The Most Rev. John M. D’Arcy, retired bishop of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Roman Catholic Diocese, entered the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for the last time Thursday.
His casket was escorted from a hearse in the driveway to the back of the incense-scented church, where red-caped members of the Knights of Columbus waited, silver swords raised and white plumes on their black hats trembling.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades sprinkled the casket with holy water three times.
“John died in Christ and rose to new life. May he now share in His eternal glory,” he proclaimed.
The wooden lid was then lifted, and pallbearers slowly carried the casket down the cathedral’s long center aisle, where it remained while more than 600 people joined in prayers and then filed past, some with tears in their eyes, after the 20-minute service. Hundreds more attended a 5 p.m. recitation of the Rosary and an evening prayer service.
Many had treasured memories of a man they said had been a trusted friend, a devoted teacher and spiritual leader.
Joe Ryan, 52, of Fort Wayne, the diocese’s chief financial officer for the last 16 years, recalled that D’Arcy, who was bishop from 1985 to 2010, would always go the extra mile to be of service to members of his flock.
When Ryan’s father died last year, D’Arcy was in Rome at an ad limina visit with Pope Benedict XVI, Ryan recalled. When D’Arcy learned of the death, he cut short his visit to come home but missed his flight and didn’t make it to the funeral.
“But he made it to the gravesite,” said Ryan, adding he admired “the way he would extend himself to people.”
Mary Pohlman, 56, of Fort Wayne, who now works in religious education as a member of Fort Wayne’s St. Jude Catholic Church, said she was a beneficiary of D’Arcy’s emphasis on educating the next generations of Catholics.
“It was important for him that diocesan teachers were well prepared for their work,” Pohlman said. “He had so much knowledge, but he could put it in a way that he was just there talking to you. When you spoke with him, he made you feel you had his full attention.”
She said it was like you were, to him, at that moment, the most important person in the world.
Linda Furge of Columbia City, who was director of campus ministry during D’Arcy’s tenure, recalled a rather unorthodox talk D’Arcy gave to a group of young people before World Youth Day in 1993.
She and other staff members told him that maybe he’d come across to the youth better if he wore a jacket or a sweater instead of his bishop’s regalia, as he’d been advised to do by others.
D’Arcy came onstage with a suitcase. He repeated the conversation and opened the suitcase. He then pulled out a T-shirt with the event logo and a leather jacket and put them on.
“Now what do you think of this? Is this better?” he said.
“The teens, their eyeballs are just popping,” Furge said. “They jumped up and clapped and laughed, and he had them in the palm of his hand. Later, he went up and down the aisles and let them ask him questions.
“He endeared himself to them in a way that I don’t think was ever done before.”
Kiersten Baumgartner, 17, of Fort Wayne, attending the services with her senior class from Bishop Luers High School, said current students appreciated D’Arcy’s attention while he served as school chaplain after he retired at the beginning of 2010.
“He was always such a strong supporter of Luers. He was always connected to us. He was always at our games,” she said.
The Rev. Thomas Shoemaker, pastor of St. Jude Catholic Church, remembered D’Arcy as someone led by a simple faith.
During a homily at Thursday morning’s prayer service, Shoemaker recalled a day while he was attending St. John’s seminary in Brighton, Mass., when D’Arcy was invited to speak. He had grown up a few blocks from the seminary, which was his alma mater, and he had sent Shoemaker there to study.
“I can’t honestly remember what he preached about, but I do remember he wore a flannel shirt. It was the first time I ever saw a bishop in a flannel shirt,” he said. “What I really remember is he brought his mother with him.”
Many times in the years to come, Shoemaker said, he would hear D’Arcy speak about the faith of his parents, struggling first-generation Irish immigrants.
“He was very well read. He quoted often from (Pope) John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), St. John of the Cross,” Shoemaker said. But when he talked about his faith, “mostly he talked of his parents, who looked to Jesus, and trusted Him, that He would always take care of them.
“That’s the message of Bishop D’Arcy.”