My Place in the Sun, March 16: Remembering Bishop Moynihan

My place in the sun

A few hours before writing this week’s article, we celebrated the funeral liturgy for Most Rev. James M. Moynihan. Since his death on March 6, our diocesan website, the Catholic Sun, and the secular media have provided us with much information about his life, his priestly ministry and his 14-year tenure as bishop of our beloved diocese. Anything I might add in those areas would likely be repetitious.

   When someone leaves our earthly home, completing the journey of life and faith, it is natural for those who knew the person to recall personal experiences with the deceased. When I think about Bishop Moynihan three memories come to mind.

   On March 30, 2009, I had two very significant phone calls. The first call was from Archbishop Sambi, the Papal Nuncio, who told me the Holy Father wanted me to move from the North Country to Central New York and become the Bishop of Syracuse. The second phone call, coming soon after the first, was from Bishop Moynihan. I recall very well his warm greeting, his effusive words about the people of the Diocese of Syracuse, and his genuine pleasure that I would be his successor.

   I appreciated this initial kindness very much. Prior to my installation, I experienced many similar conversations with Bishop Moynihan. In each instance, he was kind, supportive and informative. His love for the people of the diocese was evident and, I might add, contagious. Even before my installation and subsequent “first hand” encounters with the diocese and its people, I felt I had been introduced to the heart of the people through my conversations with Bishop Moynihan.

   The second memory cannot be assigned to a particular day. Rather, it encompasses an attitude that permeated Bishop Moynihan’s years of retirement. He was the Bishop of Syracuse for 14 years. Those years were marked by strong support for the sanctity of life, Catholic education, his priests, vocations and pastoral planning. 

   It must be difficult to wake up one day and no longer be responsible for the diocese, no longer expected to offer direction for programs, and no longer called and consulted about diocesan business. Bishop Moynihan moved into retirement with grace. He was ready to offer advice if asked but he did not “hang on” to his previous responsibilities nor did he interfere with the governance of the diocese. He supported me and all of us by his prayers but he truly “retired” from the particulars of pastoral leadership and governance. For years, he lived in “my front yard” so to speak — close at hand but removed from the ordinary duties and responsibilities of a diocesan bishop, thus leaving me free to fulfill my responsibilities.

   My third memory recalls Bishop Moynihan’s example during the years of his physical diminishment. Shortly after his retirement, he experienced significant ailments that limited his mobility. As the years passed, his physical stamina and mobility continued to decrease. Eventually, he needed to leave his apartment and move to The Nottingham. Throughout it all, he maintained a pleasant disposition and accepted his condition. In the last few months, he was resigned and quietly waited for the Lord. 

   I am grateful for the memories. May Bishop Moynihan, a faithful disciple of Jesus, a devoted priest and dedicated Bishop to the flock of Syracuse, rest in eternal peace. May he enjoy St. Patrick’s Day this year in the company of his beloved parents and friends and of course St. Patrick himself! “We have loved him in life; let us not forget him in death until we have conducted him by our prayers into the house of the Lord” (St. Ambrose).

   If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, NY 13202.