Archbishop Pearce remembered for his spirit, devotion
“His Holiness Pope Francis has learned with sadness of the death of Archbishop George H. Pearce and offers heartfelt condolences to all who mourn him in the hope of the resurrection,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State wrote in a communication to Bishop Thomas J. Tobin on Sept. 3.
“With gratitude for the many graces which accompanied the late Archbishop’s years of devoted missionary service as a member of the Marist Fathers and in the episcopal sees of Apia [Samoa] and Suva [Fiji], His Holiness commends his noble soul to the merciful embrace of Christ the Good Shepherd,” the Cardinal continued. “To those assembled for the Mass of Christian Burial, and to his family, his confreres and the faithful spiritually united with their prayers, the Holy Father cordially imparts his Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of consolation and strength in the Lord.”
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin served as principal celebrant during the Mass of Christian Burial, while Rev. Albert DiIanni, SM, served as homilist. In addition, several prelates from the Diocese of Providence, including Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans and Emeritus Bishops Louis E. Gelineau, Robert E. Mulvee, Francis X. Roque and Ernest B. Boland, along with Emeritus Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin of Hartford; Auxiliary Bishop Christie Macaluso of Hartford; Bishop Robert J. McManus, of Worcester; and Emeritus Bishop Daniel Patrick Reilly of Norwich and Worcester; also celebrated the Mass.
Father Paul Frechette, SM, provincial of the Marist Fathers, along with several Marist priests and Father Michael Higgins, OFM, Archbishop Pearce’s nephew, also attended, as did about 40 diocesan priests and members of the Archbishop’s family and many others whose lives he touched during his ministry here.
Father DiIanni, a Marist Father, paid tribute in his homily to Archbishop Pearce’s extensive overseas service, which began in 1949 when he traveled to the Samoa Islands in the Pacific to begin serving as a missionary. “He always considered himself a Marist,” Father DiIanni said. “He was a humble and simple man who never put on airs. He dreamed of a life more peaceful, more bountiful, more beautiful than he had ever experienced.”“We’re grateful for the decades of service provided. He touched so many souls on behalf of Christ and his Church,” Bishop Tobin said.
Johnny Toma, a native of American Samoa who was first inspired by Archbishop Pearce in 1998 while attending John and Wales University in Providence, where the Archbishop was serving as a chaplain, made the trip up to attend the funeral from Silver Spring, Md., where he currently resides.
“I attended his Marian prayer groups,” recalled Toma, who wore over his suit a native traditional Samoan necklace made of coconut husks, known as ula pu’a, while his mother, Velonika Nikolao, wore a traditional flower in her hair.
“He was very holy and spiritual, a very simple man, and he was very good in Samoan,” added Toma, who sat in a front pew. The Archbishop had a special aptitude for learning languages, a skill that made him accessible to the diverse populations he served.
Sandra Gaumont, a lay Dominican who previously served as a campus minister at Johnson and Wales, recalled how humble Archbishop Pearce was.
“He was fixing a truck when they told him that was to become a bishop,” she said, relating a story the archbishop once told her.
She also appreciated his “very dry Maine sense of humor,” which made him very personable.
“He touched so many lives in Providence,” Gaumont said.
Downstairs in the cathedral hall, John Primeau arranged for a large display of story boards and artifacts from the archbishop’s decades of service to be available to provide insight into the fascinating and full life that he had lived.
Primeau, the president and founder of the North American Catholic Educational Programming Foundation, which produces Catholic radio and television programs, had worked extensively with Archbishop Pearce through the years. Along with his wife, the couple had taken the archbishop on many day trips in his later years, especially car rides for lobster dinner, a delicacy which he especially enjoyed.
“He was a great preacher, along the lines of [the late] Father John Randall, very charismatic,” Primeau said.
Primeau smiled at the fact that Archbishop Pearce chose to be buried wearing his black sneakers.
An avid outdoor enthusiast who in his 80s once drove to Mount Washington in New Hampshire in the morning, hiked the treacherous Tuckerman Ravine route to the top before descending via the same route and driving back home before dinner time, Archbishop Pearce once offered a Holy Hour for Mary in the middle of the wilderness at Maine’s Baxter State Park.
“He had a great devotion to the Blessed Mother,” recalled Primeau, who was part of the group accompanying him on the two hour canoe trip to their campsite on the feast of the Assumption.
Primeau served as a pallbearer at the burial of Archbishop Pearce on Saturday, Sept. 5 at Sacred Heart Cemetery in Andover, Mass. http://www.thericatholic.com/