Catholic News Service
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Catholics from Harrisburg, Philadelphia and beyond filled Holy Name of Jesus Church to offer the ultimate prayer for Bishop Joseph P. McFadden, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack May 2 while in Philadelphia to attend a meeting of the state’s bishops.
A congregation of nearly 2,000 mourners filled the pews and the extra chairs set up for his funeral Mass in Harrisburg. Among them were cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, deacons, religious sisters, lay faithful and people from other faith traditions.
Prelude music reflected the bishop’s Irish roots. Members of his family could be heard singing the chorus to “Hymn to Our Lady of Knock,” as the congregation sat in prayerful silence.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia was the principal celebrant of the Mass, which was broadcasted on local and national television and radio stations. Coverage of the Mass also aired in Ireland, where the bishop’s family roots run deep.
As Mass began, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States, read a message of condolence from Pope Francis.
The pope was “saddened to learn of the untimely death” of Bishop McFadden and offered “heartfelt condolences to the clergy, religious and lay faithful of the Diocese of Harrisburg as well as to the late bishop’s family and friends,” Archbishop Vigano read.
Pope Francis also expressed “gratitude for the many graces which accompanied Bishop McFadden’s years of priestly and episcopal ministry” and joined those at the Mass “in commending his soul to the loving mercy of Christ the Good Shepherd.”
Bishop John O. Barres of Allentown was the homilist. He spoke of Bishop McFadden as a champion of Catholic education and the new evangelization.
“He always had a clear-sighted and realistic view of the financial, marketing, demographic and enrollment challenges of 21st-century Catholic education but he had, at the same time, a Churchillian courage and winning spirit in addressing those challenges,” he said. “He inspired so many of us around the country to believe in the future of Catholic education as one of the most important pillars of the new evangelization.”
Bishop Barres remarked that “Thomas Edison once said that ‘vision without execution is hallucination.’ Bishop McFadden had both the vision and the execution.”
The late bishop “had an enormous effect on more people than we can ever really know. He was profound, wise, completely devoted to his loving, extended family, realistic, caring, funny, engaged, determined, energetic, zealous and intelligent,” he said. “But most of all, in all of his endeavors, he was a completely devoted follower of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.”
As Catholics in the Harrisburg Diocese mourned the death of Bishop McFadden — who was installed as the 10th bishop of the diocese Aug. 18, 2010 — they shared stories of ways in which he had touched their lives.
Maureen Gerzewski of St. Rose of Lima Parish in York said she was blessed to have seen Bishop McFadden five days before his death, as he celebrated the diocese’s annual Mass to recognize the gifts of people with disabilities.
At this year’s Mass, Mrs. Gerzewski’s children — Joseph, 17, and Kristen, 18 — were altar servers.
Joseph, who has cognitive disabilities, shared a positive exchange with the bishop during a reception after that Mass, and it touched Mrs. Gerzewski’s heart.
“Bishop McFadden came over to my son and greeted him, ‘Hey Joseph, how are you doing?’ He knew my son by name, and I was just so impressed.”
“In his homily, the bishop said that in God’s eyes, we’re all perfect, and he told them how beautiful they are,” Mrs. Gerzewski said. “After the Mass, he stood in the vestibule and shook hands and greeted every single person that came through the door. He blessed a few people and had conversations with everyone. For a person with a disability, that kind of encounter means the world.”