as to inflame the zeal of the faithful, helping the poor and those in need, serving as vessels of God’s forgiveness, celebrating the Mass and administering the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and being willing to give of oneself for the good of the Church.
Bishop Matano connected this with the current Eucharistic Revival taking place in the United States, which sheds light on the core duty of the priesthood and episcopate.
“The priesthood, as Pope St. John Paul wrote, is both a gift and a mystery, never to be completely understood, but always to be completely loved,” said Bishop Evans in a series of closing remarks after Mass.
“I know this is my anniversary, but the most important person in all of this is, of course, Almighty God, who, for reasons I don’t know, chose me for my vocation, as he chose each of you for your vocation. And today we honor God for this mysterious choice that he has made, and our attitude has always been to be faithful to that vocation, and grateful for it.”
Bishop Evans’ remarks were followed by a series of remarks from Father Bernard Healey, the pastor of Our Lady of Mercy parish, who thanked the priests and bishops in attendance for their presence, and who offered words of gratitude to Bishop Evans for his years of service to the diocese.
Father Healey also read a letter from Bishop Richard G. Henning, who was unable to attend the day’s events, congratulating Bishop Evans on the occasion of his golden jubilee.
“I join all of you in praising Almighty God for the gift of this priest and bishop of Jesus Christ,” Bishop Henning’s letter said, going on to emphasize how his relationship with Bishop Evans has been the source of inspiration and moral strength in his ministry.
Father Healey concluded by reading from a document containing a blessing from Pope Francis on the occasion of this anniversary.
Some were moved to attend the day’s events for personal reasons.
Such was the case with Ronnie Lecuivre, a parishioner of SS. John and James Parish in West Warwick. Lecuivre’s brother, the late Father Joel Lecuivre, was ordained a priest a year before Bishop Evans, and the two were fellow students at Our Lady of Providence Seminary.
“I have a high respect for priests and nuns,” Lecuivre said. “They had a big influence on my life as a boy. … Priests sometimes get negative publicity. I have a deep faith, and I can thank religious people, nuns and priests, for my faith.”
“It was a wonderful event,” said Sister Elizabeth Castro, the director of the Office of Religious for the Diocese of Providence.
“Bishop Evans has been a wonderful blessing for all of us in the Diocese,” she continued, going on to note in particular how Bishop Evans has done much to help the religious in the diocese. “He was always there to give us advice and serve as a spiritual guide.”