Monday, January 10, 2011

In LA, "A Great Era Has Ended"

Forty-eight years after his appointment as an auxiliary of Los Angeles -- then home to a fifth of today's 5 million Catholics there -- Bishop John Ward died early today at 90.

One of three remaining US bishops to have participated in Vatican II, Ward's 65 years of priesthood arced the epic rise of the LA church from its days as a freshly-elevated archdiocese to its present standing as the global church's sixth-largest see and, by far, the largest local fold American Catholicism has ever known.

Eight weeks or so from his own transition into retirement -- and, with it, the much-anticipated succession of the prelate who, in time, will become the nation's first Hispanic cardinal -- Cardinal Roger Mahony announced the news this morning with the following statement:
With the death of Bishop John J. Ward today, a great era in the history of the Church of Los Angeles has come to an end.

Born on September 28, 1920, Bishop John Ward served some 33 years as an active Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, and then an additional 15 years as Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus. When he died at age 90, he was one of the oldest living Bishops in the United States.

Bishop Ward had the distinction of serving actively under the first four Archbishops of Los Angeles: Archbishop John J. Cantwell, Cardinal James Francis McIntyre, Cardinal Timothy Manning, and Cardinal Roger Mahony. No other Bishop achieved such a record of service for the Church here in Los Angeles.

Bishop Ward was only one of three remaining and living United States Bishops who participated in the Second Vatican Council. With his death, only Archbishop Emeritus Philip Hannan of New Orleans, and Archbishop Emeritus Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle remain alive. Bishop Ward participated in Sessions Three and Four of the Council in Rome.

A native son of Los Angeles, Bishop Ward was an alumnus of St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, and a few years after his Ordination, he was sent to the Catholic University of America to study Canon Law. Upon his return to Los Angeles, he held an active leadership role in the Archdiocesan Tribunal. Bishop Ward was the first alumnus of St. John’s Seminary to be ordained a Bishop.

Over the years, Bishop Ward and then Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Manning administered the Sacrament of Confirmation to hundreds of thousands of young Catholics across the counties of Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, and Orange. Almost every week of the year, Bishop Ward was out in our parishes bestowing the gift of the Holy Spirit upon our young Catholics. Simultaneously, he served as the active Pastor of St. Timothy’s Parish in Los Angeles.

Bishop Ward loved visiting the parishes and conferring Confirmation on the young Catholics. He was always friendly, outgoing, and eager to engage our young people in dialogue about their faith. Parishes were eager to have him come for their Confirmations.

He also loved to tell stories and recount episodes he encountered all across the Archdiocese, always punctuating these tales with a hearty laughter—a laughter which filled any room in was in. He had a fondness for steaks and cigars, and enjoyed spending time with the priests and lay leaders of our Archdiocese when he visited parishes.

As pastor of St. Timothy’s parish he regularly celebrated the 6:30 AM Mass in the Church—regardless of his demanding schedule the evening before or the upcoming day. He usually answered the phone at night when someone called, and was anxious to be of help as often as possible.

Bishop Ward was always generous of heart and spirit towards everyone. In speaking with Confirmation candidates, there was no such thing as a “wrong answer” by a young person. He had the ability to bring the very best out of everyone, and to create an atmosphere of God’s life and love wherever he ministered.

When I first came to Los Angeles, I turned to Bishop Ward to collaborate with then Bishop William J. Levada to create a new structure and organization of our large Archdiocese. Their vision and mutual efforts resulted in the creation of the five Pastoral Regions and the twenty Deaneries, as well as the administrative organization of the central offices.

Bishop Ward was the definitive Churchman: he had a deep and personal love for Jesus Christ, and for the visible Church which Jesus established upon this earth. His many years of ministry as a priest and Bishop gave vibrant witness to his abiding love for the Church and all who belonged to the Body of Christ.

We have witnessed the end of a great era in our Archdiocese with the death of Bishop John J. Ward, and may he now intercede for us before the God whom he loved so deeply.
In tribute to Ward's longevity, in 1996 a new titular see was created and given to him -- California, the title employed for the first diocese encompassing the state, founded in 1840 (a full decade before statehood).

While funeral arrangements haven't yet been announced, Ward's designated niche among the bishops interred in the crypt of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels has been marked out since its 2002 opening.