Harding honored for ‘tireless care’ of st. romuald chapel south kingstown independentri.com youtube electricity

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Harding, 72, was selected from among 190 nominations for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence Lumen Gentium Award, which recognizes those who “toil in the vineyard,” according to a release from the office of communications. His award falls under the category of Parish Service and Harding was one of 15 people in 10 categories honored at a recent dinner, with proceeds from the event benefiting parish food pantries, meal sites and nutritional programs.

Harding has been assisting at St. Romuald Chapel, which is affiliated with St. Francis of Assisi Church, Wakefield, since he moved to the area more than 30 years ago. He is the chapel historian, caretaker and quiet cheerleader, telling of ceiling boards that are remnants of the ’38 Hurricane, and the center aisle, which dips down where the original small structure was expanded.

It was a summer chapel for many years, but with the addition of electricity, and later heat, St. Romuald’s is now open year-round and Harding is there for each Mass, assists at funerals and weddings, and organizes other gatherings, such as the Friday night Stations of the Cross, and rosary, and in doing so, provides assistance for the Wakefield staff.

Harding calls the Matunuck area “paradise,” having grown up a lifelong Catholic on Smith Hill where he attended the then St. Patrick’s elementary school and then Mt. Pleasant High School. He worked in the kitchen at Rhode Island Hospital prior to being drafted into the U.S. Army.

“President Kennedy signed my papers, but he died before I actually went in,” Harding said. The word ‘hospital’ on his Army form regarding his civilian work led him to military hospital work where he earned invaluable experience, he said, and also motivated him to pursue classroom credits when he returned home.

First as an LPN and then an RN, Harding worked at the Veterans Administration Hospital, the Institute of Mental Health and was a visiting nurse before coming to South County Hospital, where he worked in the emergency room. He remains on the ethics committee there, he said.

It never was and still isn’t a paid job, yet Harding feels a connection to the chapel, having lived to see its evolution from a beachouse-like structure (without restrooms at the time) to the comfortable, expanded place it is now. Its name even inspired him to research the chapel’s namesake saint, which led to his own commitment to becoming a Camaldolese Benedictine Oblate three years ago, “which is unusual at this age,” he said. Oblates are Christian men and women who choose to associate themselves with a religious community but do not take vows or live in a monastery. Italian monk St. Romuald is said to have started the Camaldolese 1,000 years ago.

Harding said he was surprised when he got a message to contact the diocese, recalling how he wondered if he had done something wrong. When he found out about the award he was singled out for, which means “Light of the Nations,’” he said he was fully surprised and still feels “that the other award-winners do so much more.”

In a statement from the diocese’s office of communications, the Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, Bishop of Providence, wrote: “The Lumen Gentium awards recognize individuals and organizations that have made outstanding personal contributions to the life of the Church and the wider community throughout Rhode Island. In their service they personify the inherent goodness of our Catholic faith, and for that we are all most grateful.”

Nominations come from the parishes and a committee chaired by the vicar general for the diocese meets and reviews the nominees and then sends their recommendations to Bishop Tobin for approval, Karen Davis of the Office of Communications for the Diocese said.