February 14, 2013

Lessons from a fearless shepherd: Bishop John D'Arcy

By Christopher M. Jozwiak *

Northern Indiana has lost a great leader, shepherd, priest and friend with the passing of Bishop John Michael D'Arcy. As the Bishop was laid to rest on February 8, he is remembered as a hero and friend who stood for the truth, regardless of the consequences.

Born in 1932, Bishop D'Arcy was raised in Brighton, Massachusetts with his three sisters ordained a priest at the young age of 24, and was consecrated as bishop in 1975. The Bishop’s first teachers in the faith, his Irish immigrants parents who he spoke of often, left a greater impact on him than any theologian.

Bishop D'Arcy studied at St. John’s seminary in Boston where he would later serve as a professor after receiving his doctorate at the Angelicum in Rome. In his humble way of Irish story telling he recounted once that despite his time spent in Rome, when he made pilgrimage for the canonization of St. Theodore Guerin, the first saint canonized from Indiana, he quickly asked to tag along with the young priests who knew exactly where to eat.

Always a fervent Red Sox fan, it must have been difficult for him entrusting the diocese to his successor Bishop Kevin Rhodes, a Yankees fan. At the funeral homily Monsignor Michael Heintz described Bishop D'Arcy’s radio and television as the “perfect mix of EWTN and ESPN.” Throughout Northern Indiana he was known as a man who engaged the culture and shaped it. Something Catholics must strive to do in the New Evangelization. This shone strongest through his convictions to stand for the truth and to pass on the faith.

Strengthen the Teaching the Faith

Bishop Kevin Rhodes described Bishop D'Arcy as, “Unafraid to teach the saving truth of the Gospel.” A wonderful observation of a man who worked tirelessly to strengthen to the instruction of the faith as the Second Vatican Council called for.

Ranging from Kindergarten to their work of preserving the correct teaching of the faith in Catholic universities of the diocese, Bishop D'Arcy and Sister Jane Carew, who was laid to rest last summer, significantly strengthened the catechesis of young people. The principles of the greatest theologians of recent decades including Wojtyla, Ratzinger and Dulles became central in schools throughout Northern Indiana. Thanks to the work of Bishop D'Arcy and Sister Carew, diocesan high schools students learned more about the natural law than Harvard graduates. Something worth bragging about for a Boston native.

Still, he was always a pastor. His visits to the parishes and high schools were special to him. Bishop D'Arcy took time to personally hear the confessions of young people and encourage them to engage the world with their faith. 

In his short years of retirement he cherished his time as a chaplain to Bishop Luers High School near his home. Students touched by the Bishop were in letter jackets alongside the Senators, barefoot Franciscans and countless lay people among the thousands in mourning at the funeral and related services.

Living in the Truth

A decade ago, legal documents revealed Bishop D'Arcy was one of the first to speak out internally in Boston against what would become one of the most traumatizing scandals of modern times for the Church. His letters to Cardinal Law went unanswered. Not long after he was later reassigned to Indiana, but he never left his principles.

Bishop D'Arcy believed in the strengthening of the formation of the priest, just as he believed in reforming catechesis. Throughout his time in Fort Wayne, he worked tirelessly in the selection of seminarians. The Bishop remained most selective still at a time when requests to enter the seminary hit all time lows. 

In testimony to him, his diocese has growing numbers of good seminarians and at his funeral the ranks of priests, many of whom he ordained, swelled in number behind the alter at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne.

Standing for Life

Bishop D'Arcy may often be remembered for speaking the truth and standing for life when President Obama was invited to speak at the May 17, 2009 University of Notre Dame commencement. Bishop D'Arcy, who was the university’s bishop, questioned the President’s “long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred.”

The Bishop respected the President, but not his policies. He was surprised Notre Dame would bestow a doctorate of laws honor on a man “who’s only experience in the state legislature and (in Washington) has been anti-life laws,” he explained before the visit. The problem was not the chance for dialogue, but to honor the most pro-abortion President in history despite the Catholic identity of the university.

While the President addressed the graduates at the Joyce Center, Bishop D'Arcy spoke elsewhere on campus that day surrounded by pro-life supporters. He would go on to lead the closing prayer at the next year’s March for Life in Washington, D.C. as hero. Notre Dame has since sued the Obama administration in response to the HHS mandate.

Still, throughout all of his trials he always reminded his flock to love in disagreement. Bishop D'Arcy left the people of Fort Wayne, South Bend and Northern Indiana with the words he lived, “We never return anger with anger, we return it with the truth. The Truth will set you free.”

Completing his Pilgrimage

Knowing his pilgrimage on earth was coming to an end, he returned to Fort Wayne to, “die in the arms of his spouse,” Monsignor Heintz said. A fitting way to describe the diocese the Bishop had come to love.

In Bishop D'Arcy’s last interview he explained how he trusted fully in God. His faith and fearlessness has lessons for all of us. So many are thankful today for the wordless preaching of his witness and the gift of this shepherd who confirmed me in the faith. May we learn from his example to teach and pass on the faith.

Bishop D'Arcy, may angels lead you into paradise; upon your arrival, may the martyrs receive you and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem.

Christopher M. Jozwiak is a recent graduate of Butler University, magna cum laude, where he completed his undergraduate research entitled Visiting the Promising Land: The Effects of Religious Pilgrimage to the Holy Land on Peace Building in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. He is a native of Indiana.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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