When Bishop John D’Arcy first arrived in Fort Wayne from Boston in 1985, I couldn’t imagine that he was happy about his new assignment. After all, as an Irish Catholic who grew up in Boston, why in the world would he want to come to Indiana?
As it turned out, Indiana was probably intended to be a kind of exile for the outspoken bishop. He had been one of the few Catholic Church officials who saw the developing scandal that was priest abuse and had actually tried to stop it. His letters to Cardinal Bernard Law of the Boston Archdiocese sought to end the shameful practice of shuffling abusive priests from parish to parish. D’Arcy’s reward for speaking up: Indiana. He came to view it as a gift.
Over the years, I would be seated near the bishop at various events. We became acquaintances, and then friends. He loaned me books. We joked about my being Lutheran. His twinkling blue eyes and Boston accent charmed me. His warmth and humor drew me in. His intellect was obviously formidable.
But it was his rock-solid consistency that had the greatest effect. Here was a man who knew what he believed and lived out those beliefs in an age when many are being urged to modify their faith to fit current culture.
My favorite recollection of Bishop D’Arcy is from the day of Bishop Kevin Rhodes’ installation. D’Arcy had a special role to play in the proceedings. The new bishop was to stand outside the cathedral and give a ceremonial knock on the massive door. The retiring bishop was to open the door and allow his successor to enter the cathedral.
The building was packed with parishioners, priests, bishops and even cardinals, all awaiting this special moment.
Bishop D’Arcy was resplendent in his robes and mitre, waiting in the narthex. I happened to be there as well, and he began to tell me a story. All of a sudden, his great, bushy eyebrows went up, he stopped in mid-sentence, put up a quieting hand and said, Did you hear a knock?! Indeed I had. He hurried over to the door and opened it, welcoming in the new bishop, and the gorgeous pageantry began.
We laughed about this story less than four weeks ago when I traveled to Boston to interview him about his illness. I was so heartened to see him. His warmth, humor and intellect were intact. His beautiful, snowy hair was untouched by radiation treatments. His sister had playfully suggested he might have to wear a wig, to which the bishop reportedly replied, Like FUN I will!
He served Irish butter and joked that it was made in Illinois. His acceptance of his situation can only be described as God-given. He must have known how short his time was. He told me that priest friends had come to help him die. He spoke of his love for the priesthood, for the diocese and how hard it was for him to retire. He talked about driving through the night on Christmas Eve so he could say mass in both South Bend and Fort Wayne. He advised us to be joyful and to return anger with love.
He still wanted to be of service. He still wanted to make a contribution. He wanted to come back to the diocese. And he did.
When I learned that my friend had died Sunday morning, I felt a deep sense of loss. It doesn’t matter that I’m not Catholic. My life was truly graced by this courageous man. He trusted in God, utterly. How lucky I feel to have witnessed such a gift.