Harrisburg bishop's death casts 'pall' over Philadelphia

ASSOCIATED PRESS Bishop Joseph McFadden , a beloved figure in Philadelphia, died yesterday at 65.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Bishop Joseph McFadden , a beloved figure in Philadelphia, died yesterday at 65.
Posted: May 03, 2013

BISHOP JOSEPH McFadden had been the head of the Diocese of Harrisburg for nearly three years when he died yesterday morning, but many people in Philadelphia say the Overbrook native's hometown ties never weakened.

McFadden awoke yesterday in a Philadelphia rectory feeling ill, then was taken to nearby Holy Redeemer Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 7:40 a.m., the Philadelphia Archdiocese said. The cause of death has not yet been determined. He was in town for a meeting of the Catholic Bishops of Pennsylvania.

McFadden, 65, was a teacher and a coach before joining the priesthood, and those who knew him say his legacy lives on in Catholic classrooms and basketball courts across the city.

"He loved sports and he loved leading the Catholic League," said Brother Richard Kestler, president of West Catholic High School. "That was one of his champions."

McFadden coached the West Catholic basketball team to a championship game in 1976, the same year he enrolled in the seminary, and he remains the school's only hall of fame inductee who graduated from another school. Many saluted him for his efforts with integrating the Archdiocese's Catholic teams into statewide competition in 2008.

"I think there were some people who were very positive and some who were against it, but his reasoning was he wanted to give students greater exposure to coaches from across the country," said Kestler.

Richard McCarron, former secretary for Catholic education in the city, said the Catholic League was revered, but couldn't fulfill athletes' potentials.

"The driving passion was he wanted [Catholic teams] to have the ability to win state championships," he said.

Off the court, McFadden served as the first president of Cardinal O'Hara High School in Springfield from 1993 to 2001. He's credited with raising student enrollment there from 1,500 to 2,000 and initiating a laptop-learning program.

"A great pall of sadness fell over the O'Hara community when we heard the news," said Bill McCusker, the school's president. "You used to see [McFadden] at Citizens Bank Park, at The Palestra, at Villanova."

The Diocese of Harrisburg serves 250,000 Catholics in 15 central Pennsylvania counties, but many said the added responsibility didn't keep McFadden from remaining a fixture in Philly.

Bill Hoy, who coached a teenage McFadden on St. Thomas More High School's basketball team, said the bishop was easy to find.

"He was in Philly quite a bit, officiating weddings, baptisms," he said. "He always had something going on."


On Twitter: @jad_sleiman

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