Getting diocese off the ground labeled future cardinal different breed
Jun 14, 2006
In January 1982, when Theodore McCarrick was the newly appointed bishop of Metuchen, he hosted a dinner for the permanent deacons of the diocese and their wives.
(Home News Tribune Online 05/22/06) Pat and I were sitting with McCarrick, and the conversation eventually touched on the fact that our daughter Tammy had turned 16 years old that day.
"Do you mean to tell me," the bishop said, "that because of this dinner your daughter is home alone on her 16th birthday?"
We assured him that birthdays in our family were moveable feasts, and that this one would be observed good and proper during the next weekend, but he was inconsolable, insisting that he had played a part in diminishing the importance of this day in Tammy's life.
When the dinner was breaking up, McCarrick took the floral centerpiece from the table and told us to give it to Tammy with his apologies.
Six months later, Pat and I took the kids to the annual Italian festival at St. Ann's parish in Raritan, and who should come wading through the crowd but the bishop.
When he spied us, he came directly over to the oldest of our three kids.
"Is this Tammy?" he asked, and then went on to apologize all over again for causing her parents to be away from home on her 16th birthday.
This was not unusual behavior for McCarrick, who was the first bishop of Metuchen, later served as archbishop of Newark, and has retired as cardinal archbishop of Washington, D.C.
He has a memory for names and information that is impressive in itself, but what has made him an unusually effective leader was the way he has put those skills to use.
His memory is no parlor trick; it plays a part in his knack for making each of the the many individual people he encounters in a pastoral way and the many people he works with feel significant.
When McCarrick came to Metuchen from New York City, the Metuchen diocese existed mostly as an abstract idea generated when the Holy See drew a line across the midsection of the former Diocese of Trenton and decreed that the four counties north of that line would now be a separate jurisdiction.
There was no chancery office, no cathedral, no diocesan staff.
McCarrick recruited a group of several dozen people, most of them volunteers, and built a diocese on the foundation of their response to his leadership. I was a member of that group. I had never heard of McCarrick before he was appointed. And after one meeting with him, his combination of intellect, wit, patience, common sense, and personal attention motivated me to do whatever I could to help him get the operation off the ground.
Like all Roman Catholic bishops, Theodore McCarrick was required to submit his resignation when he turned 75, and now the pope has named a successor for the post in Washington. I'm sure I join a lot of Catholics and non-Catholics in hoping that in some meaningful way his personality will continue to influence American life.