Bishop Cunningham remembers Bishop McLaughlin as mentor

by PATRICK J. BUECHI
Fri, Jan 9th 2015 01:00 pm
Bishop Richard J. Malone looks on the casket of Bishop Bernard J. McLaughlin during a special memorial Mass at St. John the Baptist Parish in Kenmore on Thursday night. (Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer)
Bishop Richard J. Malone looks on the casket of Bishop Bernard J. McLaughlin during a special memorial Mass at St. John the Baptist Parish in Kenmore on Thursday night. (Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer)

A special parish Mass was held at St. John the Baptist Church in Kenmore to honor the late Bishop Bernard J. McLaughlin on Jan. 8. The retired auxiliary bishop of Buffalo passed away Jan. 5, at the age of 102.

Bishop McLaughlin served at St. John's before being appointed auxiliary bishop in 1969. His last public appearance was also at St. John's on Nov. 19, 2012, to concelebrate a Mass on his 100th birthday.

Bishop Richard J. Malone, Bishop Edward M. Grosz and Bishop Robert J. Cunningham concelebrated the Mass with over two dozen priests vested in white albs sitting in the pews in front of Bishop McLaughlin's casket.

"There's always sadness and loss when we lose someone like that, but we come here, of course, in the light of that Easter candle, which reminds us very simply of the Lord Jesus risen from the dead, who promises to share that resurrection life with any one of His followers who seeks to follow Him faithfully, and certainly Bishop Bernard as an icon of that fidelity," said Bishop Richard J. Malone in his welcoming address.

Buffalo native Bishop Robert J. Cunningham, now the bishop of Syracuse, served as guest homilist at the Mass. He expressed his deep sympathy to the parishioners, friends and, especially, the family of Bishop McLaughlin.

"It should be no secret to you how much he enjoyed your family gatherings, whether it was for dinner or cards of more adventurous pursuits," Bishop Cunningham said.

In his priestly life of 79 years, Bishop McLaughlin left an imprint on the diocese as pastor of Coronation, Blessed Sacrament and St. John's parishes, later as chancellor, and for 19 years, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo. He was known for his quiet and unobtrusive way, while showing dedication and great generosity.

 "Our presence here is an indication that we have loved Bishop McLaughlin during life, a long life indeed, and we will continue to hold his memory sacred as we accompany him with our prayers until he is safely home in the Lord's loving embrace," Bishop Cunningham said. "His brother priests, his parishioners, his relatives and many friends throughout the diocese during these days commend him, a much loved and loving priest and bishop to the gentle and tender care of God. For those of you who have attended a funeral that Bishop McLaughlin had celebrated, you may remember that he was not in favor of canonizing people on the occasion of their funeral. He would always remind us of our Church's doctrine of Purgatory. He'd say that this person was very good, but he or she might have a little dust on the angel wings. And with his words in mind, let's keep our dear friend in prayer until he is with God in the joy of eternity."

As a young priest in Buffalo, Bishop Cunningham served under Bishop McLaughlin at two parishes during the first five years of his priesthood.

"In 1969, I was privileged to be among the first group of priests that Bishop McLaughlin ordained," he said. "A few weeks later I was assigned to be his associate pastor at Blessed Sacrament Parish and later here at St. John's. The first assignment for any priest is extremely important. It helps shape and form the young priest as he begins his service to God's people. I have always considered myself privileged that my first five years as a priest were spent working closely with Bishop McLaughlin. And during my first summer as a priest it was the custom of the parish for one priest to preach all the Masses on a given Sunday. I was the nervous young priest preaching for the first time in front of Bishop McLaughlin. After the first Mass, he pulled me aside and told me quietly, 'Father Cunningham, I'm sure you learned many important things out at the seminary, but you don't have to give to the people al the things you learned at one time.' In other words, he wanted me to be short. There were so many other lessons he taught by word and example about service to God's people. I will always be indebted to him for his careful mentoring, for being father, brother and friend to me as a young priest and for all the years that followed."

The two bishops last spoke in November on the occasion of Bishop McLaughlin's 102nd birthday. The elder priest was still very much up to date and anxious to know all that was happening.

"When I received the phone call the other evening that he had died, my first thoughts were from Sacred Scripture - the Book of Syrack. 'Behold the great priest who in his day pleased God and has been found just.' That brief phrase came to mind several times during the past few days as I thought of him and his outstanding work and witness as a priest," Bishop Cunningham said. "He once told me that to be happy as a priest it was always important to be where God wanted you to be, not where you wanted to be. He lived his life confident with that thought in mind. This is the life of a priest - to proclaim the Gospel, to celebrate Mass and the sacraments, to reach out in loving service wherever and whenever people are in need. Bishop McLaughlin did all this with great grace and dignity, with great love and compassion, and in doing so, always directed us to God and never to himself."

Known for his love of the priesthood and his modest ways, Bishop McLaughlin led his fellow priests by word and deed, always putting the needs of others before his own.

"At times like this we are reminded that the love of God enables us to live in hope, hope that we will see God as He is face to face. We will see Him with all those who accompanied us in our journey of faith. We will met with those who are in the glory of heaven and then our joy will be full. But now, at this Eucharist, we pray especially for the bishop. The Communion of Saints waits to welcome him. Those of us left behind promise to pray that he will soon be among them. And now that the shadows have lengthened and evening has come and the busy world is hushed and the fever of life is over and his work is done, we pray that God will give him a safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace forever."  

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