Monday, February 04, 2013

Bishop John D'Arcy | 1932-2013

The retired bishop of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic Diocese passed away in his home Sunday morning surrounded by loved ones. 

Bishop Emeritus John M. D'Arcy was diagnosed with lung and brain cancer in December. 

He served as bishop here 24 years, overseeing a huge network of churches and schools, as well as the region's largest group of charities, until 2010.


Many of the priests who knew Bishop D'Arcy during his lengthy tenure remember him as a father figure, a mentor. 

 "He was a proud dad," Monsignor Bill Schooler recalls. Schooler's comment reflects back to 2008 when his parish, St. Pius X in Granger, opened the first Catholic grade school in the diocese since the 1960's. 

"He is a father figure for so many of us or a grandfather figure.  This will be tough for parishioners, for all of us," Schooler adds. 

Schooler says D'Arcy wasn't afraid to exercise tough love in his leadership style. 

"He encouraged us but never hesitated to let us know if he thought we were straying or if, in his opinion, there was something we needed to correct," Schooler said. 

But Schooler admits that when D'Arcy first arrived in the diocese, he didn't know what to make of the man from Massachusetts. 

"When he came, I wasn't so sure about him. This guy from Boston made a lot of changes. I wasn't so sure about him. As I got to know him over the years, not only as my bishop, but also as a mentor and a friend, I came to respect him very much," Schooler explained. 

The St. Pius parish grew under D'Arcy's leadership. 

A new church was built to accommodate the growing Granger congregation at a time when many Catholic churches were seeing attendance shrink. 

But that was at the same time that the church found itself in crisis. 

"He protected us from the scandal. He was a leader in that he protected us in this diocese. That will be one of his greatest legacies," Schooler recalls. 

Before coming to the Ft. Wayne-South Bend diocese, D'Arcy had written letters in Boston warning church leaders about priests who were at the heart of the church sex abuse scandal. 

"He was always worried about the priest shortage, but he said we have to screen candidates carefully," Schooler emphasized. After D'Arcy retired, Schooler says the former bishop found life after leading the diocese difficult. "He liked being in charge," Schooler said. 

Schooler said plans were already in the works for D'Arcy to preside over confirmation in 2013 at St. Pius before the former bishop's diagnosis was known. 

"I talked to him on New Year's Eve when we found out about the cancer and he said, 'Don't worry, I'll be there for confirmation, I promise.' He can't keep that promise," Schooler admits. 

Monsignor Michael Heintz of St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend agrees that D'Arcy's bold leadership will be one of the things he is remembered for. "We've all lost someone we love," Heintz says. 

Heintz was the first seminarian Bishop D'Arcy accepted after arriving in the diocese back in 1985. 

 "I've known him since I was 17 years old," Heintz recalls. It was because of D'Arcy that Heintz was allowed to study for the priesthood in D'Arcy's beloved hometown of Boston. 

"When he'd come to visit, he'd check on us and take us out to dinner. He was very, very proud of his Irish heritage.  He had deep Irish faith and great Irish wit," Heintz remembers. 

 "He always had a comeback," Schooler acknowledges. 

And D'Arcy made no secret of his love for sports, especially baseball and the Boston Red Sox. "He wanted to impart the faith and a love for the Red Sox," Heintz only half jokingly says. 

Msgr. Schooler summed it up this way, "He was an Irish fighter from Boston, he was an Irish fighter from Boston."

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