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Bishop DiLorenzo remembered as the ‘image of Christ’

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Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo was remembered at his Aug. 25 funeral Mass as the image of Christ, a shepherd who embraced the fullness of life and devoted himself to the people of the Diocese of Richmond.


Bishop Joseph Pepe of the Diocese of Las Vegas, a close friend for 50 years, told more than 1,000 people at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart Aug. 25 — priests, sisters, deacons, lay people — that he had come to honor an exceptional man.

Bishop DiLorenzo died Aug. 17 from kidney and heart failure. The 12th Bishop of Richmond was 75.

“He was a person who had a depth, a really true acuity in perceptions of theology, in Catholic teaching, in church policy, pastoral life,” said Bishop Pepe. “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.”

His brother, Paul, said he liked to remind “Fran,” as the family called him, that despite his education and 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 the make the world a better place.”

Presiding at the funeral was Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori who praised Bishop DiLorenzo for his “wisdom and creativity.”

Clergy in white vestments flanked the altar and included Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge and Bishop Emeritus Paul S. Loverde; representatives from the dioceses of Honolulu and Scranton, where Bishop DiLorenzo had served, and from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where he was ordained a priest. Those priests included many of the missionaries Bishop DiLorenzo arranged to bring from a host of other countries 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 Church in 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 in attendance at the funeral were leaders of other faiths, former Governor Bob McDonnell and Paul Reagan, Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s chief of staff.

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.

“We didn’t always agree on all the issues, of course, but there were so many things that we did agree on,” said McAuliffe 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,” said Msgr. Mark Lane, who was elected diocesan administrator Aug. 22. “He saw poverty in Southwest Virginia and said that their poverty is our poverty.”

Parishioners and lay faithful from across the state came to the celebration of Bishop DiLorenzo’s life.

The bishop’s death came less than a week after the political violence 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” although he was always off-key.

“We are far better as a church for having had him,” Msgr. Lane said. “Bishop DiLorenzo, we return you to God and it is with heartfelt gratitude that we say: thanks for the memories.”

Staniunas is a freelance writer from Richmond.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017