On the date of his ordination to the priesthood, Dec. 21, 1935, Bernard J. McLaughlin was about to embark on a journey of faithful service that has continued for more than three quarters of a century. From student in Rome to his ordination in the Eternal City, from assistant pastor at St. Joseph New Cathedral to the founding pastor of Coronation Parish, from his appointment as auxiliary bishop of Buffalo to his episcopal ordination at the hands of Pope Paul VI, Bishop McLaughlin's service to the Church has been hallmarked by grace and a special devotion to our Blessed Mother.
Dec. 21, 2010 marked the 75th anniversary of his priestly ordination. Bishop Edward U. Kmiec, the eighth bishop of Buffalo that Bishop McLaughlin has served under, paid a visit to Bishop McLaughlin's Town of Tonawanda residence to meet with him and offer a blessing. Bishop McLaughlin also celebrated with a family dinner.
"He is such an icon priest for us," Bishop Kmiec said. "He is a wonderful symbol of priest and of priesthood. He is a priest with a capital p. What impressed me about him when I first came here was his wonderful humility. He is a priestly man, but also a very humble man. He is such a gentle person, very respectful, and very supportive of what I have done. He is very conscious of what is happening in the life of Church of the United States among the bishops and here in our diocese."
On the date of his ordination anniversary, Bishop McLaughlin also celebrated at a family dinner. He has several nieces, nephews and cousins living in the area. His nephew, Father Robert Waters, is senior parochial vicar of Resurrection Parish in Batavia.
Bishop McLaughlin (seated) with (right to left) Bishop Grosz, Archbishop Dolan, Bishop KmiecFather Waters was ordained to the priesthood by his uncle in 1969. "Among my peers, there is always great respect for him," he said. "He'd go to confirmation; he'd sit down with the priests and be with them in a wonderful way.
"Italian journalist and political commentator Roberto Gervascio said, 'In politics, you don't always have to keep your promises, but you have to know how to make them.' He (Bishop McLaughlin) knows how to make promises and fulfill them in ways that delight the hearts of all. His priesthood has been a service to the community with a large heart and a wonderful vision of what he sees the Church to be."
Bishop McLaughlin celebrated another milestone on Nov. 19 when he turned 98. He is the oldest living diocesan priest in Western New York.
His longevity is known throughout the Church in the United States and around the world.
He is the second oldest living Catholic bishop in the United States. Archbishop Peter Gerety, retired from the Archdiocese of Newark, is four months older. He is the ninth oldest living bishop in the world. At 104, Bishop Antoine Nguyên Van Thien of the Diocese of Vĩnh Long in Vietnam is the world's oldest bishop.
During an interview with Daybreak TV Productions several years ago, Bishop McLaughlin remembered Msgr. James F. McGloin, who established the Diocesan Preparatory Seminary, as one of the people who encouraged his vocation. "He came to Visitation School to address the higher grades and encouraged the boys to become priests and the girls to become nuns. Becoming a priest came naturally to me."
One of his teachers at Visitation School, Sister Benigna Schleh OSF(w), also influenced his decision. "You should go with him (Msgr. McGloin); you should become a priest," she urged young Bernard on numerous occasions.
His parents were pleased with his decision to enter the priesthood. "We had a fairly large family (seven children). They were very happy about it."
Bishop Edward M. Grosz, auxiliary bishop of Buffalo, noted that when he was ordained a bishop by Bishop Edward D. Head in 1990, Bishop McLaughlin was the co-consecrator with Bishop Donald W. Trautman, bishop of Erie. "His deep love for the Church and his deep love for the priesthood serve as an inspiration for me and for all of us," Bishop Grosz said. "He is a very humble man. He is the last person who would want any sort of recognition, so what we can do is pray for him on this wonderful occasion, because he is always a part of us in spirit and in prayer."
Bishop McLaughlin was born in North Tonawanda on Nov. 19, 1912. He was the son of the late Michael Henry McLaughlin and Mary Agnes Curran McLaughlin. He was baptized in Ascension Church in North Tonawanda. His family then moved to Visitation Parish in Buffalo. In 1925, he entered the Diocesan Preparatory Seminary, and was a member of the first graduation class. Five years later he matriculated at the Urban College for the Propagation of the Faith in Rome. He was ordained a priest in St. John Lateran Basilica in Vatican City on Dec. 21, 1935.
Susan DiCarlo of Kenmore, Bishop McLaughlin's niece, said she considers him more of a father than an uncle. She was 15 when her father passed away. She said the bishop was there for her mother (Mary McLaughlin Taggart) and her children. "He's the most humble, caring person," she said. "Everybody else comes first before him. He's always taken care of everybody in the family. We've always been so proud to call him our uncle. He is a priest personified. He's been a part of all of our lives. He has been the Rock of Gibraltar for all of us."
Among his diocesan assignments, Bishop McLaughlin served as pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Tonawanda and St. John the Baptist Parish in Kenmore. He also was assistant chancellor and vicar general of the diocese. Following the death of Bishop James A. McNulty in 1972, Bishop McLaughlin was elected diocesan administrator, a position he filled until the installation of Bishop Edward D. Head in March of 1973.
On Jan. 6, 1969, accompanied by Buffalo's auxiliary bishop, Bishop Pius A. Benincasa, Bishop McLaughlin flew to Rome where he was elevated to the episcopacy in ceremonies in St. Peter's Basilica. Pope Paul VI added a new distinction when he invited the bishop-elect to Rome. This was the first time that a diocesan priest from Buffalo was ordained a bishop by a pope. He was given the title of Titular Bishop of Mottola.
Pope John Paul II accepted Bishop McLaughlin's letter of retirement on Jan. 15, 1988. Church law requires bishops to submit their letters of retirement from administration on their 75th birthday. When his retirement was accepted, he became auxiliary bishop emeritus of Buffalo.
For many years during his retirement, Bishop McLaughlin continued to celebrate the sacrament of confirmation, and occasionally appears at diocesan celebrations. Father Waters said, "He's always been there for the family when people needed him. He's done all the baptisms, weddings of many generations, and funerals, with panache and a grand sense of humor."
DiCarlo, who serves as Bishop McLaughin's caregiver,, added, "He is such an inspiration. For his age, he's sharp as a tack. He remembers more than I do some of the time! It's such an honor to be part of this and to celebrate with him."
Bishop Kmiec added, "I would ask all the people of our diocese to offer their prayers for him, for his health and well-being."
In the Town of Tonawanda, city of Buffalo and Erie County, the 75th anniversary of Bishop Bernard J. McLaughlin's ordination to the priesthood was noted by town, city, county and state governments. Tonawanda supervisor Anthony Caruana, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, and Erie County Executive Chris Collins all issued proclamations marking Dec. 21 "Bishop Bernard J. McLaughlin Day." Proclamations were also issued by New York State Senator Michael Ranzenhofer and Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, recognizing Bishop McLaughlin for his, "faith, service and devotion to the Church." Both represent the section of the Town of Tonawanda where Bishop McLaughlin resides.
When he retired, Bishop McLaughlin said, "I am grateful to Almighty God for the fact that He has allowed me to serve the Diocese of Buffalo as a priest and as a bishop. I want to thank the good Lord for the many beautiful blessings He has given to me through the years. I am especially grateful for the gift of the priesthood."