By Joseph Staniunas, Special to The Catholic Virginian
Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo was remembered during the homily at his funeral Mass Friday, Aug. 25, as the image of Christ, a shepherd who embraced the fullness of life and devoted himself to the people of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond.
The 12th bishop of the Diocese of Richmond, Bishop DiLorenzo, 75, died Aug. 17 from kidney and heart failure.
The homilist, Bishop Joseph A. Pepe of the Diocese of Las Vegas, a close friend for 50 years, told more than a thousand people in the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart – priests, sisters, deacons, lay people – that he had come to honor an exceptional man.
“He was a person who had a depth, a really true acuity in perceptions of theology, in Catholic teaching, in church policy, pastoral life,” Bishop Pepe said. “He was a man who could take things and define them, see what he had to do and accomplish it. And you have the results of that in your diocese.”
Those results could be seen in a congregation reflecting the ethnic and cultural diversity of a diocese of 220,000 Catholics that runs from the mountains in the far southwest to the shoreline in the east – people like Laura Bailey of South Hill in Mecklenburg County.
“A wonderful man, jovial, always had a smile,” she said. “He had the best intentions for the diocese.”
“A servant and a creator. A super holy guy,” said Wendy Peckham Nyunt of Petersburg.
The late bishop’s younger brother, Paul, did like to remind “Fran,” as the family called him, that despite his position in the church “he was just a kid from West Philly. Fran loved to eat but he was nourished by human interaction and intellectual curiosity…and the need to keep trying to make the world a better place,” he said, just before his brother’s body was entombed in the cathedral crypt. “Though he is described as conservative in his approach, that really shortchanges the fact that he did some very progressive things when it came to social services, education, immigration and his absolute abhorrence for clergy who have taken advantage of children.”
Dominican Sister Mary John, principal of St. Mary Star of the Sea School, Hampton, since 2013, is one of many religious and lay people who pointed to the bishop’s devotion to Catholic education as one of his most important legacies.
Bishop DiLorenzo visited the school a few years ago and had lunch with the eighth graders.
“He welcomed this opportunity and was so at ease with being with the students,” she recalled in an email interview. “His humor and ability to converse with them allowed them to enjoy the special visit.”
Presiding at the funeral was the Archbishop of Baltimore, William E. Lori, who praised Bishop DiLorenzo for his “wisdom and creativity.”
Clergy in white vestments flanked the altar and included Bishop Michael F. Burbidge and Bishop Emeritus Paul S. Loverde, from the Diocese of Arlington; bishops from the Diocese of Scranton, where Bishop DiLorenzo had served, and from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where he was ordained a priest in 1968. Among the priests were many of the missionaries Bishop DiLorenzo arranged to bring from a host of other countries in order to keep some parishes open.
He was proud of the 22 priests he ordained, according to Msgr. Walter Barrett from St. Mary Star of the Sea, Hampton.
“Some of us were a little jealous of the affection being shared with the young priests,” he said with a chuckle in his voice during an interview the day before the funeral, “but he knew that if younger clergy were not cared for and supported we could lose them.”
Among the dignitaries attending the funeral were leaders of other faiths including Rt. Rev. Edwin “Ted” Gulick, Jr., assistant bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia; Rev. James F. Mauney, Bishop, Virginia Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; Rev. Richard Graham, Bishop, Metropolitan W Washington DC Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; Rev. Thomas Joyce, assistant to the bishop, Virginia Conference, United Methodist Church.
Public officials included former Gov. Bob McDonnell, and Paul Reagan, chief of staff to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and Delegate R. Lee Ware (R-65th).
The day before the funeral, the afternoon sun broke through the clouds as seminarians carried the bishop’s coffin up the steps to the cathedral, through the main entrance framed by black bunting, to the front of the altar where he had presided for 13 years. His brown, wood crozier was placed to the side.
After the Rite of Reception, the service to receive the bishop’s body, family and friends and other mourners lined up to spend a few minutes at the open casket – among them, Gov. McAuliffe.
“We didn’t always agree on all the issues, of course, but there were so many things that we did agree on,” the governor said in an interview outside the cathedral. “Medicaid expansion, providing healthcare for everyone and making sure everyone has an opportunity for a quality education. We had a good working relationship.”
“He had an eye for social justice despite what some may say,” Msgr. Mark Lane, who was elected Diocesan Administrator Aug. 22, said in his homily at Vespers a few hours later. “He saw poverty in Southwest Virginia and said that their poverty is our poverty.”
As the vigil began that afternoon, Father Kevin Segerblom from St. Andrew, Roanoke, sat in silent prayer in a pew.
“He was committed to making sure our Catholic parishes in the diocese were places where peoples of all races and ethnicities could encounter and live out the Gospel, in word, sacrament, community, and service,” Fr. Segerblom noted in an email interview the day before. “He was a man who worked hard and expected his priests to work hard.”
Along with seminarians, deacons, campus ministers and nuns, members of the pastoral center staff helped keep watch over the bishop’s body by night. They said they will remember him as a fine boss.
“He would ask about your family and your kids every time he saw you,” said Maryjane Fuller from the diocese’s human resources office. “We were important to him and he took great pride in his staff.”
Bishop DiLorenzo’s death came less than a week after the violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville that he had condemned in clear, strong words.
Msgr. Lane said that to Bishop DiLorenzo Charlottesville “symbolized a gathering of hatred, a gathering of supremacy rather than equality, where peace needs to enter to make its face known…He would ask us if we are contributors in our hearts to such violence.”
Listing some of his many accomplishments – keeping parishes open, aiding Catholic education, fundraising – Msgr. Lane also recalled that the bishop liked to sing Bob Hope’s signature tune, Thanks for the Memory, “though he was always off-key.”
“We are far better as a church for having had him,” Msgr. Lane concluded. “Bishop DiLorenzo, we return you to God and it is with heartfelt gratitude that we say: thanks for the memories.”