Former Boston Archdiocese auxiliary bishop John M. D’Arcy was “a voice in the wilderness” who warned against the Catholic Church’s transfer of pedophile priest John Geoghan to a new parish, according to the church’s own investigators.
But Bishop D’Arcy’s 1984 letter to Archbishop Bernard F. Law about Geoghan’s history of abusing young boys did no good.
Geoghan kept his new post in charge of youth groups at St. Julia’s in Weston. Bishop D’Arcy was transferred to Indiana, where he headed the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese from 1985 to 2010.
Bishop D’Arcy, a Brighton native who was the only son of Irish immigrants and a lifelong Red Sox fan, died Sunday at his home in Fort Wayne. He was 80 and had been diagnosed with brain and lung cancer in December, according to his family.
“I think I did with my life what God wanted me to do. This is definitely where God wanted me the last 25 years,” Bishop D’Arcy told a Fort Wayne television station when he announced his retirement.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley, now the head of the Boston Archdiocese, offered condolences Monday to the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese and Bishop D’Arcy’s family.
“He was a good and compassionate priest and bishop who cared deeply for all people, particularly showing care and concern for those most in need,’’ O’Malley said in a statement.
Bishop D’Arcy drew headlines in 2009 for boycotting Notre Dame’s commencement over the university’s decision to award an honorary degree to President Obama.
Bishop D’Arcy said he opposed the award because of Obama’s support for abortion rights and stem cell research.
On graduation day that year, the bishop attended a student protest of Obama’s visit and told the protesters they were heroes.
“I’m proud to stand with you,” he said.
Notre Dame’s president, the Rev. John Jenkins, issued a statement Monday mourning the bishop’s death.
“His life was one of loving service to God’s people as a pastor and, since he became the bishop of this diocese in 1985, he has shown dedicated and affectionate care for the University of Notre Dame. We remember him with gratitude and, though saddened by his passing, we believe he will be an advocate for us in the heavenly kingdom,” Jenkins said.
Born in Brighton in 1932, Bishop D’Arcy was the son of Michael and Margaret (Moran). His father, who was from County Galway, owned D’Arcy’s Market in Brighton for many years. His mother, who emigrated from County Mayo, was a nurse who cared for patients with tuberculosis.
His sister Joan Sheridan of Needham remembered their parents’ joy over their son’s devotion to his faith.
“My parents were very happy. [John] Kennedy was president of the United States and my brother was a priest. What more could they want?” she said.
As a young man, John Michael D’Arcy built a life that revolved around the seminary, a ballpark in Brighton, and the family’s Oak Square home. Bishop D’Arcy kept the house and stayed there when he visited Boston to see family and attend Red Sox games every summer.
He was home for the holidays when what he thought was a touch of vertigo was diagnosed as advanced cancer, his family said.
“He was just a wonderful brother and a wonderful human being,” said his other sister, Anne of Boston, who is a sister of St. Joseph. “When I think of John, I think of love and joy . . . love of his family, love of his Irish heritage, love of the Church with all his heart, knowing both the holiness and sinfulness of the Church.”
In addition to his sisters, Bishop D’Arcy leaves several nephews and a niece. A funeral Mass will be said at noon Friday in Fort Wayne at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Burial will be private in the crypt of the cathedral.
Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represented scores of sex-abuse victims and won an $85 million settlement with the archdiocese in 2003, called Bishop D’Arcy “the rare priest” who gave written notice to the church that Geoghan was a serial pedophile.
“It was an extremely rare document to find,” Garabedian said.
In an interview with the National Catholic Register last year, Bishop D’Arcy rejected the notion he deserved any accolades for his letter. The letter became public during the lawsuit.
Instead, Bishop D’Arcy emphasized the sex-abuse crisis as a lesson for bishops.
“It is important to have a healthy and beautiful sense of the priesthood — a shepherd after the heart of Christ. I learned that from my parents, and that knowledge was strengthened in the seminary when I saw some problems,” he said.
He was ordained in 1957 after studying at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton. He then studied in Rome, where he earned a doctorate in spiritual theology in 1968, and was returned to Boston as spiritual director of St. John’s.
Some seminarians nicknamed him “D’Arcy The Hatchet Man” for his role in screening potential priests, he told the Catholic Register.
“We had some who should not have been there. At this time, the Vietnam War was raging, so some men were there for the wrong reasons,” he said. “I was focused on whether their vocation was authentic.”
The Rev. Edmund O’Brien, a seminary classmate who is a pastor emeritus in Enfield, Conn., said Bishop D’Arcy was a gifted pastor with a sharp intellect and a delightful sense of humor.
“He was first and foremost a wonderful human being and just superb with people,” he said.
J.M. Lawrence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org