The 3,300 square-foot home sits on one-third of an acre in San Jose’s Willow Glen neighborhood.
The bishop first considered living in a diocese-owned house on cemetery property, but the retrofitting would have been too expensive.
Liz Sullivan, communications director for the Diocese of San Jose, told CNA the renovation’s exact costs are not certain but the return on investment would not be good, “since few people would choose to live in a cemetery.” The house’s future would have been uncertain after the bishop left.
“The bishop is in good health for a man of 73, but a single-level house was desirable because of the stairs,” Sullivan added.
McGrath said the Diocesan Finance Council and the College of Consultors approved the home purchase which later became a matter of controversy.
“I agreed with them that in economic terms the purchase of the home made sense in terms of financial return on investment,” said the bishop.
The median sale price of a home in the city is now over $1 million, compared to a California-wide home price of $600,000, a record high as of May 2018, Business Insider reports. In the last year, the median sale price of San Jose homes increased by 24 percent ($210,000), the real estate site Trulia reports.
The bishop, who became head of the Diocese of San Jose in 1999, said when his retirement planning began he wanted to stay in the diocese.
“This has been my home for nearly 20 years,” he said.
Under policy set by the U.S. bishops’ conference, the Diocese of San Jose is responsible for paying the bishop’s housing and upkeep when he retires.
McGrath said the home was purchased using a fund dedicated to housing retired bishops and using proceeds from the sale of a Menlo Park condominium where his predecessor, Bishop Pierre DuMaine, had lived before he moved into assisted living.
“The fund is a fund that can be used for nothing else,” the bishop said. “When I’m not around anymore, the house can be sold. It’s a good investment in that sense. It probably makes more money this way than if it were in the bank.”
One McGrath critic said that the house purchase “seems very inappropriate.”
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“Our diocese is greatly underfunded as it is,” said the parishioner, who asked the Mercury News not to be identified to avoid harming relationships with other Catholics.
The Mercury News’ report cited Bishop McGrath’s own advocacy for affordable housing, such as a 2016 commentary piece backing a $950 million bond measure for affordable housing.
In his initial remarks, McGrath said he had looked at places “way out in the East Bay,” but he liked the valley.
“I thought it would be nice to be here, to be of assistance if I can,” he said.
The bishop has not announced a retirement date, though he has asked the Holy See permission to retire before the required retirement date of 75 years to allow a younger man to become bishop.
Bishop Oscar Cantú, 51, was named Coadjutor Bishop of San Jose in July; as such, he will succeed as Bishop of San Jose upon Bishop McGrath's retirement.