Bishop Emeritus John M. D'Arcy of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, a clergyman known for his love of his flock and his faith, died late Sunday morning at his home in Fort Wayne.
D'Arcy, 80, who retired in January 2010 as leader of the diocese after nearly 25 years in that post, had been diagnosed just after Christmas with what he described as a “rare” and “quick striking” form of cancer in the brain and lung.
He was visiting family and friends in his hometown of Boston at the time. He underwent radiation treatment there to ease symptoms associated with the cancer, and returned Jan. 23 to Fort Wayne.
D'Arcy wanted to get back to the diocese he loved, those who worked with him said.
“He had a philosophy -- once a bishop is named (to lead a diocese), he felt he should stay, even after he retires,” said Vince LaBarbera, who retired about a year ago from the job as communications director of the diocese. “He was very attuned to this diocese.”
What D'Arcy enjoyed most about his work as bishop was getting out among the people, said LaBarbera and Monsignor Robert Schulte, the vicar general of the diocese under D'Arcy and current Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades.
When D'Arcy said Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, he always stood at the back of the church after Mass to greet people as they departed, LaBarbera recalled.
D'Arcy also was very personable, and seemed to be much more comfortable and interested in being out among the people than many of the diocese's previous bishops, LaBarbera said.
“He would walk into a room, and it would seem like he knew everybody,” LaBarbera said, adding that D'Arcy would go around greeting people. “Bishop D'Arcy was always amongst the people.”
"He was very much a people person," said Schulte, who also serves as rector, or senior pastor, of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. "He enjoys talking to people."
People also found him easy to talk with, Schulte added.
"He liked to visit parishes," said Schulte, whose duties as vicar general involved being in charge of administrative matters for the bishop and diocese. D'Arcy got to know many people at the diocese's approximately 80 parishes.
He often talked about his parish visits in the weekly column he wrote in Today's Catholic, the weekly diocesan newspaper.
D'Arcy also faced a number of difficult decisions during his time as bishop.
Even before the priest sexual abuse scandal exploded in the United States about a decade ago, D'Arcy faced some similar reports here in the diocese.
He made dealing with them a priority.
He quickly removed more than one priest from ministry after investigating complaints, Schulte said.
D'Arcy also devoted substantial effort to strengthening the process for evaluating candidates for the priesthood. He reasoned that if weak candidates could be weeded out before being sent to seminary and later ordained, it would greatly reduce the abuse problems when the men carried out their ministry as priests.
When the national scandal broke, beginning in Boston in 2002, D'Arcy's name became known nationally because he was the only church leader in the Boston archdiocese to raise concerns in writing, in 1984, about the way a pedophile priest was shuffled from parish to parish rather than being dismissed.
D'Arcy, a Boston native, was an auxiliary bishop of the Lowell region at the time.
He was installed as bishop of the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese on May 1, 1985.
For area Catholics, "He was seen as a good administrator and a person they could trust," Schulte noted.
When D'Arcy took a stand or made a major decision, it was a process, Schulte explained. He would consult widely for advice, pray over and consider the decision, and then decide, he said.
Other difficult decisions included closing and consolidating several parishes, including St. Paul, St. Andrew and St. Hyacinth parishes in Fort Wayne and the Benoit Academy school based at St. Henry parish.
"It was hard for him," Schulte said. "He knew people had an emotional attachment to their parishes. Yet, realistically, it made sense."
In the late 1990s, D'Arcy also led efforts to renovate the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Fort Wayne, in part to bring it more up to date with the way Mass is celebrated today. The Cathedral was dedicated Dec. 8, 1860.
"He felt it needed it," Schulte said. "There was a lot of opposition to that, a lot of fears," Schulte said. "He had to explain his rationale. I think he was very proud of the final product. He really enjoyed offering Mass at the Cathedral."
After his retirement as bishop, D'Arcy continued to celebrate Mass at 12:05 p.m. Fridays in the St. Mother Theodore Guerin Chapel adjacent to the Cathedral, Schulte said. He then would return at 4:30 p.m. to hear people's confessions.
D'Arcy was not afraid to take a stand, especially in the areas of preserving life, LaBarbera said.
If an inmate was executed in another state, D'Arcy would want to issue a statement outlining the church's opposition to the death penalty.
“It got to the point that, when something major happened, the media would call Bishop for a statement,” LaBarbera said.
Though D'Arcy had a great relationship with students and faculty at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, he wasn't afraid to question its decisions.
That included publicly stating his disappointment when the university invited pro-choice President Obama to give the commencement address in May 2009.
D'Arcy joined students and others protesting the president's visit. But he did it in a peaceful way, holding a Mass at the same time as the graduation ceremony, LaBarbera said.
D'Arcy also had an impact on the diocese in many other ways:
*D'Arcy started the diocese's weekly TV Mass, which airs Sunday mornings on local television as a ministry for shut-ins and those who are unable to attend Mass at a church, Schulte said.
"When he first got here, his mother was elderly, and he had a great concern for shut-ins," Schulte recalled.
D'Arcy also wanted local priests to be the ones celebrating the TV Masses so shut-ins would see their parish's priest once in a while, Schulte said.
*D'Arcy also was very concerned about the homeless, and helped start the Vincent House program for homeless families, Schulte said. The program since has expanded to become known as Vincent Village, and now helps many more families than was possible when it started.
*D'Arcy was very sensitive to the needs of immigrants settling in the diocese.
During D'Arcy's time as bishop, the Hispanic population increased dramatically in the diocese. He responded by establishing an office for Hispanic Ministries, Schulte said. Currently, about 15 of the approximately 80 parishes in the diocese offer at least one Mass a week in Spanish.
"His parents were immigrants from Ireland," Schulte said. "I think he had a real sensitivity to what it would be like to be an immigrant in a new country."
D'Arcy also could say Mass in Spanish, but usually did his homily in English, Schulte said. D'Arcy developed a basic command of Spanish because he learned to speak Italian, a related language, while studying for a doctorate in Rome as a young priest, Schulte said.
Early in his time as bishop, D'Arcy also learned about a sizable number of Vietnamese Catholics living near St. Patrick parish on South Harrison Street in Fort Wayne, Schulte said. D'Arcy arranged with a Holy Cross priest who was Vietnamese to celebrate Mass in the Vietnamese language at St. Patrick. A Mass still is offered there each Sunday in Vietnamese.
D'Arcy enjoyed ministry with children and young adults.
LaBarbera and Schulte believe he started the diocese's All Schools Mass, which, in this area, brings together students from all the Catholic schools in the Fort Wayne area each year for a Mass at Memorial Coliseum.
He also enjoyed working with young adults, and had experience in that ministry, Schulte said. Before being named bishop of this diocese, D'Arcy had worked in campus ministry and had led retreats for young people while in working in Boston.
As local bishop, he reached out to college students and faculty, such as the University of Notre Dame, St. Mary's College, and the University of Saint Francis, Schulte said.
D'Arcy also started the Annual Bishop's Appeal to help raise money for special needs around the diocese.
He also initiated efforts to work together with other faiths locally, LaBarbera said.
“He always was very happy to have dialogues between different faiths," LaBarbera said. "He was big on ecumenical things.”
D'Arcy tried to focus on the beliefs the different faiths shared rather than on their differences, LaBarbera said. Under his leadership, the diocese started dialogues with members of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America denominations, as well as the local Jewish community.
D'Arcy was a big sports fan, especially of his beloved Boston Red Sox. In his columns in the Today's Catholic newspaper, he often joked in the spring about waiting for a call-up from the Red Sox, and he kept readers updated on the team's successes or failures during the season.
He also was a regular at local Catholic high schools' teams' events, taking in a number of games and often attending pep rallies before a big state tournament game and at rallies held after a team won a major championship.
Along with all he did in diocese, the longevity of D'Arcy's ministry here as bishop -- an unusually long tenure in the Catholic Church -- was a great blessing, Schulte said.
"I think it created a whole sense of stability in the church (locally)," he said. "People kind of knew where the church stood. I think it helped create a deep sense of faith among the Catholics." D'Arcy tried to live that faith daily.
"He dedicated his life to serving Christ," Schulte said.