Father Robert Marciano is a quick-change artist.
Saturday he was attired in church vestments as he officiated the 5 p.m. Mass at St. Kevin. Then in barely minutes he was wearing the Air Force blue uniform, for Father Marciano is a pastor and State Command Chaplain of the Rhode Island National Guard.
On Saturday, however, he officially retired after serving 36 years in the military at the rank of colonel. At the conclusion of the ceremony, he said it is time to let others step forward.
St. Kevin Church was filled for the Mass followed by a military retirement ceremony. It was hardly a brief event, which Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian could help but remark upon when asked to speak at the conclusion of the Mass.
“There’s a Marciano family saying,” he said, “that’s it’s not over until it’s over done.”
Longtime friends, Avedisian said Father Marciano had hair when they meet and “mine was dark.” He said it has been a pleasure to have Father Marciano “in our city.” Father Marciano has served as chaplain for the police and fire departments and is involved in the community beyond his work with the church.
“He just can’t stand to miss anything,” the mayor said.
It was the desire to see the world that inspired Father Marciano to join a chaplaincy program in the Air Force Reserves in 1980.
From 1994 to 2005, he served as the Wing Chaplain for the 143 Air Lift Wing at Quonset Point, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Then in 2006, he accepted an active duty Air Force assignment at the National Guard Bureau at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., as chief of personnel and accessions, being responsible for the recruiting, training, and readiness of the Air National Guard Chaplain Corps. He was a distinguished graduate of Air War College in June 2007.
In April 2008, he was named the chief of chaplains and was promoted to the rank of colonel. In that capacity, he was responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Air National Guard Chaplain Corps and served as the “Senior Pastor” of the 107,000 men and women of the Air National Guard and their families. After completing his active duty in Washington, he returned to the state and took on his role at the Rhode Island National Guard.
In his remarks at the conclusion of the military portion of the ceremony, Father Marciano said: “What a grace it has been to serve as a shepherd to this great parish and school where I am privileged to be pastor, and to serve those who guard our freedoms, those inside these sacred walls tonight, and those stationed around the globe holding high the lamp of freedom for all the world to see.”
Father Marciano called our nation the “greatest on earth.”
“As a chaplain, protecting one of the very first and most important foundations of our republic – the freedom of religion – I have seen the goodness of people here and around the globe and thank God every day for the privilege that has been mine.”
Brigadier General Alphonse Stephenson, presiding officer at the military ceremony, spoke of the work of chaplains and how “you don’t know who you’re going to touch.” And often the work is under challenging circumstances. Father Marciano was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, was among the first responders to the Station nightclub fire that claimed the lives of 100 and served on the Mortuary Recovery Team at the Pentagon immediately following the attacks of 9-11.
“The chaplain is there to be a sign of the divine in an all too human situation,” Stephenson said.
Col. Mark Rowan of New York gave the homily during the Mass, a collection of stories about their deployment together that had people laughing. Father Marciano was presented the Meritorious Service Medal, Third Oak Leaf Cluster, and Rhode Island Star during the military ceremony.
Without he obligation of his military obligations, Avedisian concluded Father Marciano would even have more time to devote to the community. And then he suggested, to the amusement of parishioners and the military personnel filling the church, that Marciano could take up a new city position.
“The animal shelter has never had a chaplain,” the mayor said.