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Spiritual standard in word and deed

His title alone gave authority and distinction to Bishop John D’Arcy, but it was his actions and character that earned widespread respect and admiration from Catholics and non-Catholics alike in northern Indiana.

D’Arcy was the spiritual leader of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Roman Catholic Diocese both by position and in practice, always maintaining the dignity and reverence demanded of a Catholic bishop while remaining approachable and personable.

While D’Arcy will be remembered locally for his guidance and leadership of more than 150,000 Catholics in northern Indiana, he was also a beacon of light during the dark pedophile priest scandal that enveloped the Catholic Church. Far too often, the church leadership’s response was to keep the transgressions quiet, moving guilty priests to new parishes where they found more victims. D’Arcy, working for Cardinal Bernard Law in the Boston diocese, began sounding the warning in 1978. In 2004, the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People cited D’Arcy as “a voice in the wilderness.”

After the scandal erupted and D’Arcy’s role in addressing the problem came to light, many Catholics – and non-Catholics – wondered whether his 1985 appointment to the Fort Wayne diocese was in part to transfer him away from Boston. D’Arcy had long emphasized a focus on the training and selection of priests, taking a sometimes-unpopular position that some priests and would-be priests were incompatible with the vital role.

While better known for his spiritual leadership, his governance of the diocese should not be diminished.

Consider that the bishop oversaw a diocese with more than 80 parishes, 40-plus schools, three Catholic hospitals, the important Our Sunday Visitor publishing arm and perhaps the nation’s best-known Catholic institution – the University of Notre Dame.

He governed the diocese through a difficult time of declining school enrollment and population shifts that dropped attendance at its urban churches. After lightning caused a fire that destroyed the venerable St. Mary’s Catholic Church, he made sure a new church – on a size and scale commensurate with a smaller congregation – was built in its place. Its soup kitchen mission, depended upon by so many residents, continued.

Leaders at D’Arcy’s level are bound to make some unpopular decisions, however, and many Catholics mourned the closing and demolition of the aging St. Paul’s Catholic Church building downtown.

Governance aside, D’Arcy excelled in the teaching responsibility of a bishop, explaining in layman’s language why the church took certain positions, connecting Scripture and church dogma with current events.

D’Arcy’s pro-life position was constant, clear and unequivocal. Just as he spoke out against abortion – even denouncing and boycotting President Obama’s 2009 speech at Notre Dame – he spoke out forcefully against the death penalty as well. “Let us realize that violence begets violence,” he wrote in 2011. “Killing to prevent killing does not work.”

Characteristically, he responded to the news of his cancer diagnosis during a Boston visit not with sadness but faith.

On Jan. 11, after the diocese acknowledged the grave nature of his diagnosis, D’Arcy issued a statement, expressing his gratefulness to God for “the extraordinary life he has given me and the grace he has poured out on me. ...”

“Above everything, pray for me and my soul and that I will be found worthy to enter the heavenly place that God has prepared for all of us, where I hope to meet my dear parents and so many loved ones.”

After D’Arcy’s death Sunday at age 80, Vince LaBarbera, the diocesan spokesman during D’Arcy’s tenure, emphasized how important it was for the former bishop to return to the diocese before his death. Though he retired as bishop in 2010, he wanted to spend his last days in his former diocese.

“In the last few weeks, he taught us how to die,” LaBarbera said.

Bishop John D’Arcy, a spiritual leader and teacher to the very end.