Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Well Done, My Good and Faithful Servant

     Bishop Thomas J. Welsh (founding Bishop of Arlington, VA; retired Bishop of Allentown, PA)

One of the good ones were called home to the Lord this week. Bishop Thomas Welsh died February 19th at the age of 87. He was born (1921), raised and ordained (1946) a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.  Ordained an Auxiliary Bishop in 1970, Bishop Welsh was appointed the founding Bishop of Arlington in 1974.

During his administration, the Diocese of Arlington mushroomed with vocations from around the nation. Known for his personal piety and orthodoxy and his staunch pro-life support, many men came to the diocese discerning the call to priesthood. I was one of them. Born and raised in Erie, PA, I first entered High School Seminary in 1976 after graduating Catholic grade school. While in college seminary (and attending Gannon University), and thanks to the help of Father Bob Levis, I switched dioceses from Erie to Arlington. Arlington was sending college seminarians to Erie to attend Gannon just as I was for the Diocese of Erie at the time. Personable, humble, reverent and affable, Bishop Welsh showed a keen interest and true affection for all his seminarians. So much did he interact with his potential future priests, that he insisted on pitching every year at the softball game for the annual seminarian picnic. On several occasions he met with seminarians, whether for a pizza party or to have a one-on-one conversation. My prior experience with diocesan bishops had not been pleasant or encouraging. Bishop Welsh went out of his way to make you feel WANTED and APPRECIATED. He thanked his seminarians for considering a priestly vocation. He and the diocese of Arlington made you feel like FAMILY.

Unfortunately, Bishop Welsh was transferred from Arlington to Allentown just before I was to begin studies at Mount Saint Mary's Seminary, Emmitsburg, MD. Some shenanigans and skulduggery took place before I realized what had happened and I ended up without a diocese and without a seminary with just one month to go before graduating from college seminary. Thanks to Father Levis, I got into Holy Apostles Seminary, CT, at the eleventh hour just before the school year began in 1983. One year later, I was accepted into the Diocese of Harrisburg, PA, and sent to Mary Immaculate Seminary, Northampton, PA, which is in the Allentown Diocese. In just one month, I met Bishop Welsh again when he came to the seminary for candidacy. He remembered me from my brief stint of being a college seminarian for a year and half in the Diocese of Arlington while studying at Gannon University in Erie. When he learned I was accepted into Harrisburg, he expressed genuine relief and joy and he himself would give me the ministries of Lector and Acolyte during my time in Northampton.

Bishop Welsh was also a strong supporter and member of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy. His last talk to the CCC took place when we met at EWTN in Alabama (Irondale, Hanceville and Cullman) in 2000 for our 25th anniversary. He refused any and all honoraria and stipends as a speaker and only asked for reimbursement for airfare. What a gentleman.  Every time he met my mom and dad, he went out of his to thank them for giving the Church their son to be a priest.

I will always remember Bishop Welsh with fondness and I mourn with my sacerdotal brethren in Arlington and Allentown. He may not have been a clone of Cardinal Krol (my all time hero), but in his own, quiet, strong and faithful way, he was a true son of the Church and served the Lord VERY WELL.

requiescat in pace



Anne Marie Marinelli said...

Bishop Welsh showed the kindness and gentleness that I picture in Jesus himself. He was a wonderful mentor for all priests. And a beautiful example of Catholic, Christian Life. May all who have been blessed by Bishop Welsh realize and remember how fortunate they are! May Bishop Welsh rest in peace and enjoy his eternal reward.

Paul Hargadon said...

Bishop Welsh was a priest in the parish of my youth, Holy Child in Philadelphia in the late 50s-early 60s. Old parishioners of Holy Child will remember him fondly. Requiescat in pace.

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