The Most Rev. John Michael D’Arcy, 80, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, died late Sunday morning at his Fort Wayne residence, succumbing to cancer discovered shortly after Christmas.
D’Arcy was the diocese’s eighth bishop, serving from 1985 to 2010, coming to the position from the Boston Archdiocese, where he had grown up and was an auxiliary bishop.
The diocese wrote Sunday in a statement that D’Arcy died “surrounded by loved ones” on the 56th anniversary of his first Mass as an ordained priest.
“Bishop D’Arcy faced death as he also lived his life, with deep faith and trust in God,” said his successor, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, in a statement. “I am filled with deep sadness at the death of a dear friend and brother bishop. We mourn the death of a good shepherd after the heart of Christ who loved the Lord and his people with all his heart.”
Funeral arrangements are pending. D’Arcy is survived by two sisters, Anne D’Arcy, a religious sister of the Order of St. Joseph, and Joan Sheridan.
D’Arcy was named bishop of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese in 1985 and offered his retirement in 2007, the year he would turn 75. Canon law requires bishops submit their retirement at that age, although the pope can tell a bishop to stay. D’Arcy retired in January 2010. Rhoades, of the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., was installed as the ninth bishop in the diocese’s history.
D’Arcy survived a diagnosis of prostate cancer in 2011. But, about three weeks ago, he wrote to parishioners that the latest cancer was “very rare” and aggressively “quick-striking” and asked for prayers “to accept this and whatever is to come.” He said he was receiving palliative care designed to minimize symptoms but not cure the cancer. He returned to Fort Wayne on Jan. 23.
D’Arcy will be remembered for raising early red flags over sexual abuse by priests and chastising officials of the University of Notre Dame for having President Obama speak at the 2009 commencement and awarding him an honorary degree, despite Obama’s support of abortion rights, a stance in conflict with church teachings.
He refused to attend the commencement, choosing instead to attend an event at the same time organized by students, whom he later commended for their sincerity.
In Boston, D’Arcy was in charge of the diocesan spiritual development office, which included recommending priests for placement as pastors. In that capacity, D’Arcy wrote letters to his superior, Cardinal Bernard Law, warning of improper conduct by priests that led to his transfer to Indiana. D’Arcy always declined to comment on the reason for his transfer but acknowledged that Law wanted to move him.
The letters D’Arcy wrote warned of the violence, alcoholism, drug use and sexual abuse by at least four priests, including John Geoghan. Geoghan was eventually convicted of groping a young boy and later slain in prison. D’Arcy’s letters began in July 1978 and continued until his transfer. The letters were uncovered as part of an investigation by the Boston Globe in 2002.
In 2004, D’Arcy was cited by the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People, convened by U.S. bishops as “a voice in the wilderness” for his role in bringing sexual abuse to light.
As the leader of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese, D’Arcy stressed the importance of selecting men who are spiritually mature for the priesthood – men, he said, who would make good husbands.
In 2003, he said that 17 priests had been found to abuse 33 people in the diocese since 1950, and he insisted offenders be removed from the priesthood.
“The best thing a bishop does for a parish is send them a good priest,” he said in 2005, the year he celebrated 20 years with the diocese. “When you’ve done that, you’ve helped hundreds or thousands of people.”
D’Arcy combatted a nationwide shortage of priests by bringing in priests from other countries, especially Sri Lanka, to help staff local parishes. He increased the number of local men who went to seminary.
He also focused strongly on education and worked to raise teacher salaries in Catholic schools and provide financing for schools that served low-income areas of the diocese.
In his more than two decades as bishop, D’Arcy also oversaw the beginning of a live television Mass for shut-ins and Vincent House, which provides housing for families in need, and established an endowment for the diocese.
He wanted the schools to be strong not only academically but also spiritually. He was concerned students were not receiving as strong of a Catholic education as they had in earlier generations, though they certainly had the desire to learn, he said.
“(These students) are more open to Christ than in the past,” D’Arcy said in 2005. “I find a great hunger in young people."
He created a spiritual development office in Fort Wayne to focus on missions, retreats, educational opportunities and other activities to bring people back to Mass.
And, although he lamented at his retirement that he had never learned Spanish, he also oversaw the foundation of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish and the building of a large church in Warsaw to serve Spanish-speaking Catholics.
His time leading the diocese wasn’t without conflicts. Not everyone was happy about spending $3.6 million to renovate the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception or his decision to close parishes and schools, including St. Paul’s in downtown Fort Wayne and Huntington Catholic High School.
But he developed a reputation for being even-handed and willing to listen, and delighted many with his thick, Boston-tinged Irish accent and twinkling blue eyes under a shock of white hair. Even in retirement, he continued to teach and conduct special Masses and planned to officiate at this year’s confirmation service for young people.
His affinity for his hometown never waned. Born in 1932 to Irish immigrants Michael J. and Margaret Moran D’Arcy, D’Arcy was an avid Boston Red Sox fan, something he called a “lifetime addiction.”
He told Journal Gazette columnist Frank Gray that he would never forget the 1986 World Series. The Red Sox were within one out of winning the Series when a wild pitch let the tying run score. Then came an infamous grounder that went between Bill Buckner’s legs, letting the winning run score. The New York Mets went on to take the Series.
But his faith in his team was unabated, “I think we’re going to win it in my lifetime – the whole thing,” he told Gray.
He got that wish in spades. The Red Sox beat the Cardinals in 2004 to win the Series for the first time since 1918. And in 2007, the Red Sox won the Series again, beating the Colorado Rockies.
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