Thursday, May 02, 2013

"Monz" At Rest – Harrisburg's Beloved McFadden Dies Suddenly at 65

Earlier today, Joseph Patrick McFadden – tenth bishop of Harrisburg, yet eternally a priest of Philadelphia – died suddenly at 65.

According to reports, McFadden felt ill and was taken to a hospital during a meeting of the Pennsylvania bishops in his hometown. He was pronounced dead at 7.40am.

As a teenager, the future bishop – the eldest of four – had to fill in as the man of the house after his own father died young. Entering seminary after several years as a lay teacher and basketball coach at West Catholic High, the Midstate prelate – who acquired the nickname "Monz" while serving as president of his beloved Cardinal O'Hara High School – was only a few months into a three-year term as chair of the USCCB Committee on Education before his departure.

Perhaps it's needless to say, but on a personal level, this is a very heavy and difficult shock. More as it begins to wear off... for now, here's the report-tribute that went out on 22 June 2010, as the Harrisburg nod was announced:

As the local scene goes, the mood of the day is certain to be one of immense sadness at the departure of “the people’s bishop” -- a beloved "neighborhood guy" auxiliary with the heart of a pastor whose whole life and happiness have been firmly rooted in this place....

The son of a working-class family raised at the city’s western tip, McFadden didn’t enter the seminary until after spending several years as a high-school social studies teacher -- and, more importantly (at least, in these parts), basketball coach and athletic director.

When it comes to summing up the new head of the 230,000-member capital church, the latter bit says it best. On his first day at Overbrook, the story goes that the new arrival met at least some of his classmates by asking where the house court was... and many years later, the headquarters of this town’s dominant religious institution -- i.e. the Eagles front-office -- named McFadden to its list of the “75 Greatest Living Philadelphians.”

[T]he young priest’s path would wind through the Cardinal’s Office: but a year after his 1981 ordination, McFadden was appointed secretary to John Cardinal Krol, remaining aside the iconic Pharaoh well into his retirement. After a decade serving the figure still known in some local quarters simply as “The Cardinal,” Krol finally released his protege, and McFadden returned to Catholic education -- this time as president of Cardinal O’Hara, the archdiocese’s second-largest high-school.

Having given the famed institution "the feel of a parish" over eight years at its helm, in 2001 the future bishop was named pastor of St Joseph’s in Downingtown, one of the booming communities of the empire’s western suburbs, where he was tasked with building fresh space to accommodate the parish's explosive growth over the prior decade. Three years later, dozing on the couch while watching golf on Memorial Day afternoon, the call to the high-hat came -- and when Appointment Day arrived, the press conference was delayed some minutes as the overwhelmed pick needed more time to collect himself before he could appear, his face reddened from tears when he finally did.

Entrusted with the vital portfolio of overseeing Catholic education alongside a quarter of the 1.5 million-member archdiocese, McFadden’s proven a skilled, conciliatory operator amid often rough tides: the now-annual ritual of painful school closings (and the arduous media and nerve-soothing duties that come with it) while seeking out new ways of keeping the survivors viable; stepping in as needed to help tend to the brothers; literally walking the streets... and the list goes on.

Believed to have been the presbyterate's choice in its consultations for an auxiliary, the new bishop scored “thunderous applause” at his ordination on telling the guys that “I am proud to be called a Philadelphia priest... for you I have become a bishop, but with you I am and always will be a Philadelphia priest.”

Between the lines, the words were a plea that he might remain here forever.

Clearly, Providence had other plans. And to say that’ll spark grief among a broad swath of the hometown crowd is no overstatement....
So it was then, and so again it is today.

Rest well, Bishop Joe – right now, words can't sufficiently say how much you'll be missed.

SVILUPPO: The metropolitan of Pennsylvania, Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. has released the following statement:
I was shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the sudden death of Bishop Joseph McFadden of the Diocese of Harrisburg. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to be with him over the last few days at the Annual Spring Meeting of the Pennsylvania Bishops and spend time in conversation with him.

Bishop McFadden was a native Philadelphian and this diocese was always close to his heart. He served the Church in Philadelphia as a faithful priest and auxiliary bishop. His love for the priesthood was evident in everything that he did. He worked diligently to promote vocations to the priesthood and advance the mission of Catholic education. Although he served as the Bishop of Harrisburg for only a short time, he effectively embraced the call of our former Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, to use new forms of media to proclaim the message of the Gospel. His service in our state capital was instrumental in fostering the teachings of the Church in the public square.

As all of us here Philadelphia mourn his loss. I extend the prayerful sympathy and condolences of the entire Church of Philadelphia to his family and many friends as well as the priests, religious and all the lay faithful of the diocese of Harrisburg. May God grant him the gift of eternal life, and give peace and consolation to all those who loved, admired, and respected him. In this Easter Season may we all find hope in the Resurrection of the Lord.
On being stricken this morning, McFadden was staying in the quarters where he lived as an auxiliary, at St Christopher's parish in Northeast Philadelphia, and died en route to Holy Redeemer Hospital.