By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer
“It’s hard to believe,” said Archbishop Emeritus Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua. “Here I am, 60 years a priest. It went very fast – that’s because I enjoyed it.”
Cardinal Bevilacqua, now 85, was ordained a priest for the New York Diocese of Brooklyn on June 11, 1949, six days before his 26th birthday.
Among his most cherished memories of that day is a blessing he gave to a friend of the family, a woman in her early 40s who was pregnant. “It was the first blessing I gave,” Cardinal Bevilacqua said. The woman had a healthy pregnancy, and her baby boy grew up to be a priest.
Among the vivid memories of his first parish assignment were painting a recreation center in the rectory basement and transporting a pool table through a Brooklyn tunnel.
And more poignantly, anointing a dying man who later recovered from his illness.
Anointing a young woman who was seriously ill was a highlight of his second assignment. It was while he was in charge of the rosary society that he inadvertently overheard a conversation about the woman who had been suffering from cancer for 10 years.
It was said that the woman’s mother did not allow priests to visit her home because she did not want her daughter to feel as though she was about to die.
Father Bevilacqua urged the women who were conversing to give him the young woman’s name and address.
The following day, he visited the young lady who, upon his arrival humbly said, “Father, I’ve been waiting for you for 10 years.” He heard her confession and anointed her.
He was stationed at that parish for just six months; the last Mass he celebrated there was the young lady’s funeral Mass.
The joys of celebrating the sacraments as a parish priest eventually led to ministry in the fulfillment of the priesthood, as a bishop.
He was ordained an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn on Nov. 24, 1980, and three years later was appointed bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Bishop Bevilacqua was installed as Archbishop of Philadelphia on Feb. 11, 1988, and three years after that, on June 28, 1991, he was elevated to the College of Cardinals.
In perhaps the most significant hallmark during his tenure in Philadelphia, Cardinal Bevilacqua called for the spiritual renewal of the Archdiocese over a nine-year period. It consisted of intense collaboration and prayer among parishioners, religious, priests and bishops, and culminated in the 10th Archdiocesan Synod in 2002.
Other highlights include implementation of the pastoral planning process still used today by parishes and parish clusters throughout the six vicariate regions of the Archdiocese, a parish organizational model introduced during the Cardinal’s administration.
On June 17, 1998, Cardinal Bevilacqua reached the age of 75 and, according to canon law, submitted his letter of resignation to Pope John Paul II.
On July 15, 2003, his resignation was accepted by the Holy Father, at which time he was appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese. He remained in that role until the Oct. 7, 2003 when his successor as Archbishop, Cardinal Justin Rigali, was installed.
“I enjoyed my years as their Archbishop,” Cardinal Bevilacqua said of the faithful of the Archdiocese.
“I remember them every day at Mass. I love them with a deep spiritual love. I continue to pray for them and thank them for all the good things they did for me.”
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at (215) 587-2468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.