Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"A Pastor at Heart"

The running complaint up in Boston says that the local Globe isn't the church's best friend.

Remember, this is an improvement -- in the grand scheme of things, it wasn't all that long ago when the city's cardinal-archbishop of the day "call[ed] down the power of God" on his flock's paper of record....

Suffice it to say, that backfired.

Whatever the case, the Beantown daily offers a glowing tribute to retired Bishop Dan Hart of Norwich -- a "beloved" shepherd, Boston native and onetime auxiliary there who died on Monday at 80.
The mystery of faith spoke to Bishop Daniel A. Hart when he was a child trying to decide whether he was hearing a call to the Roman Catholic priesthood.

"I was fascinated with the ministry of the priests, particularly during Mass, the changing of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ," he told The Day, a newspaper in New London, Conn., in 2002. "I remember watching carefully and watching for that. It was a very compelling kind of experience."

Though he was trained as an administrator and spent most of the years after his ordination as vice chancellor of the Archdiocese of Boston, auxiliary bishop, regional bishop, and bishop of the diocese in Norwich, Conn., he remained devoted to parish ministry. In retirement, Bishop Hart bowed out of his family's holiday gatherings in New England and traveled to Tupelo, Miss., where he spent Christmas and New Year's Day attending to a church that did not have a priest.

Bishop Hart, who served in the Boston Archdiocese from 1953 until he became bishop of Norwich in 1995, died Monday in St. Joseph Living Center in Windham, Conn. He was 80 and had been suffering from cancer the past six months, the Norwich Diocese said.

"I think he was always a pastoral person," said his brother Leo of Windham, N.H. "His goal was to do what helped the people."...

"The two words that keep coming to mind as I think of Bishop Hart are kindness and service," [current Norwich Bishop Michael] Cote said in a statement issued by the diocese. "This was Bishop Hart. This was his nature. Bishop Hart lived these words. It was always amazing to me to witness his incredible attention to the sick and those in need. He had the true heart of a pastor."...

As a young priest, Bishop Hart had chosen the motto, "Do not be afraid," and he told The Day in 1996: "There are a lot of things we could be frightened about today, socially, nationally. But if we just let Jesus into our lives, we have nothing to fear."

Among the things he did not fear was stepping down from an administrative post when he was rising through the ranks of the Boston Archdiocese. After six years as vice chancellor, he became associate pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Peabody.

"It was my own choice to move," he told the Globe in 1976 when he was elevated to auxiliary bishop. "I enjoy parish work very much."

The parishioners enjoyed him, too. "I can't think of anybody who deserves the honor more," Maureen Battano, who had worked with Bishop Hart on the parish council at St. John in Peabody, told the Globe in 1976. "He's just a warm, serene, humble man. He makes it easy to understand that Christ was and always will be a living person."

Bishop Hart was just as well received by other priests and had served as president of the Priests' Senate in the archdiocese.

"He could always find a little bit of humor in whatever he was doing," the Rev. Donald A. Dwyer told the Globe in 1976. "One of his favorite expressions is 'Holy Daddy.' He was one of the best companions living in a rectory. I don't think you can get by without a little of that humor."
Funeral rites for Hart begin tomorrow night at St Patrick's Cathedral in Norwich, with the final liturgy Friday morning.