Norwich Diocese forms a young priest

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Before he was a bishop, long before he was appointed the third bishop of Arlington, Paul S. Loverde was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Norwich, Conn. In fact, he spent 23 years, nearly half of his priestly life, serving the people in southern Connecticut.

"It was and is a rural diocese," Bishop Loverde said. "It was made up of mostly blue-collar people. The parishes were both geographical and ethnic. That was interesting because some of the larger towns would have not only the geographical parish, but you'd have a French parish or a Polish parish."

There was one Italian parish - St. Sebastian Church in Middletown, Conn. - and that was where young Father Loverde, the son of Sicilian immigrants, was assigned after his ordination to the priesthood Dec. 18, 1965.

"There were a few large parishes, but most of them were very small," Bishop Loverde said. "It was a very comfortable diocese in which to work. It wasn't that large geographically. It was only four counties. You could get around pretty easily."

The bishop had a variety of experiences as a Norwich priest.

"I was a curate (parochial vicar) at a parish," he said. "From there I went on to high school work, both teaching and being a chaplain."

He also worked in campus ministry, first part time and then full time at two colleges.

He was assigned to work in the tribunal as an associate defender of the bond. When he was in New London, he helped out at a halfway house and drug rehabilitation center, which allowed him to work with recovering alcoholics. "I got some insight into their struggles," he said.

During his time in Norwich, Bishop Loverde led a number of retreats for priests, religious women and religious brothers. "In fact, that's where I met Brother David (the Xaverian brother who later served as the bishop's longtime secretary in Hartford, Ogdensburg and Arlington)," he said.

He traveled beyond the boundaries of the Norwich Diocese as a retreat director and also to lead days of prayer for different groups.

"I was on the presbyteral council (both as a member and later chairman) and our diocesan pastoral council," Bishop Loverde said. He also directed the diocese's conflict resolution board and was a member of the Connecticut Catholic Conference.

"I took part in lots of interfaith and ecumenical dialogues. I did some part-time hospital work, and I was administrator of two different parishes.

"I covered everything," he said. "When I became a bishop (as an auxiliary of Hartford in 1988), I really had touched every facet of diocesan life. So in some ways, that prepared me."

In an earlier interview, Jackie Keller, a former co-worker in Norwich, recalled Father Loverde as a "priest's priest" who was quiet, intelligent and personable. He was the "ultimate peace keeper" who never divulged anyone's confidence. He was someone the other priests could trust.

As a young priest in Norwich, Father Loverde never imagined that he would one day be called to serve as a bishop.

"My aspirations as a young priest were basically I wanted to bring people to Jesus," he said. "And I was trying to do that as I interacted with all of those various groups of people in the parish."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015