The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

August 15, 2010

New bishop thought he'd be college coach

New bishop thought he'd be college coach

By Rick Dandes
The Daily Item

LEWISBURG — If it weren't for his spiritual calling, you might have seen Joseph McFadden courtside, shouting instructions to the guys on the court.

"I might well have wound up a college basketball coach, because coaching was my passion growing up," he said Friday. "There was every indication that after going to St. Joseph University in Philadelphia, I would become an NCAA coach. And I would have been happy in that profession."

Turns out things didn't turn out that way.

The Rev. Joseph McFadden, 63, on Wednesday will be installed as the 10th bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, succeeding Bishop Kevin Rhoades, who was transferred to Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., last November.

One June 22, Pope Pope Benedict XVI selected McFadden to lead the 15-county Harrisburg diocese, which has 89 parishes, eight missions and 233,000 parishioners.

"I am deeply humbled by the confidence that Pope Benedict has placed in me in appointing me as the shepherd of this particular Church," McFadden said. "I thank almighty God for the many blessings He has bestowed upon me through the course of my life. This has been a life long journey, that has led me to Harrisburg."

Inspired in Peru

It's a journey that began on the streets of Philadelphia, as a young man with hoop dreams.

But McFadden thought he might also become a priest. And there is a moment, before joining the priesthood, that he can point to when he realized this might be his vocation.

"When I was 25, I visited my sister, who was a nun, doing service in Peru," McFadden said. "I remember going into the mountains on Christmas eve, to a small, poor town with a dirt-floor church. And the children, the poorest of children who had nothing, gathered together to sing the most beautiful hymns that night.

"And I thought there was inspiration here. It is at that moment when I began to question who I am and what I might do with my life."

After graduating from St. Joseph's, he began teaching at West Catholic High in Philadelphia, where he coached basketball.

He was ordained a priest in 1981, after attending St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Montgomery County. Eventually, he served for 29 years in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Sharing the faith

"I don't come into this position in Harrisburg with a preconceived notion of what I might do," he said. "I will first get to know the people of Harrisburg and vicinity."

He did say he intends to bring more people into his flock, growing the diocese from the roughly quarter-million Catholics it now has.

"We will share our faith. Hopefully if God calls me, we can say at the end that we moved up to a half million, or a million," McFadden said.

The bishop-designate said the Catholic Church should open its doors to a growing Hispanic community.

"It's a chance for us to enrich the church," McFadden said.

He doesn't huge changes, at least for now.

"I don't come to Harrisburg with any ideas of change," he said. "Whatever changes are made will be done together and in concert with those I serve."

McFadden sees himself as the kind of leader who allows those with whom he works a great deal of freedom.

"God allows us a certain degree of free will," he said. "I want to encourage the people I serve to know that God loves them and that they should follow their heart and try to serve others. As an administrator, I have always supported the people I work with, but when they are wrong about something, I'll let them know it. The big thing to know about me is that I do not crave power. Collaboration is my style."

In his leisure time, McFadden still loves basketball.

College basketball.

"There is no better time for me than during the NCAA championship tournament," he said. "Unfortunately, with a bad back, I can't shoot hoops like I used to."

He now enjoys spending time playing golf.

"You get older, it gets harder to play games like basketball," he said with a laugh. "I do play golf when I can."

He's an 18-handicap.

Not bad, he said.

"Life takes you on interesting paths," McFadden said, anticipating the challenges.

"I'm looking forward to every twist in the road," he said. "Together with the people I serve I know that we will do right and help others in need, all with God's love and guiding hand."

n E-mail comments to rdandes@dailyitem.com