A half-century as a priest

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As a newly ordained priest in the Norwich Diocese, Conn., Father Paul S. Loverde's aspirations were simple: He wanted to bring people to Jesus.

"I never imagined that I would be a bishop," he recalled during a recent interview. "I always felt there were lots of priests who were so gifted and wondered why they never became bishops. It wasn't on my radar."

Bishop Loverde was ordained a priest Dec. 18, 1965, in Rome. He returned to Norwich to begin his priestly ministry after the Second Vatican Council.

"It was exciting," he said. "It was challenging because it was a time to try and integrate ideas that were different but also to steer away from extremes. In a sense, we didn't have a lot of guidance. That's where I think a lot of difficulties occurred.

"As a young priest, I just wanted to get people to really come alive in the church," he said.

The bishop was exposed to nearly every facet of diocesan life as a young priest. He worked in parishes, the tribunal and campus ministry. He taught religious studies in a high school, was chairman of the presbyteral council and served as the bishop's delegate for clergy.

"I covered everything," he said. "When I became a bishop, I really had touched every facet of diocesan life. So in some ways, that prepared me."

Much to his surprise, he was consecrated as a bishop April 12, 1988, at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford. He took as his episcopal motto "Encourage and Teach with Patience."

Bishop Loverde has found great joy and inspiration during his 50 years as a priest and 27 years as a bishop.

"I'm continually encouraged by the wonderful faith that I see in other people that I encounter all throughout my 50 years as a priest," he said, "not only the faith of other priests and other religious, both sisters and brothers, but the faith of wonderful lay people.

"We have saints among us," he said. "That's always been a great source of encouragement and inspiration to me."

One of the highlights for the bishop has been his ability to make the Lord Jesus present through preaching, sacramental ministry and pastoral care.

"As I look back, I certainly enjoyed being among the people of the parish. That's something that I still miss, because that's where you get to know people, to be part of their lives."

He especially loved the challenge of campus ministry, as well as priest personnel work.

"The other thing that I've always enjoyed is giving retreats and days of prayer," he said. "Those are some of the highlights after 50 years."

In early September, Bishop Loverde led a pilgrimage to Sicily, his father's homeland, as well as Rome, the place where he studied and was ordained.

Being in Sicily "was like reliving again and savoring those basic values that my parents taught me that they had received from that same ancestry," he said.

"It was a joy to see the relatives who are still there and also I felt there was a sense of gratitude for what had been given to me from my parents."

He credits his parents with instilling in him a sense of faith and hard work, a sense of taking pleasure in work.

Every summer while studying in Rome, the bishop would visit the town in Sicily where his father grew up. A week after he was ordained a priest, he celebrated Christmas Eve Midnight Mass in his father's old church.

"My grandmother was still living," he recalled. "She couldn't walk, so they carried her to church. She prayed very much for my vocation. She was there for my first Midnight Mass, which was lovely."

The bishop's father had come to the United States in 1920 at age 18 and returned to Sicily 40 years later while the bishop was in seminary formation.

His grandmother asked his father when he was going to bring his son and wife to Sicily. His father said that he didn't know, because his son was studying to become a priest. The bishop's grandmother thought that automatically meant that he would come to Rome to study.

"My father said, 'No, only a few people go to Rome from the States, and I don't think that will happen.'

But his grandmother was persistent. "He's coming to Rome, and I'm going to pray the rosary every day that he does," she said.

"Two years later the bishop called me in and sent me to Rome. I never knew that story until after I was ordained."

During the pilgrimage to Rome, Bishop Loverde had the privilege of meeting Pope Francis during his weekly general audience, just a week before the Holy Father was scheduled to visit the United States.

"It's always a joy to meet the Holy Father," the bishop said. "I've met three popes, and each one is always so welcoming at these papal audiences. They always listen as you speak to them."

The bishop told Pope Francis that he would be seeing him again, this time in America, and that he was praying for his safe trip.

Bishop Loverde was part of the group that welcomed Pope Francis at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. He later heard the pope address the U.S. bishops at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, as well as the canonization Mass for St. Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

"His talk to the bishops was so fraternal and brotherly," the bishop said. "As he said, it was brother speaking to brothers, urging us to give loving, pastoral care to our people, which we want to do."

Bishop Loverde spent six years as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Hartford and five years as bishop of the Diocese of Ogdensburg, N.Y. He has been in Arlington for more than 16 years.

"What stands out (in Arlington) is that I've always tried, and people have responded, to make evangelization a predominant theme," he said. "Even before we got to a more heightened emphasis on it (evangelization), when I first came, that was one of the four pillars. That has been a constant."

When the bishop arrived in Arlington more than 16 years ago, he emphasized the four pillars of evangelization, unity, reconciliation and service.

Another highlight for the bishop has been his ability to keep people united despite their differences.

"We've been a united community of faith," he said. "I think that shows itself in the response of our people to so many good things."

As an example, he cited the financial response of the diocese in times of crisis, such as natural disasters, as well as the annual Bishop's Lenten Appeal.

"They are always so generous," he said. "If we weren't unified, we wouldn't have that."

The bishop said he has been greatly encouraged in recent years by the response to the annual men's and women's conferences. "Just think of 1,000 men and 800 women joining in prayer on a Saturday morning," he said.

"I think, through God's grace, I've been able to keep everybody united in that kind of way so that we are one, even though we have differences," Bishop Loverde said.

"It's certainly a faith-filled diocese. They have a great sense of faith. It's a diocese that reverences and respects tradition. Not ideology, but tradition. The church is big enough for different schools of thought."

The bishop was required by canon law to submit his resignation to Pope Francis when he turned 75 in early September, but he has no sense of when his resignation will be accepted.

"Certainly it will be accepted at some point," Bishop Loverde said.

The bishop plans on remaining in the diocese, whenever that day comes.

"I may go home (to Connecticut) in the summer for longer periods of time," he said. "I'm going to live here in the priests' retirement home (in Annandale). What I hope to do, to the degree that the new bishop would want, is to assist him. That's his call. I can help him with ceremonies in any way that he wishes."

He also wants to make himself available to parishes and priests for days of prayer, retreats and spiritual direction.

"That could be to priests or religious men and women, laity and seminarians," he said. "It doesn't matter. I've always enjoyed doing that. That would keep me busy."

Bishop Loverde is especially grateful for the support he has received from the chancery staff.

"I'd be hard pressed to say that I don't know where you'd find a better group of people," he said. "I'm blessed among bishops. I don't think that any bishop in the United States has as fine a staff as I do. I'm very grateful, because I could not do anything without all of my staff, in all the various areas.

"It's a great diocese," he added. "I'd say to anyone who comes here, it's a wonderful place to come to. Many more things can happen, of course. We can always make what's good better. The new bishop will have gifts I don't have, which will be needed for the future."

The bishop recalled that every time there was a change of bishops in the Diocese of Norwich, the new bishop who came was always the right bishop for that time.

"I've seen it with our Holy Fathers as well. Each one brought something we needed at that moment. I'm confident that God is going to take good care of us. He's going to send us the best bishop we could ever have."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015