Friends, family and clergy gathered at St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Buffalo for the funeral of the Most Reverend Bernard J. McLaughlin on Jan. 10. The auxiliary bishop emeritus of Buffalo passed away Jan. 5 at the age of 102.
Despite lake effect snow that shut down the Thruway a day earlier, nine bishops, including Archbishop Henry J. Mansell, formerly of Buffalo and Hartford, Conn., and Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, stood at the altar to celebrate the man who served nearly 80 years in the priesthood, while his nephews did the Gospel readings.
Bishop Donald Trautman, bishop emeritus of Erie, Pa., and former auxiliary bishop of Buffalo, served as homilist for the Mass. He called his former co-worker "a prayerful, kind, caring and compassionate shepherd."
"What kind of shepherd should all those called to the fullness of the priesthood be? Our Gospel this morning gives the answer. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, says, 'Learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of heart.' Meek and humble of heart. These words capture the person of Bishop McLaughlin," said Bishop Trautman.
It was that humble nature that led Bishop McLaughlin to disregard the trappings that typically come with his position. He never designed an episcopal coat of arms or chose a motto. Bishop's usually choose a phrase from Scripture to summarize their goals or identify their ministry.
"For Bishop McLaughlin I would suggest the words of Scripture describing The Good Shepherd - meek and humble of heart. These words belong on the coat of arms that Bishop McLaughlin never had. He never sought Church honors. There were no pomp or circumstances in his episcopal life. In fact at times we had to make sure he wore his pectoral cross and episcopal ring for ceremonies, and I think he had just one or two miters his entire episcopal life," Bishop Trautman said.
"His life teaches us that the measuring stick for our life should be faithfulness, not success. Too often we try to measure our discipleship based on numbers, honors, titles. The issue is whether we have been faithful in accompanying Jesus on the rough road to Cavalry. From the time of his ordination as priest to the time of his death Bishop McLaughlin served under 10 bishops of Buffalo, and from the 1950s until his retirement Bishop McLaughlin served continuously in the chancery office. That should be enough for his canonization." That comment drew a few laughs.
"As auxiliary bishop, Bishop McLaughlin was always a great support for the bishop. He knew this diocese better than most, and would pass on his insights in a low-key way. He was always dependable, ready to help, matter of fact, and never wanting center stage. In all my years of association with Bishop McLaughlin, I never heard an unkind remark about an individual. Oh, he might criticize strongly a certain pastoral idea or direction, but he would never demean an individual. And he was always a great advocate for priests. He saw good in everyone.
"People might disagree with his decisions on pastoral governance, but no one would ever question his humility and dedication. I worked by his side for many years, and I can attest to his sincerity and love for the Church. He never sought prominence. He understood Jesus' words about the Good Shepherd, 'Learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of heart.' He served the Church generously, but the Lord will never be outdone in generosity. So we read in the last book of the Bible, Revelation, of those who have died in the Lord. Yes, they shall find rest from their labors for their good works accompany them. We pray that that Scripture verse will be fulfilled this very day. We shall remember with gratitude and esteem Bishop McLaughlin's service and spirituality. Into Your hands, Lord, we give You our brother, Bishop Bernard. Give him peace and happiness forever. Amen."
Bishop Richard J. Malone closed the Mass by offering one last farewell.
"There is sadness in parting, but we take comfort in the hope that one day we shall see Bernard again and enjoy his friendship. Although this congregation will disperse in sorrow, the mercy of God will gather us together again in the joy of His kingdom. Therefore let us console one another in the faith of Jesus Christ," he said.
Following the Mass, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York, spoke about meeting Bishop McLaughlin during Bishop Malone's installation two and a half years ago. The two kept in touch by phone.
"We hit it off right away because I have a background in Church history, especially the history of the Catholic Church in the United States," Cardinal Dolan said. "He's a walking archive. So, he starts talking about the men who I studied in the '20s and '30s. He also studied in Rome, as both Bishop Malone and I did, and he had a deep love of Rome and the Church universal. So, we had a lot in common."
The cardinal recalled, although long retired from the priesthood, Bishop McLaughlin had an altar set up in his home, complete with rosary and breviary, the daily prayer priests will say.
"That to me is an inspiration. You don't have to walk up the central aisle of this magnificent cathedral or St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan to do the work of the Lord. He was doing it, probably more effectively than I ever will, right there at his last years. He was an inspiration," he said.
Cardinal Dolan pondered how many lives Bishop McLaughlin touched in the diocese through baptisms, first communions, confessions, anointing of the sick, as well as the sermons he gave, those he prepared for marriage and taught the faith. "This guy was a Lou Gehrig. This guy was the Cal Ripken of bishops and priests. We bishops, I don't mind telling you, we need that example too, because we sometimes can get a little down, questioning and sometimes doubting our own strength and worth. When you see someone like that, humbly day in and day out with more than his share of the cross," he said.
Bishop Malone recalled how, even after hitting the century mark, Bishop McLaughlin wanted to serve the diocese. "When I would leave him after a visit, he would always say, 'What can I do for you?' and I would say, 'What you can do is what you are already doing. Pray for the diocese. Pray for the new evangelization. Pray for vocations and pray for me.' And he said, 'I already am.'"
Burial followed the Mass at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Kenmore.