The powerful witness of the priesthood

A touching story out of Pennsylvania accompanies the sad news of the May 2 death of Harrisburg Bishop Joseph McFadden.  

As reported by Lou Baldwin of, Bishop McFadden called Msgr. Joseph Garvin, with whom the bishop was staying during a trip to Philadelphia, told him he was having a heart attack and asked him for a ride to the hospital.  

During the short drive, Bishop McFadden asked for absolution. Msgr. Garvin granted his friend’s request by reciting the prayer of absolution and making the sign of the cross.  

Bishop McFadden never made it to the hospital — at least not alive. Moments after receiving absolution, he slumped over and, despite efforts, was never resuscitated.  

Said Msgr. Garvin later: “I was in the car focused on getting him to the emergency room, and he was focused on getting ready to meet the Lord.”  

That story is a powerful witness, both to the Sacrament of Penance and to the role of priests in the Church. No one but a priest could have offered what must have been a great gift of peace to Bishop McFadden in his final moments.  

Unfortunately, as illustrated in this week’s cover story, priests are few and far between in not only remote parts of the world, but in a large chunk of the United States as well. The red portions on the map of this week’s cover illustrate areas considered by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to be “Mission Territory, USA.”  

As outlined in our news analysis (Page 6), one priest in the Diocese of Baker, Ore., serves three mission parishes in 10,000 square miles, logging 500 miles on his car each Sunday. He is not alone. Even in urban areas priests are stretched, responsible for multiple parishes or ministries.  

For the faithful, two basic action steps present themselves. First, consider making a donation to the USCCB’s Catholic Home Missions agency, which issues grants to mission territories primarily for evangelization efforts; religious education; ministry training for priests, deacons, religious brothers and sisters, and laypeople; and in support of poor parishes in the United States.  

Second, pray for vocations — a commitment that is only fitting during this spring season of ordinations. What better opportunity to pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood is there than to attend your diocesan ordination Mass? The rite, with supplication, the laying on of hands, the prayer of ordination, investiture and kiss of peace, is powerful and worth witnessing.  

Some of my favorite “ordination” words are these, which Pope Francis said in his homily during an ordination Mass April 21 at St. Peter’s: “Meditating on the law of the Lord, see that you believe what you read, that you teach what you believe, and that you practice what you teach.” Good advice — for priests and for us all.    

I welcome your thoughts: