For a quarter century, the niece of Bishop Bernard J. McLaughlin had served as his caretaker. She was with him when the retired auxiliary bishop of Buffalo passed away on Jan. 5.
"It came very fast at the end, the day that he died. He got sick at 2 o'clock and he was gone by 5 o'clock," Susan DiCarlo said. "He was very sick at the end, but thank God it didn't last long."
Bishop McLaughlin, who died at the age of 102, was the second oldest living Roman Catholic bishop in the world. Bishop McLaughlin had been in poor health for the past few years. At the time of his death he required 24-hour care.
"At the end he was bedridden," DiCarlo said. "At the last month we had to get a hospital bed downstairs. He wasn't able to go upstairs anymore. It was a real downhill slide the past couple of months."
He passed away one day before the 46th anniversary of his episcopal ordination, and on the feast day of St. John Neumann, the founding pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Kenmore, where Bishop McLaughlin served from 1972-1987. Bishop McLaughlin had a great personal devotion to this pioneer priest, even attending his canonization.
"Everything fell into place," said DiCarlo.
DiCarlo, who lost her father at age 15, cared for her uncle, aunt Eileen Waters and mother Mary Taggart from the time the three lived together in the rectory of St. John's. They later moved into a house on Knoche Road in Tonawanda, just outside of Mount Olivet Cemetery. Bishop McLaughlin would often joke that he liked his "quiet neighbors."
"He was like a father to me," DiCarlo said. "(Taking care of him) was just the natural thing to do. It's the kind of relationship we had."
The McLaughlin family, which consisted of seven siblings and their many offspring remained close through the years.
As the last surviving sibling, Bishop McLaughlin saw his nieces and nephews and their children regularly on holidays and special occasions. They also supported him in his ministry.
"He was always close to his family," said David DiCarlo, Susan's husband. "We were always traveling with him. Whenever he went somewhere, we were always part of the tour with him. I used to go with him on confirmations as his master of ceremonies. We used to take trips with him all the time, family trips. He was a very giving person."
As a great-uncle "he was the best there was," said Michelle Metz, his great niece. "He was more of a grandfather to us. He was an integral part of our life. He was there for every big occasion, supportive and generous."
For the great nephews and nieces, going to church often meant having cake, not attending Mass.
"We didn't see him as a priest/bishop. We saw him as Uncle Bernard," said great nephew David DiCarlo Jr. "When he was pastor (at St. John's) we would be over here every week, having dinner on the third floor. It wasn't odd coming to the rectory and having dinner, having a party."
David's brother Daniel said Bishop McLaughlin was with them at special occasions from baptism to Communion to confirmation and to marriage.
"He saw us through everything," Daniel said. "He led by example. He provided an example for his parish and family."
Susan DiCarlo said Bishop McLaughlin's humility could not be overestimated.
"Everything for everybody else and nothing for himself," she said. "He was the most humble man that you could ever imagine. Always to make everybody else happy and take care of everybody else. He was the last. It didn't make any difference to him if he went without, as long as others were taken care of."
In this way, Bishop McLaughlin bore a striking resemblance to Pope Francis, the last of the eight popes he served under.
"When Pope Francis came in, I said that was him. There was no pomp, no circumstance," said Susan DiCarlo. "He's going off in great glory with this funeral. I don't know if it is something he would want, but he's getting it. And well deserved."
One of the bishop's nephews, Father Robert Waters, did follow through to enter the priesthood. In fact, he was one of the first few people the bishop ordained.
"He was ordained a bishop just before I came into the picture. So his first ordination class, I was the second one he ordained," Father Waters said.
Growing up, Father Waters saw Bishop McLaughlin as both a priest and an uncle. The two roles were connected with each other.
"Our family was very close and he was always there for us. He's always been a profound influence on my life," he said. "He was a very fine man and a very dedicated person. Everyone I ever talked to spoke very highly of him."