Friday, December 08, 2006

Providential Timing

In his first public appearance since his Monday release from a days-long hospitalization for back and leg pain, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence presided today at the reburial of the diocese's founding bishop, Thomas Francis Hendricken.

After the crypt of the Cathedral of Ss. Peter and Paul was cleared out, and the five other Providence bishops who shared it moved to a cemetery, plans were made to return Hendricken's body alone to the upper level; his funeral was the first Mass held in the structure whose construction he championed.

As Tobin put it, after the conversion of its lower church into a social hall, the Right Reverend departed were at rest "in the cafeteria."

Before re-returning to the cathedral -- where he was re-interred in a green marble sarcophagus -- the coffin of the founding bishop of Rhode Island, an Irish immigrant who was a priest of Hartford at the time of his appointment in 1872, made a stop at the high school that bears his name:
Students assembled in a school gymnasium and watched a video of Hendricken’s life. When it was over, the body of Hendricken, enclosed in a green-velvet casket, was unloaded from a hearse. Six students carried the casket into the gym.

The choir sang, and Taillon led the students in saying the rosary. After a moment of silence, a bagpiper played. The students carried the bishop’s body back to the hearse, which brought Hendricken to Providence with a police escort.

“As the founding Bishop of Providence, Bishop Hendricken was a leader of historic proportions for the Catholic church in New England,” said Bishop Tobin said yesterday. "He made the establishment of our present cathedral his personal and ardent goal – a goal that he would never live to see as the first Mass celebrated in the cathedral was his funeral.’’

For some reason, despite the calendar's observance of a joyous feast, music heard at Hendricken's funeral was used again for today's liturgy.... Hmm.

As if it wasn't interesting enough, while Rhode Islanders publicly mourn a bishop who slipped the bonds of earth in 1886, there'll be no such profuse farewells tomorrow in West Virginia for a more recent prelate of the diocese who will be buried as he's lived the last four decades, in anonymity.

Word's come through that Bernard Matthew Kelly died this past Tuesday in the Mountain State. The name may not sound familiar, but from 1964-71, Bernard Kelly was Bishop Kelly, an auxiliary of Providence, believed to be the first American Catholic bishop to address a Protestant congregation in the springtime of the ecumenical movement.

Along with Auxiliary Bishop James Shannon of St Paul and Minneapolis, Kelly -- a favorite of the apostolic delegate of the '60s, Egidio Vagnozzi -- resigned the episcopate in the summer of 1971 amid an "
abiding sense of frustration" that the dominant discussions in the church of his day were "more concerned with Communion in the hand than the war in Viet Nam."

(It's like deja vu all over again.)

And with that, he became an attorney and faded quietly away... with the exception of the newspaper ads advertising his law practice that infuriated Bishop Gelineau. Kelly didn't seek a married priesthood, didn't seek to change discipline by force, didn't use his orders to raise hackles after his resignation. He simply became a footnote of history, known to but the few.

(It's not like deja vu all over again.)

Even if it's just Patches and McGruff, here's hoping some sort of official delegation gets sent down there -- if, for no other reason, as a sign of Christian goodwill. Whatever happened 35 years ago, you leave to the Lord to judge, hoping that it's not too late to do right by history and with faith that all is forgiven.

Then again, as today's event in the same cathedral where Kelly was ordained shows us, the process could take 12 decades or so.

AP/Stew Milne