PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The friars celebrated 50 years of Franciscan ministry in this city on June 18. During a Mass at their new parish, St. Mary’s, the friars and over 700 people gave thanks for the work of the 122 friars who have worked in Providence since 1956.
The retired bishop of Providence, Bishop Robert Mulvee, celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving with the Provincial Minister, John O’Connor, and the guardian and pastor, Frank Sevola. The choir, under the direction of Kevin McGoff, welcomed the congregation in the opening hymn, singing “All Are Welcome in This Place.”
Bishop Mulvee is a great supporter of the friars. He knew the friars in Boston, where he grew up. He invited the friars into Wilmington, when he was ordinary there, and supported the work of the friars as bishop of Providence.
In 1953, Bishop Russell McVinney, then bishop of Providence, invited the friars of Holy Name Province to establish and staff a chapel and Catholic Information Center in downtown Providence. In January 1956, the Province opened the first storefront apostolate on Dorrance Street.
Bishop McVinney and Celsus Wheeler, then Provincial Minister, dedicated St. Francis Chapel on Page Street on June 19, 1956. On opening day, more than 5,000 people visited the chapel to pray and view the building. Timothy Judson claimed credit for the first call at St. Francis Chapel. He left the dedication banquet to calm a person contemplating suicide in a jewelry store directly opposite the chapel on Page Street. Paul Power was the first Guardian and Rector of the chapel, and was the one who supervised the renovation of the former furniture store which was became St. Francis Chapel in 1956.
In 1994, the friars moved to Weybosset Street and opened St. Francis Chapel & City Ministry Center. This June 1 the friars, at the bishop’s invitation, assumed the pastoral care of St. Mary Parish, which has had declining numbers of parishioners.
At the Mass, as Bishop Mulvee looked out over the nearly packed church, he joked, “What was I thinking?” Later, as he remembered the 50 years of service in Providence, he hoped for 50 years more, although, he joked, by then the friars “will probably have taken over the cathedral.”
In a refection to the people of Providence, Frank Sevola, noted, “Over these 50 years St. Francis Chapel has always been a quiet oasis for prayer, reflection, worship and ministry. From the beginning, lay volunteers have assisted the Franciscan friars in this urban ministry. Lay ministers work side by side with the friars in ministering to the hungry at the sandwich program three mornings a week. Lay ministers care for the hungry and sick at the Poverello Center every day. Lay ministers work in spiritual direction, adult faith formation, evangelization, worship and every other ministry we provide. Without the laity, we could not have accomplished so much over the last 50 years.”
Finally, Frank noted, “Now we stand on the threshold of another 50 years with the start of an exciting new ministry in Providence. We now have the opportunity to add parochial ministry to our already long list of ministries. We look forward to meeting the spiritual and sacramental needs of this community, as we continue our downtown ministry at St. Francis Chapel.”