Bishop Robert E. Mulvee, former bishop of the Diocese of Wilmington and retired bishop of Providence, R.I., died Dec. 28 after a brief illness. He was 88.
Bishop Mulvee was the seventh bishop of Wilmington and served as leader of the diocese for 10 years beginning in 1985.
A funeral Mass will be celebrated Jan. 10 at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul in Providence followed by a burial at St. Ann Cemetery in Cranston.
Bishop W. Francis Malooly, the ninth and current bishop of Wilmington, issued a statement on the passing of Bishop Mulvee.
“We are saddened to learn of the passing of our friend, brother, and predecessor, Bishop Robert Mulvee,” Bishop Malooly said. “I had the pleasure of working with Bishop Mulvee as part of the Maryland Catholic Conference while I was serving in the Archdiocese of Baltimore during his ten years tenure as Bishop of Wilmington. The people of this diocese had a great affection and admiration for Bishop Mulvee, and he loved and cherished them.
“He was a dedicated and faith-filled leader who will be greatly missed. I join the Catholic community of Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore in sending our heart-felt condolences to Bishop Tobin and the Catholic community of Rhode Island during this time of shared loss.”
Bishop Mulvee in October sent congratulations to the Diocese of Wilmington as it observed its sesquicentennial. In a letter published in The Dialog, he said he didn’t know anyone when he first arrived in the diocese, but quickly became comfortable.
“I was completely new to Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I didn’t know one single person. The people were wonderful and the priests were really good to me. I quickly came to love and cherish people in both states.
“The Diocese of Wilmington is a place very, very rich in history. Just exploring Delaware and the Eastern Shore, it’s a great experience,” the bishop wrote. “You are living history, and the history of the Catholic church in this country.
“I love the people of Delaware and Eastern Shore of Maryland. I always have you in my heart and prayers.”
Bishop Mulvee was appointed the seventh Bishop of Wilmington by Saint Pope John Paul II in April 1985. He served in that role until he was appointed Coadjutor Bishop of Providence in February 1995. He retired in 2005.
“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,” said Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin in a statement.
Known for taking a pastoral approach to matters, Bishop Mulvee often visited the infirm and provided comfort to those who experienced loss, particularly after the infamous Station Nightclub fire in February 2003 that claimed the lives of 100 concert-goers in West Warwick.
In the mid-1980s, long before the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops established the “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.
He was also known as a friend and mentor to many pursuing a priestly vocation at the Seminary of Our Lady of Providence. 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 to connect on a social level.
When he retired in 2005, Bishop Mulvee split his time between Providence and South Florida.
Born in Boston on Feb. 15, 1930, Robert Edward Mulvee, the son of the late John and Jennie Mulvee, was considered a late vocation because he didn’t discern a life of priestly service until he was in high school.
Boston Cardinal Richard J. Cushing, who visited the high school, encouraged the young men seeking a vocation to the priesthood to go to dioceses other than Boston, which already had so many priests.
Bishop Mulvee followed this advice and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Manchester in 1957.
Twenty years later, he was ordained as an auxiliary bishop of Manchester where he served for eight years before he was installed in 1985 as bishop of Wilmington, Delaware.
(Dialog editor Joseph P. Owens and Rick Snizek, editor of the Rhode Island Catholic newspaper, contributed to this report).