Priests here mourn McFadden
BY PAULA WOLF, Staff Writer
Bishop Joseph P. McFadden, leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg for almost three years, died unexpectedly Thursday. He was 65.
According to a statement from the diocese, he passed away while in his native Philadelphia for a meeting of the Catholic Bishops of Pennsylvania. A cause of death has not yet been determined.
While staying at a rectory, the bishop awoke feeling ill and was taken to a hospital, according to the statement. He was pronounced dead at approximately 7:40 a.m.
McFadden was appointed the 10th bishop of Harrisburg in June 2010 and installed two months later. The diocese serves about 250,000 Catholics in 15 counties in central Pennsylvania, including Lancaster.
"We're all shocked," said the Very Rev. Kenneth F. Lawrence, pastor of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Columbia.
As dean of the North Lancaster Deanery and a consultor with the diocese, Lawrence said he met with McFadden regularly and knew him well.
"He was very dedicated to Christ, to the faith," Lawrence said.
The Rev. Leo M. Goodman III, pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Lancaster city, said McFadden "was a joyful bishop."
"We were delighted" when he visited the parish, Goodman said.
An enthusiastic supporter of Catholic education, "he had a great love for our young people." Goodman said.
"We hoped he was going to have another 20 years."
McFadden also opened his home to the diocese's clergy and was a wonderful host, Goodman said.
The bishop loved Christmas, he said, and during the holidays his residence was decorated with yuletide trees abundantly adorned with ornaments.
He also enjoyed sports, Goodman said.
McFadden grew up in Philadelphia and attended Catholic schools. He played basketball in high school and as a freshman at Saint Joseph University. He also coached the sport at the high school level.
The Rev. Peter I. Hahn, pastor of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church, Lancaster, said the bishop was recruited by legendary basketball coach Jack Ramsay when Ramsay was at St. Joe's.
McFadden also was an avid golfer, he said.
As a former administrative secretary to John Cardinal Krol, McFadden had been in the presence of Pope John Paul II, and Hahn said he enjoyed hearing about that experience.
He last saw the bishop April 18, when they attended a board meeting at Lancaster Catholic High School.
McFadden "was warm and generous," Hahn said, as well as being down to earth.
"He loved being a priest, he loved being a bishop and he loved being with his people."
McFadden's predecessor, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, now the bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, said in a statement: "It is still sinking in. He was a really good and gentle shepherd. He was always gracious to me and a wonderful brother bishop."
At a press conference Thursday, Joe Aponick, a spokesman for the diocese, said McFadden ate a healthy diet and was involved in wellness programs.
"We know of no health conditions that brought this about. He was a very active man."
"He was with us for so short a time," a visibly shaken Aponick said. "He enjoyed being here very much. He loved the diocese, and the people of the diocese very much loved him."
Aponick also noted that McFadden had a presence on Facebook and Twitter. "He embraced any way to reach out and spread the faith," he said.
Diocesan officials have eight days to elect an administrator who will oversee daily operations until a new bishop is appointed by Pope Francis.
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According to a biography posted on the diocese's website, McFadden was born in Philadelphia on May 22, 1947.
One of four children of Thomas and Ellen McFadden, he attended St. Thomas More High School for Boys from 1961 to 1965, where he was class valedictorian.
He graduated from Saint Joseph University with a bachelor's degree in politics. McFadden was then hired to teach at West Catholic Boys High School, where he eventually became head basketball coach and director of athletics.
In 1976, he entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary to study for the priesthood. He was ordained a deacon in 1980 and assigned to Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Secane. On May 16, 1981, he was ordained a priest in the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, Philadelphia, by John Cardinal Krol, the archbishop of Philadelphia. McFadden received a Master of Divinity degree upon completing his studies at the seminary, graduating summa cum laude.
In June 1981, he was assigned to be parochial vicar at St. Laurence Parish, Highland Park. The next year, he was appointed administrative secretary to Cardinal Krol and held that position until 1993.
On May 29, 1991, he was named an honorary prelate to Pope John Paul II, with the title of monsignor.
In 1993, McFadden was named by Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua to be the first president of Cardinal O'Hara High School in Springfield. During his tenure, enrollment increased from 1,540 to 2000 students.
In 2001, he was appointed pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Downingtown, where he ministered until his appointment as auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia in June 2004. That year, he was ordained to the episcopacy by Cardinal Justin Rigali in the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.
The Associated Press Contributed to this report.