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Remembering Bishop Joseph P. McFadden

Bishop Joseph McFadden

Bishop Joseph McFadden, chaplain emeritus of the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade, joined St. Thomas More alums in singing the school song.

Harrisburg Bishop Joseph P. McFadden, a well-known and loved member of Philadelphia’s Irish community before his upstate appointment in June 2010, has passed away. His death was announced today by the diocese. 

Bishop McFadden, who served as chaplain of the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade, died unexpectedly while attending a meeting of the Catholic Bishops of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

We interviewed Bishop McFadden not long after his installation. He could not have been more gracious and down-to-earth. We’re grateful to have known him.

Here is the interview.

An “average Joe” is about to helm the Harrisburg Diocese.

Of course, Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop Joseph P. McFadden is really far from ordinary. In naming him this week to become the 10th bishop of Harrisburg, Pope Benedict XVI surely must have recognized Bishop McFadden’s solid record of accomplishment.

McFadden has been a priest for 29 years, but he was someone special right from the word go. After a brief stint as assistant pastor of Irish St. Laurence Parish in Highland Park, Delaware County, he become administrative secretary to then Cardinal Krol in 1982. Less than 10 years later, he was appointed honorary prelate to Pope John Paul II—as a monsignor.

He later served as president of Cardinal O’Hara High School, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Downington and, in June 2004, auxiliary bishop under Cardinal Justin Rigali.

Not bad for a guy who grew up in St. Rose of Lima parish in West Philly, graduate of St. Thomas More, and high school basketball coach.

McFadden, contacted Friday just before he left to catch a flight to Rome, was characteristically humble when asked about his sure and steady rise. “For most priests the goal is to answer the call of God and to be of service to Jesus and the preaching of his gospel as a parish priest,” he said. “I don’t think a young man focuses on becoming a bishop. I didn’t. As bishop, a priest is still called to preach the gospel, but it means that you have responsibility of a larger flock, a larger group of people. when God gives you responsibility, you expect to have to answer to that responsiblilty. It’s one thing for an individual to open himself to the grace of God. It’s quite another thing to be responsible for shepherding other people in response to the same call.”

Throughout his rise to the top, Joseph McFadden apparently has not forgotten his humble roots, said Michael Bradley, director of the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade, who has known him for a long time—including McFadden’s more recent service as parade chaplain and chaplain emeritus.

“He (McFadden) was president of Cardinal O’Hara when I was athletic director at Broomall,” said Bradley. “We knew of each each other for a long time. He went to Tommy Moore, and my dad went there. But we became close in the ’90s.”

Over the years, Bradley could see how much McFadden loved the Philly parade. The future bishop would march every year with the group from O’Hara. In 2007, when chaplain Father Kevin Trautner died, Bradley named him chaplain. That first year, McFadden spent some time providing commentary in the CBS3 booth. “They raved about him,” said Bradley.

What has appealed most to Bradley about this well-connected prelate, who in his time has tackled some nettlesome issues—including the closing of Cardinal Dougherty and Northeast Catholic high schools—is how down-to-earth he is. “I’ve always felt that he is a regular guy who became a bishop,” said Bradley. “He has an ability, when you’re talking to him, to make you feel like he’s your best friend.”

Bradley, for one, is not happy to see this best friend go. While acknowledging that McFadden’s promotion to preside over the Harrisburg Diocese is a great honor, Bradley wishes the Vatican had looked inside the Harrisburg Diocese to “hire from within. He asked, “Why can’t they get their own good guy?”

Philly’s “good guy” understands that his local friends might miss him. At the same time, he hopes he’ll be able to maintain at least some of his ties to the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade while forging new ties with the Irish-Americans of Harrisburg. “I would like to hope I can,” he said. “I love the Philly parade.

My parents, as you know, were born in Ireland. I’m proud of my Irish heritage. the parade has been such a great experience the last several years. It really has become a wonderful event in Philadelphia.”

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