Consecrated first Bishop of Providence, April 28, 1872
Died June 11, 1886
Bishop Thomas F. Hendricken was born on May 5, 1827 in Kilkenny Ireland, son of Anne (Maher) and John Hendricken. He was educated at St. Kyran College, Ireland and the Royal College of Maynooth where he completed his Philosophical and Theological studies and was ordained on April 25, 1853 by Bishop Bernard O’Reilly, Bishop of Hartford, Connecticut.
He came to America at the request of Bishop O’Reilly and was appointed to the Cathedral, then to St. Joseph’s in Providence, St. Mary’s in Newport, and to St. Joseph’s Church in Winsted, Connecticut, a rural parish covering a fifty-mile area. In those days, there were but few communicants of the Catholic Church in that region, and the revenues were small. Yet, with the money at hand in the space of sixteen months, he cleared the church of a heavy debt and purchased and pal for lots in different villages, on every one of which a church was afterwards erected.
When Fr. Hendricken was ordained the first Bishop of Providence on April 28, 1872 in SS. Peter and Paul in Providence, he was already familiar with the city from the years in which he had served as an assistant at the Cathedral under Bishop O’Reilly. When the Diocese of Providence was erected in 1872, it encompassed all of Rhode Island and what is today the Diocese of Fall River. The approximately 125,000 Catholics in the new diocese was served by some 53 priests. The first published report of the new diocese listed 43 churches with 5 under construction, 5 female academies and 1 for boys, 9 parish schools with 4,225 students and 1 orphan asylum with 200 children.
In 1855, he was removed to Waterbury and appointed pastor of the Church of the Immaculate Conception where he ministered for seventeen years. During his career in Waterbury, he built the costly, Gothic Church of the Immaculate Conception, a school house and pastoral residence, purchased and laid out a beautiful cemetery and founded a convent, where the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame, from Montreal, still conduct a flourishing boarding and day school for young ladies. He bound himself up with the cause of education.
In Waterbury, seeing that his parishioners were poor and unable to employ a teacher, he opened a school and added the office of school teacher to his other laborious duties.
For many years, he was a member of the Board of Education and served on its most important committees.
In 1868, he received from Pius IX, the degree of Doctor of Divinity.
At that time, the Diocese of Hartford included the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island. In 1872 the diocese was divided and the diocese of Providence was created.
Dr. Hendricken was appointed by Pius IX the first Bishop of the Diocese of Providence and was consecrated to his holy duties April 28 of the same year. He visited Rome in 1873 and again in 1878 to pay his respects to the new Pope, Leo XIII. Since his con¬secration, the number of priests and parishes in the diocese has been doubled.
Churches and chapels have been added, schools opened, the Jesuit Fathers instituted in Providence, the Precious Blood, the Sacred Heart, the French Nuns of Jesus and Mary in Fall River and the educational establishments of Bay View and Elmhurst been formed. He also brought the Ursuline Nuns to teach the parish schools and Academy at St. Mary’s, Broadway.
He has displayed untiring zeal and indomitable energy in promoting the spiritual and temporal concerns of the different churches over which he has been. During the twenty four years of his ministry, he has purchased and paid for estates valued at upwards of $1,000,000. When he came to Providence as Bishop, a considerable debt was hanging upon the Cathedral parish. He liquidated this within a few months.
There was also a need for a suitable residence for the Bishop and clergy and a building for that purpose was built at a cost of $40,000. Then a Cathedral, worthy of his religion, the diocese, the city and the growing population, became a necessity and the Bishop under¬took the erection of such an edifice, planning the work as the crowning effort of his holy priesthood. The lot upon which the old church stood not being large enough for the new building, the additional lot was purchased for $36,000. The Pro Cathedral was built for a temporary place of worship, costing $30,000.
The new cathedral was commenced as soon as the Pro Cathedral could be occupied. On Thanksgiving Day, 1878, the cornerstone of Sts. Peter and Paul’s Cathedral on High Street was laid. Time has made the construction of this grand building increasingly the earnest Bishop’s hope and love. It is to approach to $500,000 in value and yet there does not rest one dollar on indebtedness upon the Cathedral corporation.