Denise Antonini Our Lady of the Assumption Strafford

Bishop Thomas says goodbye to Denise Antonini of Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in Strafford, where he served as pastor until his ordination as bishop in 2006.

Bishop Daniel Thomas isn’t scheduled to take up his new duties as Bishop of Toledo, Ohio, until Oct. 22, but the Philadelphia faithful were given an opportunity officially to wish him farewell at an Oct. 1 evening prayer and benediction liturgy at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul and a reception that followed at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center.

Archbishop Charles Chaput, who presided at the liturgy, recalled how well he knew Bishop Thomas long before coming to Philadelphia during his own days as Bishop of Rapid City and Archbishop of Denver when then-Msgr. Thomas was an official with the Congregation of Bishops at the Vatican, 1990-2005.

“In some ways he was the face of the church in Rome when people like me would visit the Holy See,” Archbishop Chaput said. “There was that smiling young man with the white hair who looked more like a bishop than the rest of us. There he was with his great smile to welcome us to Rome.

“Then he came back to serve as a priest and very quickly became a bishop in the most difficult time in the history of the Church in Philadelphia and I’m sure he was an extraordinary support for Cardinal Rigali and for all of us.”

While everyone in Philadelphia will miss Bishop Thomas, Archbishop Chaput assured him, “We entrust you to the Provident God who will take care of you and love you much more than we can.”

The farewell service happened to take place on the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, a favorite saint for many Philadelphians and in his own remarks Bishop Thomas centered on a phrase that encapsulates the spirituality of the Little Flower: “I believe in love.”

“As I move from Philadelphia to Toledo I offer a prayer of heartfelt thanksgiving and deep gratitude to the Lord, who has shown to me his love here in the archdiocese,” Bishop Thomas said. “St. Therese wrote, ‘There is but one thing for us to do and that is to love. To love Jesus with all of the energy of our hearts and to save souls, so that he may be loved by them.’ She prayed, ‘Oh let us cause Jesus to be loved by all.’ This is my hope and prayer for all of us, whatever our vocation, and strengthened by the Eucharist and living out our faith each day we might realize the love that the Lord has for us. The Lord desires us to love him above all else and if we do, others will know his love through us.”

Donna Farrell, the executive director of the 2015 World Meeting of Families, is a former director of the archdiocesan Office for Communications, for which Bishop Thomas had oversight.

“I worked with him very closely and I would say no matter how difficult or challenging the times were that we were facing he was always supportive and patient is his priestly ministry,” she said. “He was, and is, one of the most capable administrators I have ever met in my life. His support for us in the Communications Office was, as the archbishop said, during some of the most difficult years in the archdiocese and he carried us through those years.”

Few people know an administrator better than his secretary, and Theresa Grato, who served as Bishop Thomas’s secretary the entire time he was an auxiliary bishop for Philadelphia, said, “It has been eight joyful years. I’ll remember his laugh, his smile, and his kindness. He was always compassionate and caring. I think he did a fabulous job and I’m sorry to see him go.”

After returning to Philadelphia from Rome in 2005 Msgr. Thomas served as pastor of Our Lady of Assumption Parish in Strafford until he was named auxiliary bishop the following year.

“With his warm smile and loving heart, Bishop Thomas embraced our beloved parish,” said Joanne Bouvier, Assumption’s parish secretary. “He came to us with great compassion as if he had been a long-lost family member. Although only at Our Lady of the Assumption for eight brief months Bishop Thomas, a first-time pastor, quickly assessed the spiritual and temporal needs of our community and our individual families. His actions allayed the fears we had of losing two pastors within days of each other.

“We were not surprised when he was ordained a bishop and appointed auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia, nor are we surprised that Pope Francis has appointed him bishop of the Diocese of Toledo.”

Among his other duties Bishop Thomas had oversight over The Catholic Standard and Times and its online successor, CatholicPhilly.com. Matt Gambino, director and general manager for CatholicPhilly, said, “I’ve worked for a lot of bosses and he’s the best boss I ever had. He is a great listener, a leader and a co-worker. He is not afraid to roll up his sleeves and work at the task that has to be done.

“His wasn’t just a job; he had a way of helping us not only to be communicators of the facts that had to be told but to proclaim the Gospel. That was always our mission. It’s been a great eight years and I’m going to miss my friend; I’m going to miss my boss and all of the leadership that he brought.”

View photos from the evening.