Friends remember Bishop McFadden as ‘kind of priest every priest should be’
Bishop Joseph P. McFadden will be mourned in Harrisburg, the diocese he led for almost three years. He will also certainly be mourned in Philadelphia, the archdiocese where he spent the first 63 years of his life.
Joe McFadden didn’t enter the seminary straight from St. Thomas More High; instead he earned his degree at St. Joseph’s University, and then took a teaching/coaching position at West Catholic High School for Boys. Coaching was his real passion; teaching was something he had to do to get hired.
Bill McCusker, who is now president of Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield, also taught at West. “I taught history, he taught social studies,” McCusker remembers. “I wasn’t really surprised when he went into the seminary.”
Years later, when O’Hara went to the president/principal model, then-Msgr. McFadden was the first president.
“He was very, very student-oriented,” McCusker recalls. “He was responsible for a number of programs, for example the O’Hara Family Christmas. He was supposed to come back next year to celebrate Mass for that. It will be the 20th anniversary. He reinstated the Hall of Fame here and the O’Hara Family Breakfast.”
Throughout Bishop McFadden’s career, first at West then O’Hara and later through oversight of the Office for Catholic Education, “I think that will be his greatest legacy — Catholic education,” McCusker said.
On a more personal note, “He was a dear friend. We were friends when we taught together and we remained friends when he was Cardinal Krol’s secretary and when he was president here,” McCusker said.
“He married several of my children and baptized several of my grandchildren. You could talk to him; he would give his opinion and it may not be what you wanted to hear, but Joe was OK.”
Bill Hoy, who is now department head for business and technology at West, also remembers Joe McFadden from those early days. “He was someone you wanted to be around. He was an assistant coach and I was head coach. He would do anything you wanted and he loved kids.”
Later as Bishop McFadden, “he got all of the kids involved in the PIAA (Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association). He was Joe to everybody, it wasn’t like he was a bishop,” Hoy said.
Christian Brother Richard Kestler, who is now president of West Catholic, arrived at West Boys as principal when Joe McFadden was on the faculty. Somehow he sensed a possible religious vocation, and suggested to him he might consider becoming a Christian Brother or a priest. “No, Brother,” was his response.
“That spring at our sports banquet he leaned over the table and said to me, ‘I won’t be returning to West next year, Brother.’” Brother Richard recalls. “I was shocked because he had such key roles at West. Then he told me he was going into the seminary and I was delighted at that.
“Joe was just inducted into our Sports Hall of Fame this past March. He was not a graduate of West but his influence and dominance in the realm of basketball was so great the alums inducted him and that was quite an honor.
“He was just a wonderful guy and he had countless numbers of friends from the alums of the school where he taught, and from the parents. He was always very positive and very helpful.”
Msgr. Francis Depman, pastor of St. Rocco Parish in Avondale and a seminary classmate also ordained in 1981, remembers Joe McFadden as “the kind of person you thought would make a good bishop. He always had a lot of common sense and responded to people in a very caring and peaceful way. He was an example of a great priest.”
Father Jerry Wild was also a classmate at St. Charles and a good friend. “I always appreciated having discussions with him at the seminary and in the early days of our priesthood,” said the pastor of St. Teresa of Avila Parish in Norristown. “He saw the Church as a compassionate community of Christ and a source of hope for the poor. I think that Joe always had an awareness of the importance of emphasizing that, and he also had the ability to convey a real presence to each person. He would take the time to talk to them in a deliberate way, to make them feel important.”
Father Joseph Gleason, who is director of spiritual formation for the Theology Division at St. Charles, was ordained in 1987 six years later than Bishop McFadden, but he knew him from when he was 10 or 12 playing ball at McDevitt Playground in East Falls and Joe McFadden hadn’t yet entered the seminary.
“He would organize our baseball leagues and basketball leagues,” he said. “He was always involved in sports. As a coach he emphasized having fun and not worrying about winning or losing.
“When I came to the seminary he was a big influence on me. He was Cardinal Krol’s secretary but we would get together and talk about the seminary. He was someone who loved the Church and really loved the priesthood. I just thought he had great joy in the priesthood and wanted to share that with me.”
Kathy Kelly, a secretary in the administrative offices of the Archdiocese, came to know the future Bishop McFadden very well tracing back to the time he was secretary to Cardinal John Krol.
“Bishop McFadden was the kind of priest every priest should be,” she said. “He loved God, and he had a great devotion to the Blessed Mother. He loved the priesthood and everything he did showed that,” she said. “This is a great loss to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Harrisburg.”
Michael Bradley, the parade director for the annual Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade, knew a different aspect of Bishop McFadden – his pride in his Irish heritage. “He was our chaplain and when he left Philadelphia he became chaplain emeritus,” Bradley said.
He remembers an incident that had nothing to do with being Irish. It was after Penn State football coach Joe Paterno died and Bishop McFadden accompanied Bradley and his wife, Linda, to the viewing. The line was so long it was about a three hour wait in temperatures that dropped to about 15 degrees, Bradley recalled. He suggested that they could just go in because he was bishop.
“No,” Bishop McFadden said. “I want to be out here with the people so I can go back to tell the people of the diocese about it.”
Bradley does not cry often, but “I cried when I heard he died,” he said. “He was just a wonderful person and made everyone believe they were his best friend.”
Jim Longon, a Catholic businessman and philanthropist, recalled how about five years ago he posed what he thought would be a tough question for Bishop McFadden.
“If the Pope called you and said he wanted to reward you for a job well done, so he told you to pick any job you wanted in the Church — Vatican, Ireland, U.S., whatever — what would it be?” Longon said.
“Without a moment’s hesitation he responded, ‘A pastor, and I don’t care what parish.’ He told me that the job of a bishop is a cross and that he became a priest to be a pastor.”