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Bishop D’Arcy distributes Communion at a Mass held at the chapel at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Wednesday.

Ending ‘work of love’

D’Arcy’s final days as bishop bring joy, tears

Photos by Clint Keller | The Journal Gazette
Bishop John M. D’Arcy leads the congregation to bless a new statue of St. Mother Theodore Guerin.


It’s a word Bishop John M. D’Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend uses a lot.

D’Arcy often speaks of joy – in the Eucharist, in prayer, in the work of his staff, in the devotion of parishioners, in the priesthood itself.

The word is often accompanied by a broad grin, a hearty laugh or the hint of a twinkle in the 77-year-old’s Irish blue eyes.

So, on Wednesday, when D’Arcy was about to lead a Mass before blessing a new statue of St. Mother Theodore Guerin on Cathedral Square, he again invoked joy.

“It is a joy,” D’Arcy said, that Guerin’s “love for her vocation is written forever on the children of our diocese” – and that the sainthood of one “who walked these very grounds” can “inspire and help all of us be better Catholics.”

A few minutes later, though, D’Arcy, whose final Mass as bishop is today, paused before prayer, becoming somber.

Adele Mann, one of the two Fort Wayne sisters of Guerin’s order who had advocated for the statue, the bishop said, had died two days earlier and would not be able to see her cherished vision come to pass.

The news brought tears to the eyes of many attendees, who remembered the sister from her years working in Fort Wayne’s Catholic schools and as a chaplain at Lutheran Hospital.

The last few weeks have brought many such moments for D’Arcy – times of great happiness standing shoulder to shoulder with moments of great poignancy.

On Wednesday, the bishop will step down. His successor, the Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades, 52, will be installed as the diocese’s ninth bishop during a 2 p.m. ceremony in Fort Wayne’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

When Rhoades, bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg in central Pennsylvania, receives the bishop’s miter and crosier, the ceremonial staff, it will mark the end of D’Arcy’s 24 years in an office he says he has loved and will miss.

“Bittersweet. A lot of people have used that term. It is – it is bittersweet,” he said last week of his pending retirement.

Yet, D’Arcy says his enduring feeling about his time as bishop is one of joy.

On the move again

Wednesday began much as many other days. D’Arcy walked through the side door in the back of the former MacDougal Chapel building next to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and into the sacristy, where he was helped into his vestments by assistants, including two priests.

A few minutes later, dressed in an ivory-colored robe trimmed in golden thread, he proceeded down the chapel’s side aisle as bishop. A burgundy stole was atop his robe and a triangular miter atop his shock of white hair, and he stooped slightly as he leaned on the shepherd’s crook staff in his right hand. The staff signified his office.

But that was only part – the most public part – of the bishop’s day.

Next came a private luncheon to honor members of Guerin’s order, the Sisters of Providence and benefactors of the statue. That was followed by a meeting with staff to iron out details of the upcoming installation and, finally, a retirement party for John Gaughan, a longtime leader of diocesan schools. Gaughan served stints as principal at Bishop Dwenger and Bishop Luers – Fort Wayne’s Catholic high schools – and as an adviser to D’Arcy.

At the luncheon, parishioners gathered around the bishop – back in street clothes – before he settled into a seat at a table for a buffet-style lunch of baked chicken, salad and mixed vegetables, followed by fresh strawberries sliced over chocolate brownie-style cake.

After lunch, he asked Theresa Clark, 52, a former Fort Wayne resident, to say a few words. Earlier, she had told Mass attendees that she had converted to Catholicism while working on the commissioned bronze statue of Guerin at the Sisters of Providence’s campus at St. Mary-of-the-Woods near Terre Haute.

“What,” D’Arcy asked, “were you trying to capture?”

“Well, the sister was such a blessing to me, and I hope she is for others,” she said. “When I started, I wanted to portray her as someone who was very approachable, as I think she was in her time, just as someone who was very easy to talk to.”

D’Arcy gently prodded for more. “You said you wanted to catch her moving.”

“Yes. I wanted to catch her in midstride because I figured she was always moving forward.”

D’Arcy responded: “I think it does. I think it preserves her femininity, too. It’s a very beautiful statue.”

A few minutes later, he was on the move again, down a hall to a conference room where a meeting on more temporal matters was under way.

Questions and answers

Two conference tables had been pushed together to accommodate more than 20 people who were helping to organize the last-minute details of Rhoades’ installation.

The Mass might draw more than a thousand people, including at least 30 bishops, three cardinals and the papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the pope’s official representative.

There are still questions to be answered: What if parking lots and garages fill up? How will visiting bishops get back and forth to the airport, particularly those who are leaving just after the ceremony or to catch early-morning flights? And, given the limited restroom facilities in the cathedral, what if those with tickets need to leave to use the bathrooms in the former Cathedral School next door?

One staff member suggested giving ushers recruited from high schools brightly colored slips to pass out, an idea that got wide endorsement, including D’Arcy’s.

Then there are the media. The ceremony will be taped for television, but what about cameras of print media going off at the most sacred moments? Should cameras be corralled? Personnel limited?

The bishop, sitting in a chair at the head of the table that had been left for him, spoke up. He said he recognizes the need to document the community’s history and that if church media are given access, other print media should be, too.

But “there has to be a balance,” he said, without proposing a solution, saying he will speak to communications staffers later.

“I’ve been to a lot of these (installations) – I’ve been to good ones and terrible ones. We want this one to be a good one,” he said, stressing that a person be assigned to each bishop and cardinal so interactions are “person-to-person” and not through signs. He urged staff not to get too caught up in details.

“I want to thank you all. This is wonderful with all your organization,” he said. “Be sure that this is done out of love. And when you’re working with the young people, catechize them that we’re offering this to God as a moment of history in the life of the Church, and hospitality is a Christian virtue. As St. Benedict said, when you receive any person, you receive Christ. The organization is critical, but so is the hospitality.”

‘Big void in his life’

It was down the hall again, to a party with pink punch and cake, where about 40 people had gathered, and attendees were more than aware of their mixed feelings.

“Bishop is a great person, a super person,” said John Willker of Fort Wayne, who remarked that with D’Arcy leaving, it’s the end of an era.

“Personally, I think he might be sad at leaving because he’s been here almost 25 years, and he’s always on the go; … meeting people every day, from 10 o’clock in the morning until 1 o’clock the next day,” Willker said. “He obviously loves it. I think there’s going to be a big void in his life.”

Later, remarking on how Gaughan had bailed him out of several tight spots over the years, D’Arcy looked to Gaughan’s wife, Pat, in asking whether she’ll mind if he continues to attend a few meetings a year.

“That’s better than it was,” she said.

“Oh, OK. Thanks Pat,” D’Arcy said with a laugh. “That’s a resounding endorsement, coming from you.”

Moments later, Gaughan took the podium, recalling how he went into church work after serving in the military in World War II, repatriating soldiers of the Japanese army. His eyes tear, and he chokes up for a moment, falling silent.

“I saw man’s inhumanity to man,” he finally said, “and I said ‘I’ve got to do something about that.’… Thank you, bishop, for guarding the diocese and keeping us all heading in the right direction.”

Standing nearby, D’Arcy dropped his head, and his eyes clouded.

Using a computer

Shortly after 5 p.m., D’Arcy was back from Archbishop Noll Catholic Center in his office at the diocese’s chancery on Cathedral Square. He was searching for his briefcase, which he inadvertently left in the car, and reflecting on what he considered a pleasant day.

Asked where his energy and spirit come from, he mentioned his Irish immigrant parents from Boston: “They were very joyful people. I can still hear their laughter,” he said – and then compared being bishop to a marriage, one that is now ending.

“It’s a work of love,” he said, one that “comes from the center of your being.”

“You have this care for every parish. You get to know them well – in 24 years, sometimes too well. You know which ones are being taken care of and which ones are not, and you’re giving it up. You’re giving up any responsibility for it. That can be difficult.”

For help, he said, he’s been reading a new work by Pope Benedict XVI on the role of retired bishops. It makes clear “that when you resign, that’s it, baby. You’re done. You wash your hands of it,” he said with a laugh. “You can’t have two bishops.”

Still, D’Arcy said, he remains a priest, and he plans to assist the new bishop at confirmations and confessions and to speak and teach in parishes during retirement. He has one event, a retreat for priests, lined up for May. Immediate plans include an extended family visit to his native Boston.

He also said he’d like “to enter into the 21st century” by learning more about using a computer – something, he added, the bishop-to-be has already mastered. D’Arcy also wants to study Spanish “and do more reading,” the goal he says he’s likely to accomplish first.

“There is a sense of loss,” D’Arcy acknowledged. But the overriding feeling is joy.

“The joy comes because I think I’ve done with my life what God wanted me to do,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you’re without pain. There are crosses in there. There is suffering. … I think the joy comes in that I pray a lot. I just put it in God’s hands and thank him for the privilege. I thank God that I’ve served these 24 years.”