Respect, admiration, gratitude, loss, and love for a shepherd were palpable as members of the flock gathered to bid him farewell.
Shortly before 3 p.m. on Jan. 10, bells of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Providence, R.I. began a solemn toll. Inside, people waited patiently. Seated before a side altar and a tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament, Bishop John O. Barres of Rockville Centre, N.Y., prayed silently. From time to time, his head turned toward the sanctuary to a portrait of his mentor and long-time friend, Bishop Robert Edward Mulvee, who died Dec. 28, just seven weeks shy of his 89th birthday.
Placed next to the portrait was Bishop Mulvee’s wooden crosier, or bishop’s staff, a gift from Benedictine Monks, which he had treasured. Fittingly, the bishop’s picture was also flanked by the cathedral’s Christmas creche.
Bishop Mulvee loved Christmas, and although he was known for frequently giving gifts throughout the year, his generosity increased during the holiday season.
As more people entered the cathedral, Bishop Barres joined the procession of acolytes, deacons, priests and bishops down the cathedral’s center aisle to its entrance to receive the casket containing Bishop Mulvee’s remains. “Look with kindness, O Lord, at the life and work of your servant and bishop Robert,” prayed Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, leader of the Diocese of Providence. “Receive him into your eternal dwelling of light and peace.”
As a cantor began to chant the Litany of the Saints, the procession proceeded to the sanctuary, where eight priest pall bearers placed the open coffin on a bier. Bishop Tobin sprinkled Bishop Mulvee’s remains with holy water, then walked slowly around the casket, swinging a censor filled with burning incense.
The short service concluded with a Gospel reading and several prayers. Kneelers were placed near the casket, and many of Bishop Mulvee’s family members and others present quietly formed lines. Some knelt, some stood, all prayed as the former auxiliary bishop of Manchester, N.H., seventh bishop of Wilmington and seventh bishop of Providence lay in state, clad in vestments and bishop’s mitre, a rosary encircling his folded hands. Two members of a Knights of Columbus honor guard stood on either side of the casket, ceremonial swords resting on their shoulders. Their watch continued until 7 that evening when Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans of Providence presided at Solemn Vespers for the Dead.
During his homily at that service, Bishop Robert J. McManus, leader of the Diocese of Worcester, Mass., said that Bishop Mulvee, whom he served as auxiliary bishop of Providence from 1999 to 2004, was “a man of deep and abiding faith who loved his priesthood and whose kindness and generosity endeared him to so many.” He recalled Bishop Mulvee’s “fatherly concern for seminarians,” and the bishop’s Saturday morning visits to Our Lady of Providence seminary, where he often shared coffee and spoke with men studying for the priesthood.
Following vespers, people continued to pray before Bishop Mulvee’s coffin and many gathered in small groups to share memories of their shepherd. Among them were Wilmington priests Msgr. John Hopkins, pastor of St. Margaret of Scotland Parish, Glasgow, and Father Charles C. Dillingham, pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish, Hockessin. Joining the concelebrant priests was Msgr. Steven P. Hurley, vicar general and moderator of the curia for the Diocese of Wilmington.
Among Bishop Mulvee’s many attributes, Msgr. Hopkins remembered, “was his great ability to trust. When he gave you a job, he trusted you to do it, and he never interfered.” Father Dillingham recalled his time as master of ceremonies for the bishop during many different liturgical services throughout the Diocese of Wilmington. “He was a fine liturgist, preached eloquently, had a deep connection to our people, and truly lived his episcopal motto, “As One Who Serves,” Father Dillingham said.,
Anthony Flynn, current attorney for the Diocese of Wilmington, a member of the diocesan Pastoral Council during Bishop Mulvee’s tenure in Wilmington, called the bishop “an extremely intelligent, personable man.” He praised the bishop’s efforts to engage area business leaders in support of Catholic education. He also noted that prior to being named leader of the Wilmington Diocese, Bishop Mulvee had adopted a “zero tolerance” policy for clergy against whom credible allegations of sexual abuse had been levied. The bishop was one of the first among his peers across the nation to meet with survivors of sexual abuse and to apologize to them on behalf of the church.
On the morning of Jan. 11, hundreds of people gathered in the cathedral for Bishop Mulvee’s Mass of Christian Burial. Just before the coffin was closed and a white pall placed over it, Boston’s Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley walked from the sacristy to the casket and stood in silent prayer before imparting a blessing on Bishop Mulvee’s remains.
He then joined a lengthy procession of archbishops, bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians and acolytes, followed by Bishop Tobin, who succeeded Bishop Mulvee as bishop of Providence and celebrated the funeral Mass.
During the homily, Bishop Barres drew sustained applause from the congregation when he thanked members of the Mulvee family seated at the front of the cathedral for “the beautiful gift of a great churchman who could always make you feel like you were the most special person in the world.” More applause followed when Bishop Barres thanked Father Humbert Oliveira for being a “true Simon of Cyrene to Bishop Mulvee,” a reference to the man cited in the Gospels who carried the cross of Jesus to his crucifixion. Father Oliveira was Bishop Mulvee’s closest priest friend for many years and his constant companion, especially after the bishop retired in 2005, and through his final illness.
At the conclusion of the liturgy, members of the clergy formed an honor guard outside the church. As a strong wind whipped black bunting wrapped around the cathedral’s outdoor pillars and snowflakes swirled, priest pallbearers carried Bishop Mulvee’s coffin down the steep steps to a waiting hearse. Members of the flock again assembled, this time in a long line of cars behind the hearse to escort the shepherd to St. Ann’s Cemetery in Cranston, R.I. There, Bishop Robert E. Mulvee was laid to rest near four of his predecessors as bishop of Providence.
“Well done, good and faithful servant . . . come and share your Master’s joy.”