Former Bishop Joseph A. Ferrario

By Blakeman Karen
Honolulu Advertiser
December 14, 2003

Joseph A. Ferrario, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Honolulu from 1982 to 1993, died Friday evening at St. Francis Medical Center. He was 77.

"I have lost a very dear friend," Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo said of his predecessor's death.

DiLorenzo was grieving Ferrario's death, and had no further comment yesterday, said Patrick Downes, a diocesan spokesman.

DiLorenzo became bishop in 1993 after Ferrario, who had been suffering heart problems that led to quintuple heart bypass surgery, retired.

Pope John Paul II appointed Ferrario third diocesan bishop of Honolulu in 1982. He was installed during a ceremony June 29 at Neal Blaisdell Center.

Ferrario was not new to Hawai'i at that time.

He had become a priest in 1951, ordained at the Cathedral of St. Peter in his hometown of Scranton, Pa. By 1957, he was teaching at St. Stephen Seminary in Kane'ohe, now the Diocesan Center.

Father Terrence Watanabe, parish priest at St. Philomena in Salt Lake, was a freshman at the seminary the last year Ferrario taught Greek and math to the upperclassmen.

"I was very afraid of him," Watanabe said. "He had a nickname: The Spider. The upperclassmen would taunt us, telling us that he would sneak around at night, trying to catch us breaking curfew, and that he was very quiet, and you wouldn't hear him coming.

"He wasn't really that bad. That was just the reputation they passed on to us, and I didn't talk to him my whole freshman year. I just made sure our paths wouldn't cross."

Watanabe said he got to know Ferrario through his work with youth groups after Ferrario left the seminary and began working for the diocese. Over time, the two men became close friends.

"In recent years, he was living in Kailua and it was more difficult to see him," Watanabe said. "We tried to get him to take an apartment over here in town. I think he was a little lonely at times, but I tried to talk to him on the telephone a lot."

Father Gary Secor, vicar for clergy and director of vocations for the diocese, said he met Ferrario as a youth, too. Ferrario had been an occasional visiting priest at St. John Vianney, Secor's childhood parish, and later a leader in Hawai'i's Catholic youth ministries. Secor said he hadn't had to deal with the disciplinarian side of Ferrario the high-school seminarians would have seen.

He said he grew close to Ferrario when the older man was parish priest at St. Anthony in Kailua, Secor's first assignment after ordination.

"He had a very gentle, affirming strength about him," Secor said. "He was a very good example and a good mentor."

Secor and Watanabe both talked about Ferrario's love of the liturgy, the public part of the church's worship.

Ferrario became a leader in the diocese as the church was implementing reforms from the Second Vatican Council, which closed in 1965. The reforms included deep changes in the liturgy. Among other modernizations, priests were required to face their parishioners and speak in the language of the congregation, instead of Latin, the traditional language of the church. Many priests and parishioners found the changes difficult.

"A lot of priests left," Watanabe said. "They felt betrayed. He understood their reluctance - he came from the old church as well - but he also understood that we needed to move forward."

Ferrario studied the documents of Vatican II, understood them clearly and worked to embody their teachings, Watanabe said.

"He lived them," Watanabe said. "He wasn't afraid of change, and he challenged others to be more open and understanding."

"Bishop Joe," Secor said, "was a bridge builder. He was trained in the old school, but young enough and intelligent enough to take the best of both the old and the new.

"That is what we called him. Bishop Joe. That was unique at the time - calling a bishop by his first name. He certainly wasn't a stuffed shirt. In the best sense of the word, he was a gentleman."

Secor said he had last seen Ferrario on Thursday at luncheon for the diocesan staff at St. Stephen. The older man looked tired, Secor said, but happy.

"He seemed to be enjoying himself," Secor said. "He always enjoyed the gatherings we had."

The later years of Ferrario's time as bishop became even more stressful, when, in 1991, he was accused of molesting a boy in the 1970s. The church cleared Ferrario of charges, and a judge dismissed a civil case against him.

Although his heart problems had intensified then, he had been well in his last years, said Downes, who was hired by Ferrario in 1982.

"It was quite a shock," Downes said of Ferrario's death.

Ferrario had been active and had not been ill until Friday, Downes said.

The retired bishop had been working half time at St. Stephen Diocesan Center in Kane'ohe, raising scholarship money for Catholic school children as vice president and CEO of the Augustine Educational Foundation, an institution he had established.

He had returned to his home in Kailua, next to St. Anthony's, when he began to have chest pains shortly before 5 p.m. Friday. A friend took him to Castle Medical Center, where he was met by DiLorenzo and other friends.

DiLorenzo administered the sacrament of the sick.

Ferrario was alert and aware of what was going on, but became sicker as the evening progressed, Downes said.

Castle officials transferred him to St. Francis Medical Center after his condition worsened. The bishop and Ferrario's other friends followed him there.

Ferrario died at 10:25 p.m.

He is survived by his sister-in-law, Marianne Ferrario and two nephews and nieces. Services are pending.


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