Most Reverend Bernard J. McLaughlin, auxiliary bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Buffalo, died Monday evening, Jan. 5, 2015, at his home in Kenmore, one day before he would have celebrated the 46th anniversary of his ordination as a bishop.
He was 102, and was the second-oldest living bishop in the world. Archbishop Peter Leo Gerety, 102, archbishop emeritus of Newark, was born four months to the day before McLaughlin.
The son of the late Michael Henry McLaughlin and Mary Agnes Curran McLaughlin, Bishop McLaughlin was born in North Tonawanda Nov. 19, 1912. His mother was a homemaker; his father, a dispatcher for the New York Central Railroad. One of seven children, he attended Visitation School in Buffalo where he was educated by the Williamsville Franciscan sisters, who, along with Msgr. James McGloin, then pastor of St. Nicholas Parish in Buffalo, encouraged young Bernard to consider the priesthood. He was a member of the first graduating class of the Diocesan Preparatory Seminary in Buffalo.
He was ordained to the priesthood in Vatican City Dec. 21, 1935, and celebrated 75 years as a priest in 2010. His assignments included St. Joseph New Cathedral. He was founding pastor of Coronation Parish in Buffalo; he served as pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Tonawanda and St. John the Baptist Parish in Kenmore. He was assigned to the diocesan Tribunal, served as diocesan chancellor, and between the episcopacies of Bishop James A. McNulty and Bishop Edward D. Head, Bishop McLaughlin led the Diocese of Buffalo as diocesan administrator for six months.
Pope Paul VI ordained then Msgr. McLaughlin a bishop at the Vatican Jan. 6, 1969, making him the first priest of the Diocese of Buffalo to be ordained a bishop by the Holy Father. On Jan. 15, 1988, Pope John Paul II accepted his letter of resignation, at which time Bishop McLaughlin became auxiliary bishop emeritus of Buffalo.
Over the course of his lifetime, 11 bishops have led the Diocese of Buffalo, from Bishop Charles H. Colton to Bishop Richard J. Malone. During that same time span, there have been 10 popes, from Pius X to Francis.
Reflecting on his priesthood, Bishop McLaughlin told the Western New York Catholic newspaper in 2009, "It's a wonderful life and has remarkable rewards for those who accept the challenge of priesthood and faithfully live it out. I am especially grateful for the gift of priesthood. "
What was the key to his long life? "The goodness of the Lord," he said. "I can't take any credit for it."
Bishop Malone said, "I last visited with Bishop McLaughlin shortly before Thanksgiving. As in earlier conversations with him, he was interested in developments in the diocese, affirming of my own efforts, and expressed his availability to assist me in any way he could. I said to him, 'Please just continue to pray for the diocese, especially for vocations and for the New Evangelization, and for me.' His promise to do that was, along with his sterling witness as priest and bishop, the most precious gift he could give. Bishop McLaughlin was very prepared to encounter his Lord. May he rest in the peace and joy in God's loving presence."
Bishop McLaughlin's final public appearance was Nov. 19, 2012, when he con-celebrated Mass at St. John the Baptist Church in Kenmore on his 100th birthday.
At a Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral in 2009 to mark Bishop McLaughlin's 97th birthday, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and now a cardinal, said, "He was ordained a bishop in 1969. Bishop McLaughlin, in 1969, I broke up with my girlfriend to enter the seminary!"
In 1936, then Father McLaughlin attended the funeral of Father Nelson Baker at Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna.
"He certainly did remarkable things," Bishop McLaughlin recalled of the priest whose sainthood cause is being promoted by the Diocese of Buffalo.
Bishop McLaughlin also remembered a church when life was stricter: "When rules of the church were stronger, abstinence, fasting and so on, the faith seemed to be deeper rooted than it is today. I think the people would like to be challenged. You can't give them everything they want. We don't want them to lose their soul because of us."
In retirement, Bishop McLaughlin lived in a home within Mount Olivet Cemetery in Kenmore, where he was lovingly cared for by his niece, Susan DiCarlo. He presided at countless confirmations throughout the eight counties of Western New York, confirming thousands of young Catholics. Despite failing eyesight, he continued to celebrate daily Mass at St. Timothy Church in Tonawanda well into his 90s.
Among his survivors is his nephew, the Rev. Robert Waters, a priest of the Diocese of Buffalo.
Funeral arrangements will be announced later this week.