Bishop John M. D’Arcy loved God, the Red Sox and Panera bagels, and in that order.
A son of Boston transplanted to the Midwest when appointed the bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend in 1985, he was an All-American in spirit. He had a Boston pol’s ability to press the flesh and tell a story, but he was also a strong leader who was unwavering in his vision. He had a passion for sports, but also had a doctorate in spiritual theology and served for many years as a seminary spiritual director. One friend said that the best confession he ever had was when he found Bishop D’Arcy in the confessional in Fort Wayne’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
A loyal son of the Church, he was also a man of courage, one willing to take a stand on abuser priests long before it became impossible not to do so. He could have turned away, but he did not.
He was perhaps best known near the end of his episcopate for his confrontation with the University of Notre Dame over the decision to award President Barack Obama an honorary degree as well as make him the 2009 commencement speaker. He believed the decision was wrong, and he believed it was his responsibility to say so, but he also did it his own way: The day Obama was on campus, the bishop led students and supporters in the Rosary at the Grotto to Our Lady rather than indulge in polemics.
At the same time, he loved the university and admired many of its professors and administrators, particularly John Cavadini in the theology department and Carolyn Woo in the business school, both exemplars of the Catholic academic.
Indeed, education was a passion for Bishop D’Arcy. His right-hand person was Sister Jane Carew, and together the two of them invested much blood, sweat and tears in improving religious education programs and teachers throughout the diocese. Over the 24 years he served as bishop, he left his imprint on every school and most parish religious education programs.
I was a lucky man because I was able occasionally to spend some quality time with him. The best were trips to Detroit for Our Sunday Visitor Institute meetings, where our advisory board reviewed requests for financial support. For three hours up and back, I drove, and he sat in the front seat, a captive audience for all of my questions.
The conversation would roam from politics and Church matters to issues facing Our Sunday Visitor or events in the diocese. About halfway through the trip, we made it a habit of stopping at a Panera restaurant where he ignored all medical advice and feasted on a cinnamon crunch bagel and a cup of coffee. Once he called his faithful assistant, Maureen, to tease her that she should bring in Panera bagels every day when he was in the office.
Bishop D’Arcy was robustly human and humane. He did not easily forget slights, yet he was wonderfully generous and pastoral. He had a keen sense of his duty as bishop, and once told my wife, as he was about to retire, that he would miss making decisions most of all. He had a great appreciation for the contribution of the laity, and having grown up with three sisters, he clearly enjoyed and respected the women in his life and welcomed their gifts.
Whenever the Our Sunday Visitor Board of Directors gathered for dinner, after a long night of jokes and laughter and discussion, he would invariably signal that the evening had come to an end by saying in a thick Irish brogue, “Have ye no homes to go to?”
On Feb. 3, the 56th anniversary of his first Mass as a priest, Bishop D’Arcy went home to God. A good and faithful servant to the end, he will be dearly missed.
Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.