Diocese, OSV mourn death of Bishop D’Arcy

Bishop John Michael D’Arcy, bishop emeritus of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., and former chairman of the Our Sunday Visitor Board of Directors, died Feb. 3 at his residence in Fort Wayne, on the 56th anniversary of his first Mass as an ordained priest. He had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer while spending the Christmas holidays at his family home in Boston. He was 80 years old. 

Bishop D’Arcy became the eighth bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend on May 1, 1985, and led the diocese until he retired upon installation of his successor, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, on Jan. 13, 2010. 

As chairman of Our Sunday Visitor’s board, Bishop D’Arcy oversaw both the expansion of the publishing and offertory solutions divisions of the company as well as the shuttering of its commercial printing operation. He also was a member of the advisory board of the Our Sunday Visitor Institute. 

Bishop D’Arcy retained his home in Fort Wayne and remained very active until his final illness. He assisted Bishop Rhoades in conferring the Sacrament of Confirmation across the sprawling diocese and often stood in for him at other events. 

The greatest joy of his retirement, however, was being able to continue his priestly ministry in the diocese as well as other cities where he was invited to give retreats. He told the diocesan newspaper, Today’s Catholic: 

“The best part of it [retirement] and what has kept me strong is doing priestly work, whether retreats, celebrating Mass, hearing confessions — it’s like a rebirth of your priesthood.”

Boston born and bred

His obvious love of the priesthood, quick wit and approachable style quickly won over the people in his Indiana diocese. When people noted that his Boston accent made him sound like the family of the late President John F. Kennedy, he would reply: “No. The Kennedys sound like me.” 

Even though Bishop D’Arcy came to love his Indiana diocese and chose to retire in Fort Wayne, his affection for his native Boston endured. He often spoke fondly of his childhood days in the Brighton neighborhood, where he was born on Aug. 18, 1932. He was one of four children of Michael D’Arcy and Margaret Moran D’Arcy, both Irish immigrants. 

Bishop D’Arcy claimed that he decided to become a priest after concluding that he was not gifted enough to play second base for his beloved Boston Red Sox. He entered St. John’s Seminary in Brighton after high school and was ordained a priest of the Boston archdiocese on Feb. 2, 1957. 

His first — and only — parish assignment was to St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish in Beverly, Mass., where he served for eight years. His attachment to the parish lasted a lifetime, for he often celebrated Mass at St. Mary when he returned to Boston for a home visit.

Rise to episcopacy

Father D’Arcy thought he would always be a parish priest, but in 1965 he was sent to the Angelicum University in Rome to study spiritual theology. Upon earning his doctorate in 1968, he was appointed spiritual director and instructor at St. John’s Seminary. 

On Feb. 11, 1975, Father D’Arcy was ordained an auxiliary bishop and given the position of director of the archdiocesan Office of Spiritual Development. 

Bishop D’Arcy’s work at the seminary convinced him of the need for careful screening and solid formation of seminarians, and he chaired a committee of New England bishops to write and release their 1978 “Letter on Priestly Formation.” During the 1970s and 1980s, Bishop D’Arcy warned his Boston superiors about some of the predator priests in the archdiocese, warnings that apparently went unheeded and unpublicized until the early 21st century, when the clergy sexual abuse crisis was exposed. 

Bishop D’Arcy was named regional bishop for Boston’s Lowell Region in 1981 and served in that capacity until being appointed to Fort Wayne-South Bend on Feb. 26, 1985.

Contributions to diocese

In his new diocese, he became the leader of approximately 150,000 Catholics in an area where only 12 percent of the population is Catholic. One of his roles was as Our Sunday Visitor board chairman. 

Greg Erlandson, the president of Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, said Bishop D’Arcy was an enthusiastic supporter of the company’s mission of service to the Church. “Bishop D’Arcy appreciated the history of Our Sunday Visitor and its mission to both form and inform Catholics as well as to defend the Church from unjust attack,” Erlandson said. “He encouraged our support for evangelization and catechesis, both in the works we published and in the priorities of the OSV Institute.” 

In the diocese, Bishop D’Arcy set about reorganizing the diocesan administration, setting up several new diocesan offices and six regional vicariates. 

In 1987 he established an innovative annual bishop’s appeal that allowed him to reduce the parish “tax” from 13 percent to 6 percent. Over the years, the appeal has brought in more than $117 million, with more than $21 million being returned to the parishes. 

Desiring a stronger, visible presence in South Bend, which is 90 miles from Fort Wayne, Bishop D’Arcy opened a chapel and chancery office in downtown South Bend in 1988. He did not ignore the smaller towns in his diocese and regularly made pastoral visits to them. 

True to his interest in spirituality, Bishop D’Arcy opened an office of spiritual development and started campus ministry programs on the campuses of the eight non-Catholic colleges and universities in the diocese. In 2001, he received the Campus Ministry Exemplary Bishop award that is given annually by national student and campus ministry organizations. 

Other priorities included vocations and religious education. His appointment of Sister Jane Carew as head of religious education in the diocese led to a diocesan-wide effort to improve both the content and the teaching of religious education programs in parishes and schools. With funding help from the OSV Institute, the diocese was able to provide certificates and master’s degrees for many of its catechists, teachers and directors of religious education.

Notre Dame relationship

The diocese has five Catholic colleges or universities, including the University of Notre Dame. Bishop D’Arcy developed and maintained a respectful and cordial relationship with the university and the Holy Cross order. He praised what he saw as a positive development of the Notre Dame theology department and moved the diocesan catechist master’s program to Notre Dame under the direction of then department chair, John Cavadini. 

However, Bishop D’Arcy also made it clear when he disagreed with the university. Notably, in 2009 he made headlines when he absented himself from the Notre Dame graduation because he disapproved of President Barack Obama, an abortion rights supporter, being invited to speak and receive an honorary degree. 

That same year, the U.S. bishops offered their support for his position in a statement saying: “We affirm his pastoral concern for Notre Dame University, his solicitude for its Catholic identity — and his loving care for all those the Lord has given him to sanctify, to teach and to shepherd.” 

Bishop D’Arcy is survived by two sisters, Sister Anne D’Arcy, a Sister of St. Joseph of Boston, and Joan Sheridan. A sister, Mary Caprio, died in 2007.  

Ann Carey writes from Indiana.