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Catholic Philly.com
Posted in Local Catholic News, Local News, on May 3rd, 2013

In his final moments, Bishop McFadden graced by sacrament, recalled people of diocese

By Lou Baldwin

Bishop Joseph McFadden prays the rosary in the chapel of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center, Philadelphia, in June 2010. (Sarah Webb)

Death came swiftly and silently for Bishop Joseph P. McFadden on the early morning of May 2, but it did not catch him spiritually unawares.

Two days earlier he had called Msgr. Joseph Garvin, pastor of St. Christopher Parish in Northeast Philadelphia, to say he would be coming down from Harrisburg to Philadelphia for a semi-annual meeting of the Pennsylvania bishops.

The bishop said he would like to stay at the now-vacant apartment on the grounds of St. Christopher’s, where he had lived before being named Bishop of Harrisburg.

“Great,” Msgr. Garvin told him.

The visit went well until that morning of May 2. It was about 6:30 a.m. when Msgr. Garvin’s phone rang.

It was Bishop McFadden. “Joe,” he said, “I think I’m having a heart attack. I need you to take me to Holy Redeemer Hospital.”

Msgr. Garvin hastily dressed, and taking a spare key went over to the apartment. When he got there Bishop McFadden was already dressed and sitting in a recliner.

“What do you want me to do, call 911 or take you to the E.R.?” he asked.

“I want you to take me to the E.R.,” the bishop replied.

Because the drive is a relatively short distance that didn’t seem unreasonable. Bishop McFadden assured Msgr. Garvin he could walk to the car, and as soon as they got into it, Msgr. Garvin, who knows the hospital number by heart, called ahead to alert the staff to be ready for them.

They had just turned on to Byberry Road when Bishop McFadden asked, “Joe, would you please give me absolution?”

“He’s a Godly man and he wants the sacraments of the Church,” Msgr. Garvin thought. He said the prayer of absolution and made the sign of the cross. Bishop McFadden blessed himself.

At that point Msgr. Garvin was expecting they would get to the hospital and treatment would start immediately and the bishop would be on the road to recovery.

It wasn’t to be. Very shortly after receiving absolution, Bishop McFadden slumped over.

Msgr. Garvin pulled off the road, called 911 and tried to administer CPR. Very quickly the fire department and EMTs arrived and took over. After trying to revive the bishop they placed him in the ambulance and raced to Holy Redeemer with Msgr. Garvin following.

There a team of about 15 medical personnel tried to resuscitate him but it couldn’t be done.

“I have to say I was in the car focused on getting him to the emergency room and he was focused on getting ready to meet the Lord,” Msgr. Garvin said.

Over the next few days many people will share wonderful memories of Bishop McFadden. One of his last conversations with Msgr. Garvin should be a comfort to his flock in Harrisburg.

“Joe, you’ve done such a great job in Harrisburg, you’ve embraced the people, and have a great relationship with the state legislature,” Msgr. Garvin remarked.

Bishop McFadden replied, “I love the people and the priests of Harrisburg. God has been very good to me. I have accepted four students into the seminary and I have seven more to interview. God is really blessing us with vocations.”

One suspects God has already told him, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”


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6 Responses

  1. So very sorry … he was a great man!

    By: Jan Paytas on May 3, 2013 at 1:36 pm

  2. Both of these men were good examples of how priests should be. I grew up with Monsignor Garvin as a child and found him to be very inspirational, Bishop McFadden confirmed my son. He was a delight during the ceremony.

    By: Celia on May 3, 2013 at 4:07 pm

  3. This was comforting. What a blessed and holy man. As one of the 4 seminarians he just accepted, I feel truly honored to have been accepted by such a great man. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.

    By: Damon T. on May 3, 2013 at 7:42 pm

  4. May God bless the precious soul of Bishop McFadden, a faithful shepherd of our diocese and servant of our Lord Jesus. We knew Bishop McFadden from St. Joseph’s Church in Downingtown before moving to Harrisburg. He was a holy priest whom the people respected and loved. We have lost a Christian warrior here on earth, but gained a prayer warrior in Heaven. May God’s Love, Grace and Mercy be showering upon our dear Bishop, and all of us.

    By: Jennifer on May 6, 2013 at 4:25 am

  5. What an incredible inspiration for all of us.

    By: Jill Hartman on May 6, 2013 at 10:23 am

  6. Having recently spoken to Bishop McFadden on only a couple of occasions my lasting memory of him is one of a man who trully led like Jesus, as a servant. He deeply loved the people of the Diocese of Harrisburg and his departure from this world will not change that. As we all pray for him, we can be quite sure of his prayers for each member of his Diocesan family he had to leave behind. He studied at St Thomas Mores High School and so it would have been fitting for him to speak to the people of his diocese with the parting words of this great English Saint to his daughter . “Pray for me, and I will pray for thee, that we will meet again, in Heaven.” God bless you my friend as you have blessed so many by your life, your witness, and your ministry as servant, priest, and shepherd of God’s people of Harrisburg.

    By: Paul Sanderson OCDS on May 7, 2013 at 2:10 am

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