Bishop Joe McFadden of Harrisburg died unexpectedly this morning. While I didn’t know Bishop McFadden well, I worked with him on a committee and just spent several days with him at meetings in March. He made a powerful impression on me as a strong shepherd who had a keen understanding of both the Church and his people. Since meeting him and hearing him speak about his diocese and his work before becoming bishop, I’ve been thinking a lot about his words for the last few months. I sensed he was a bishop who had the right vision for the future. In fact, I quoted him on Tuesday night at my Bible study, yesterday to a friend, and last night to my Mom.
His death comes as quite a shock, since he was young and active. He was a late vocation — a high school basketball coach before answering the call to the priesthood– and spent many years after ordination as the secretary to Cardinal Krol of Philadelphia.
At our meeting in March, a group of us were eating dinner and talking about the upcoming conclave. Someone asked him casually if he had ever celebrated Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. We didn’t know that he had been Cardinal Krol’s secretary, and so we were all unprepared for the stories he told us for the next hour. Yes, not only had he celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s, he had eaten lunch with John Paul II — including one Sunday afternoon in the Papal Apartments when John Paul II served as translator between Father McFadden and the Polish bishops present. As Bishop McFadden told us story after story in his soft-spoken voice, I glanced around our dinner table — we were transfixed, leaning over our plates, straining to catch every word of this humble shepherd, who was simply recounting his experience of another humble shepherd.
John Paul II eventually made Msgr McFadden a bishop, and when he visited John Paul at Castel Gandolfo for his ad limina visit, shortly before John Paul II died, the Pope greeted the young bishop: “It is very good, Bishop McFadden.”
Perhaps John Paul II will greet him with the same words in heaven someday.
Pray for Bishop McFadden’s family, his diocese, and the repose of his soul.
Eternal rest grant to him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.