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A Ministry of Transformation

When I was formally welcomed to the Diocese of San José, Msgr. Fran Cilia mentioned to me, “Bishop McGrath was just like you 20 years ago.” He did not elaborate on what he meant by that comment, leaving it to my imagination with humorous effect: I then imagined a short Bishop McGrath with dark hair, and now I imagine myself in 20 years as a tall Irishman with a brogue.

The story of Bishop McGrath and his service to God is one of transformation. As you will read in this special edition of The Valley Catholic dedicated to his memory, Bishop PJ transformed the local Church, and during our short acquaintance, he transformed me. We were both relatively young when we were called to serve as bishops. The scripture passage, “Say not: I am too young,” and “have no fear…. I am with you to deliver you,” echoed in both of our hearts.

Mine and PJ's unlikely friendship that grew over the past five years was marked by respect, kindness, and genuine care for each other. While Bishop McGrath and I hail from very different backgrounds and exercised different pastoral and leadership styles, all bishops share a ministry fraught with difficult decisions. I appreciated that Bishop PJ was generous with his time and advice whenever I asked for them. These were indeed hallmarks of Bishop PJ: respect, kindness, and genuine care for others.

When I had the chance to converse with Bishop PJ as he was retiring, during our talks, he would often reflect on his own ministry and on the role of bishops, observing that we always try to make the best decisions with the information we have, in the moment. We both reflected on having our own respective pastoral regrets and accomplishments. Yet, we agreed that every decision we made and make as bishops is founded in love. Right or wrong, it is always right to have loved. My own mentor bishop would remind me of the critical importance of loving the people we serve and, equally as vital, loving those with whom we serve. Undoubtedly, Bishop PJ certainly loved the people he served and served with.

After Bishop PJ met my mother five years ago when she attended my formal welcome ceremony, he became most attentive in sending my mother cards and flowers on Mother’s Day and other special occasions. Whenever I would call my mother on these special occasions, she would make it a point to comment on PJ’s flowers and his thoughtfulness while remaining silent as to the flowers I forgot to send.

Thank you, Bishop Patrick Joseph McGrath, not only for my mother's flowers but for the prophetic voice, for the delightful friendship, and for your twenty years as a loving shepherd of the Lord’s flock.

Until then, we will meet at the altar in prayer.