Representing the Lord to others
By Tanya Connor
What’s it like to be a bishop for 40 years? And how does one reach that milestone?
Bishop Reilly shared snapshots of his journey to this point when speaking with The Catholic Free Press last week.
“I think the important thing is you are a servant of the Lord,” he said, when asked what has helped him draw and stay close to God. “That just fills your life. You have to pray every day. You’re not on your own; you have the Lord with you and you count on that, because our own human ability can be limited. When you can count on his grace and strength, you can do anything.
“Who are we to go in and talk to a dying person?” he asked. “The ability to encourage people like that is not who you are personally; it’s who you represent. And you’re representing the Lord. That gives you strength in difficult situations.
“I never remember being at a loss,” he continued. “I never remember an unhappy period. I’ve never felt alone or abandoned or not happy doing what you’re doing.”
He’d like to keep going, but neuropathy slows him down, he said.
He started life as a bishop in 1975. In June Pope Paul VI named him Bishop of Norwich. Bishop Reilly said he himself chose his ordination and installation date – Aug. 6, the Feast of the Transfiguration – because that was the date the Norwich Diocese was founded.
The Norwich Diocese was founded in 1953, the year he was ordained a priest, and it was headed by Bishop Bernard J. Flanagan, who later became the second Bishop of Worcester.
Bishop Reilly became fourth Bishop of Worcester on Dec. 8, 1994.
“It’s a great life,” he said. “I just hope and pray we have more vocations to the priesthood.”
When he was young, priests encouraged vocations and families accepted that life, he said. Once during a baseball game, the fellow on base trying to tag him out said to him, “I hear you’re going into seminary; I’m going into the Christian Brothers.”
“Right on the ball field!” Bishop Reilly marveled. “That’s the way kids thought in those days.”
Tuition for minor seminary was $200 a year, he said. The sixth of nine children reared by a widowed mother, he sought employment, though he was only 15. He said he told the employer that was 16 and got a job in a factory, cutting strips of plastic to make pens.
“The fellow finally asked for my birth certificate,” he recalled. That was the end of that job.
His pastor got him a job mopping floors at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Providence – but also paid his seminary tuition. He brought his report card to the pastor and his earnings to his mother.
“It’s a great life and I would start all over again,” the retired bishop says now.
Asked what was the greatest lesson he taught as a bishop, Bishop Reilly reiterated an earlier point and added to it.
“Always be aware of the Lord in your life,” he said. “Things become manageable. The Lord is not just out there – he’s within you. He loves you and you try to love him. You have that goal of living with the Lord for all eternity.”
Many blessed to know Bishop Reilly
By William T. Clew
“Long-time friend.” “A really great guy.” “A regular guy, but he always was the bishop.” “We have been blessed.”
Those are some of the expressions of admiratioan and friendship that some of the people who know him have used to characterize Bishop Daniel Patrick Reilly, who is celebrating his 40th anniversary as a bishop.
Bishop McManus, who calls Bishop Reilly “my esteemed predecessor” and “long-time friend,” has some memories of his association with the bishop.
“My home parish in Providence was Blessed Sacrament Parish which was also the home parish of Bishop Russell J. McVinney, who was the Bishop of Providence from 1948 until 1971,” he said.
“Occasionally,Bishop McVinney would come to my parish for the funeral of someone whom the bishop knew. Often I was one of the altar boys serving the, funeral Mass. Often Father Reilly would come with the bishop as his secretary.
“Bishop McVinney was a very taciturn man, while I remember Father Reilly as very friendly and outgoing. Also, as a seminarian, I would see Msgr. Reilly at various ceremonies and events at Our Lady of Providence Seminary when he would accompany Bishop McVinney (RJM) who had been the seminary rector before becoming the Bishop of Providence.
Ironically, I too (Robert J. McManus, RJM) also became the rector of the seminary several months before being named the Auxiliary Bishop of Providence.
“One rather amusing story concerns the day of my appointment as the fifth Bishop of Worcester. I had received a phone call from the nuncio, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, informing me that Pope John Paul II had named me the Bishop of Worcester.
“He also told me that he was going to call Bishop Reilly to inform him of my appointment. I presumed that the nuncio would call Bishop Reilly immediately after getting off the phone with me. So later that day, since I had not heard from Bishop Reilly, I called him. He was at a meeting and returned my phone call later on that afternoon. When I took his call, it became clear to me that he had not yet received the news from the nuncio. So that phone call was probably one of the briefest I ever had with a brother bishop!”
Msgr. Thomas J. Sullivan, now pastor of Christ the King Parish, served as Bishop Reilly’s secretary for three years, from June 1995, to June 1998, when Bishop Reilly named him Chancellor of the diocese.
“He’s a really great guy,” Msgr. Sullivan said.
` He said said he lived in the bishop’s residence with the bishop three different times and with him at the St. Paul Cathedral rectory twice.
“He kept throwing me out and taking me back,” Msgr. Sullivan said with a laugh.
Actually, the monsignor moved out each time to take other assignments.
Bishop Reilly, he said, is “an affable guy, a real people person.”
“He never turned down an invitation unless there was a real conflict,” Msgr. Sullivan said.
In Norwich, where he was bishop for 19 years before coming to Worcester, he said people would say he’d go to every gas station opening in the diocese.
“He never showed he was tired. And he responded to every letter and card he received. Even if he received a St. Patrick’s Day card, he’d send a thank-you note,” Msgr. Sullivan said.
On Fridays during Lent, he and the bishop used to go to Suney’s Pub for fish and chips.
“We were the stars of Suney’s” the monsignor said with a laugh. “He knew half the people there. Before we sat down, he would visit every table.”
Msgr. Sullivan also had other memories about Bishop Reilly’s visits and travels as he handled the duties of his office.
“Many folks may have forgotten the posts that Bishop Reilly served for United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, including his service as chairman of the International Policy Committee,” the monsignor said.
“When he arrived in Worcester in December 1994, he was already heavily engaged in that capacity. As his ecclesiastical secretary it meant that I was in daily contact with the members of that committee (the lay staff) in Washington for him. There were numerous statements the bishop made, on behalf of the Conference, on matters of international social justice and we would work on these together.
“Through that role you should know that Bishop Reilly traveled to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland with the U.S. Delegation for Peace in Northern Ireland in 1995, as well as to South Africa, and Central and South America.
“On the Ireland trip he accompanied President Clinton. Bishop Reilly flew on the press corps plane that accompanied Air Force One (there were two planes flying) along with a great many White House staff members. Discovering, as he did, that many of the staffers were Catholic and had gone to Catholic schools, he had them all singing church hymns and Irish songs on the plane.
“One of those joining him in song was Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago, that is the younger of the two Richard Daleys of Chicago (both father and son served as mayor there). The Ireland trip and being with President Clinton was one he never forgot.”
“The was not the last time he was with President Clinton. The president and vice president came here in 1999 to honor our six fallen firefighters.” (They died Dec. 3, 1999, in the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. fire at 266 Franklin St.)
“The Diocese had a major role in planning the memorial service at the DCU Center and Bishop Reilly was front stage with the president. Of course, Bishop Reilly was at every one of the six funerals. All those men were Catholics.”
“From 1978 to 1987 he served as chairman of Catholic Relief Services, the overseas assistance and development agency of the United States Bishops. His duties brought him to Egypt, Ethiopia, the near East and Eastern Europe.
“During his first couple of years as the Bishop of Worcester, Bishop Reilly’s pastoral duties abroad continued with trips to South Africa (1995), Haiti (1996), Poland (1998) and Cuba (1998). I was able to join him on the latter three trips. The trip to Haiti was his 19th, as I recall, and he had developed a keen interest in caring for Haitians that had developed from his days in Norwich when he organized a medical clinic on the poor island nation.
“The trips to Poland and Cuba, along with other bishops, were to join Pope John Paul II’s historic trips there. In Poland we laid a wreath at Auschwitz. In Cuba we were in the presence of Fidel Castro at the first “public Mass” in 40 years in that country.”
“A very important service that the bishop played was that he was one of five bishops to serve on the writing committee for the U.S. Bishops Conference letter on nuclear weapons: The Challenge of Peace in 1983. Another member was then Bishop (later Cardinal) John O’Connor of New York.
“The bishops worked closely with the eminent Catholic ethicist of the Archdiocese of Boston and Harvard Divinity School, Father Bryan Hehir. The publication of ‘The Challenge of Peace’ was of enormous significance at the height of the Cold War.”
“Bishop Reilly took a keen interest in the creation of and care for Catholic cemeteries. Many will not remember this. He was a frequent participant in the annual conferences of the National Catholic Cemetery Conference. This interest would later develop into our own diocesan cemetery system which he founded, which was designed to help the more challenged cemeteries with the strengths of the more successful ones.”
Father Paul J. Tougas, retired former pastor of St. Mary of the Hills Parish in Boylston, said Bishop Reilly was a “regular guy, but he was always the bishop. He never wasn’t the bishop.”
At an annual diocesan Presbyteral meeting on Cape Cod one year, Father Tougas said, he and Bishop Reilly were at breakfast in Falmouth.
Bishop Reilly was talking about his upcoming ad limina visit to Rome, Father Tougas said. Those are visits during which bishops report on the health of their dioceses. And, “right off the top of his head,” Father Tougas said, Bishop Reilly asked him,“Why don’t you come with me?”
“It was a big thrill,” Father Tougas said.
It was a trip in which all the New England bishops took part. He said Bishop Reilly made time for him and “made sure I went to every event that the bishops went to.” He said he has a picture of himself shaking hands with Pope John Paul II.
During the trip, he said, they all were gathered at a table. Archbishop Bernard Law of Boston, now Cardinal Law in Rome, was trying to get everyone to sing “Salva Regina.” At the other end, Bishop Reilly, “a great singer,” Father Tougas said, was leading a chorus of his favorite song, “Danny Boy.” Archbishop Law finally gave up, threw up his hands and walked away, Father Tougas said.
Bishop Reilly was fun and easy to travel with, Father Tougas said. They were in Paris on one trip and were having trouble getting a cab. The bishop, because of his robes of office, carried a lot of luggage and the cabs kept avoiding then, Finally, Father Tougas said, they practically threw their luggage at a cab and commandeered it.
He said that as they were standing in a line for tickets or for Customs, Bishop Reilly, who is fluent in French, would move up and down the line talking to people.
“He never missed a chance to work a line,” Father Tougas said.
He said that, once, they were in a restaurant in Italy on a Friday. He said Bishop Reilly abstains from meat on Fridays. He said that the bishop was having fish and “I was having a meat dish. The bishop looked at it and said, ‘that looks good. Let me try a little of that,’ and took a small piece.”
Dick Guerriero, executive secretary of the Massachusetts State Council, Knights of Columbus, calls Bishop Reilly “a super guy.” The bishop is a great supporter of the Knights and served as state chaplain from 2004 to 2011.
Mr. Guerriero said that when the bishop was asked to be chaplain he was thrilled and enthused. He also was chaplain of the tri-state area – Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, Mr. Guerriero said.
He said he has always found the bishop to be outgoing and friendly, but he is always a priest. He said that once at a KofC gathering Bishop Reilly was playing golf with several Knights. He was introduced as Bishop Reilly. One of the golfers, apparently looking for a nickname, said, “What do I call you?”
“Bishop Reilly,” the bishop said with a smile.
Mr. Guerriero said the bishop has been to about 40 national conventions.
In recent years, the bishop has slowed a bit, so “we watch him carefully.” There’s always somebody nearby in case the bishop needs a little help.
He said the bishop is a good story-teller who also loves to sing. At a KofC convention in Minnesota, he said, when some conventioneers when to a few pubs, Bishop Reilly went along with them and led songs in each one.
Of course, “Danny Boy,” words set to the tune of Londonderry Air, is never far from his lips and vocal chords. In fact, at a recent dinner of past state KofC officers, the event ended with the bishop leading a chorus of “Danny Boy,” Mr. Guerriero said.
He said Bishop also is very compassionate. He said that when there was illness in his family the bishop was first to call him to be sure that things were all right.
On Nov. 1, Mr. Guerriero said, 4th Degree Knights from the six New England state will gather at Mechanics Hall in Worcester at an all-New-England exemplification of 4th Degree Knights, Bishop James J. Healy Province, to honor Bishop Reilly. He said that, to his knowledge, that has never been done before.
Each year for the last 20, Bill Gibbons, coach of the women’s basketball team at the College of the Holy Cross, has invited Bishop Reilly to be honorary team coach at a varsity game at the Hart Center gymnasium.
Each year the bishop has attended, he has offered a prayer in the locker room before the game and then taken a seat at the end of the bench. He listens in on Coach Gibbons’ instructions to the team during time outs, exchanges high fives with players as they come back to the bench during substitutions and generally cheers on the Lady Crusaders.
During halftime Bishop Reilly used to walk around the gym sidelines, greeting and talking to fans. Usually, so many people came out of the stands to talk to him that he wasn’t able to make a full circuit of the floor before the second half began.
Now that he has slowed a bit, people come to him as he sits on the bench, though he sometimes walks around a bit.
Coach Gibbons gives him credit for a great win-loss record during those honorary coaching stints.
“Bishop Reilly’s energy and enthusiasm are contagious,” the coach said. “He interacts so well with our players, managers and our entire staff. The bishop gets into every play of the game, he is up and in the huddle at every time out and he always says a post-game prayer and blesses our team.
“Forty years a bishop is awesome! We in the Worcester Diocese have been blessed to have Bishop Reilly as a shepherd – and this shepherd is a pretty terrific women’s basketball coach.”
His record is 18-2, Coach Gibbons said. He said the two losses are his fault, not the bishop’s.