Delaware County Clergy Remember Bevilacqua

By Patti Mengers
Daily Times
February 2, 2012

In the more than 15 years that Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua was archbishop of Philadelphia, he was charged with the causes of saints and sinners, financially troubled schools and connecting with close to 1.5 million Roman Catholics.

More than 200,000 Delaware County Catholics were among the faithful overseen by the retired cardinal who died at age 88 Tuesday night at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary after a battle with cancer.

“A true leader has to lead and, at the end of the day, make decisions that do affect people’s lives. I’m sure he made decisions after much prayer and study,” said the Rev. Monsignor Joseph McLoone, who was ordained by Bevilacqua in May 1988.

The monsignor is pastor of St. Katharine Drexel Church in Chester, a parish that was established as a result of Bevilacqua’s controversial decision to merge six parishes into one because of the declining number of Roman Catholics in the small city. In 1993, St. Michael, St. Anthony of Padua, Resurrection of Our Lord, Immaculate Heart of Mary and St. Hedwig parishes merged at the site of St. Robert Church to form Blessed Katharine Drexel parish and grade school.

It became St. Katharine Drexel parish in 2000 after its namesake, a Philadelphia heiress who founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, was canonized, a cause that Bevilacqua helped champion. Another woman now in line for sainthood, Blessed Mother Teresa, whose Missionaries of Charity opened a hospice for HIV-positive women and their children at the old Resurrection convent in 1992 at the invitation of Bevilacqua, attended Mass at St. Katharine Drexel Church in 1995.

Bevilacqua also had a hand in the canonization of Mother Aviat, founder of the Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales in France. He appointed the Rev. Monsignor Alexander Palmieri, who had researched St. Katharine Drexel’s second miracle, to investigate the case of 14-year-old Bernadette McKenzie. She was permanently freed of disabling pain from a congenital spinal condition during a 1992 novena to Mother Aviat at St. Bernadette parish in the Drexel Hill section of Upper Darby. The Vatican eventually proclaimed McKenzie’s medically unexplainable healing as the second miracle that enabled the French nun to be named a saint in 2001.

In 1993, Bevilacqua also closed St. James Catholic High School for Boys in Chester because of declining enrollment. During Bevilacqua’s tenure as archbishop from 1988-2003, four other Delaware County parish grade schools were closed because of declining enrollment and increasing debt.

“There is a price to pay for leadership, like the situation in Chester. Some people didn’t think he made the right decision, but in his heart, I’m sure he thought he did. I think he made the right decision. The situation couldn’t be sustained,” said McLoone.

The monsignor is also parochial administrator for St. Joseph Church in Downingtown, Chester County, a post he took about a year ago when the pastor, the Rev. Monsignor William Lynn, was charged with endangering the welfare of children because of his handling of clerical sexual abuse cases while serving as secretary to the clergy from 1992-2004, mostly under Bevilacqua. On Monday, a Philadelphia judge ruled that Bevilacqua’s deposition videotaped in November could be included in Lynn’s trial that is scheduled to begin March 26, despite the retired cardinal’s dementia. Lynn is being tried with two priests and a defrocked priest charged with sexually assaulting boys in the 1990s.

When the church sex abuse scandal broke nationwide in 2002, Bevilacqua appointed attorney and theologian Helen M. Alvare, who grew up in the Wayne section of Radnor, to chair a Commission on the Protection of Children and Clerical Conduct. Since then, two grand juries have investigated clerical sex abuse in Philadelphia, the last one resulting in the arrest of Lynn and his co-defendants as well as a former Catholic school lay teacher also charged with abusing a minor under Bevilacqua’s watch.

“It must have been very painful for him over these past years. What I want for him now and pray for him is the fullness of God’s peace,” said the Rev. Monsignor John Jagodzinski, pastor emeritus of St. Katharine of Siena Church in Wayne and assistant pastor of St. Pius X Church in Marple.

Jagodzinski noted that despite the fact Bevilacqua was known as a private person, he managed to visit virtually all the parishes in the five-county archdiocese. When Bevilacqua retired in 2003, former Marple resident Bishop Michael Burbidge noted that the cardinal made more than 2,330 pastoral visits as Philadelphia’s archbishop, including 900 visits to parishes, 105 visits to high schools and 104 visits to hospitals and nursing homes.

“I always wished I could tell people about the things the cardinal did behind the scenes, which would include letters to people he met on the train or the airplane while traveling,” said Burbidge, who was ordained a bishop by Bevilacqua in 2002 and now heads the diocese of Raleigh, N.C.

In July 2002, Bevilacqua celebrated Mass for 180 inmates at the Chester State Correctional Institution at the request of former superintendent Mary Leftridge Byrd. Bevilacqua also was a presence in helping to quell violence on the streets of Philadelphia.

“When I was in Southwest Philly, there was a lot of drugs and violence going on. He came down on a Sunday and conducted a prayer service,” said the Rev. Joseph Corley, who was then in residence at the former Most Blessed Sacrament parish and is now pastor of Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Darby.

The cardinal conducted the prayer service, at Corley’s request, on Jan. 11, 1997. That same year, Bevilacqua also conducted prayer vigils with ministers and pastors of neighboring churches when race riots broke out in the Grays Ferry section of Philadelphia, said the Rev. Monsignor Ralph Chieffo, who was then pastor of King of Peace Church in Grays Ferry.

“He was the one who recognized Dr. (Martin Luther) King’s birthday as a holiday for which parish schools should be closed, “ said Chieffo, who has been pastor of St. Mary Magdalen Church in Upper Providence since 2000.

Chieffo noted that Bevilacqua’s January 1998 pastoral letter, “Healing Through Faith and Truth,” that condemned racism, won international acclaim and was acknowledged by Pope John Paul II.

Both Chieffo and Corley credited Bevilacqua with helping them to realize their pastoral ambitions.

“As a young assistant pastor, I told him I’d like to be a pastor while I’m still young, vibrant and enthused,” remembered Chieffo, who was named pastor of a Montgomery County parish the next year.

Corley, who had assisted his ailing predecessor at Blessed Virgin Mary Church for about six years, wrote and asked Bevilacqua if he could one day be pastor there because he liked the parish so much.

“I got an almost immediate ‘Yes,’” said Corley, who has been pastor at Blessed Virgin Mary since June 1998.

Born one of 11 children in Brooklyn, N.Y., Bevilacqua earned degrees in both civil and canon law and served as the Brooklyn diocese’s chancellor and director of its migration and refugee office before Pope John Paul II appointed him bishop of Pittsburgh in 1983, then archbishop of Philadelphia in 1987. Donohue Funeral Home in Upper Darby is handling his funeral arrangements that include a 2 p.m. Mass Tuesday at the Cathedral Basilica of SS Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, where he will be laid to rest in the crypt below the main altar.

The homily for the cardinal’s solemn funeral Mass will be delivered by Monsignor Louis D’Addezio, the former activities director at Cardinal O’Hara High School in Marple who co-chaired the executive committee for Katharine Drexel’s canonization.

Bevilacqua, like Drexel, was a civil-rights advocate, one of the many accomplishments his former colleagues hope will be his legacy. Chieffo likened the cardinal’s final days to those of legendary Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno, who died Jan. 22. Paterno resigned last November in the shadow of allegations of sexual abuse committed by a former assistant coach.

“I believe he was a good priest who did his best with the information he was given,” Chieffo said of Bevilacqua.









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