It is always gratifying to hear stories of pastoral bishops who support good liturgy in their dioceses, and who develop a real sense of trust and collaboration with their diocesan liturgy personnel.
Bishop Patrick McGrath late of the Diocese of San Jose, California, who died this past week, was one such bishop. I asked Diana Macalintal, who worked closely with him for many years as liturgy director for the diocese, and who is a former contributor to the Pray Tell Blog, to reflect on Bishop McGrath’s life and ministry. What follows is her tribute.
May he rest in peace and rise in glory.
Together in Christ: Remembering Bishop Patrick J. McGrath
The Diocese of San Jose, California, mourns the loss of its retired Bishop Patrick J. McGrath, a beloved shepherd, visionary leader, and advocate for the radical inclusivity and love of Jesus for all people. Bishop McGrath passed away at the age of 77 on May 7, 2023, from pneumonia that developed after a recent surgery.
Bishop McGrath’s dedication to the Diocese of San Jose was evident in his actions, words, and unwavering commitment to fostering a welcoming and compassionate church. His acceptance of others and his support for both the ministerial and the baptismal priesthood of the diocese was remarkable. Known for his genuine kindness and openness, he showed gracious hospitality and good humor as he presided over both altar and dinner tables throughout Santa Clara County during his twenty years as San Jose’s second bishop. He leaves behind a profound impact on the Catholic community he served so faithfully.
But for those, like me, who worked with him closely for most of those twenty years, his death marks the loss of a mentor, friend, and tangible sign of hope for the church we both loved.
In 2001, Bishop McGrath (pronounced “McGraw” but who liked to be called “PJ”) hired me, a 32-year-old, lay woman of color, just beginning graduate studies, to be his diocesan liturgist. I found myself working not only with clergy but also with colleagues who were mostly women, lay, from all across the Americas and Asia, and over the years, growing ever younger. Bishop McGrath did not simply continue the work of his predecessor, Bishop R. Pierre DuMaine, who had instituted diocesan programs preparing lay women and men for leadership roles and placing women in key positions throughout the chancery and diocese, including his team of liturgical Masters of Ceremonies. Bishop McGrath built upon the good work handed down to him and forged more ways to implement the principles of the Second Vatican Council he believed in so deeply.
Having become a seminarian in 1964, the vision of Vatican II was his compass; though he himself was not present there, he faithfully wore the pastoral ring given to bishops at the Council. He believed that the baptismal priesthood was foundational to the mission of Christ. So he consulted regularly not only with his clergy but with lay leaders, parishioners, and youth. The diocesan pastoral plan he initiated was radically synodal in its development long before Pope Francis came on the scene.
Though Irish through and through, he wholeheartedly desired that the liturgy foster the gifts of the various cultures of those who lived in the multicultural Valley of Heart’s Delight, as Silicon Valley was called. Our diocesan liturgies were both solemn and filled with the lively sounds, colors, voices, gestures, and rituals of the people of the diocese he so loved and who loved him.
His greatest hallmark, however, was his compassion and concern for those pushed closer and closer to the margins of the church and for those growing more invisible at the peripheries of society. At a time when the fidelity of religious sisters in the U.S. was being questioned, Bishop McGrath rallied to show spiritual and concrete support of their life and work in our diocese.
When Catholic theologians were being investigated and judged by the U.S. Bishops without any dialogue, Bishop McGrath offered an unflinching apology in his opening address to the 300+ theologians gathered in his diocese for the Catholic Theological Society of America’s annual meeting in 2011, and he encouraged them to keep doing their work because the bishops desperately needed them. The theologians responded with a standing ovation, something I doubt most bishops get these days from such an audience. A week later, I was in Bishop McGrath’s office and thanked him for his remarks, which meant so much to the theologians there, many of whom were my friends. He said to me, putting his hand on his heart, “Diana, the way we have treated them…that’s not how you treat family.”
Whether it was addressing unjust policies toward immigrants, standing with students protesting gun violence in our schools, dialoguing and praying with our Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities, working to reunite families torn apart at our borders, advocating for structural inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life of the church, making sure they knew they belonged, were loved, and were needed, Bishop McGrath was consistently striving to live his motto: “Together in Christ.”
He was prophetic in a gentle way, and in his words and actions he expressed the things that we wish so many more bishops would say: you are loved, all are welcome, I am sorry, we need you. In a 2015 interview with America, Bishop McGrath said this:
“I love the church, I love the people. I wish there were some relief that could be given to
the people in difficult situations, a tangible welcome, not a perfunctory ‘You’re not all
bad.’ You’re not just part of the periphery of the family; you’re a part of the family and
you’re welcome to the table.”
Not many bishops would have embraced me and the gifts I had to share with the church as readily and kindly as Bishop McGrath did, and how I loved him for that. As our diocese continues to mourn and I hear stories from many other colleagues here, I realize that he made everyone feel this way, like we all had something necessary to give and share, that we all belonged, together in Christ.
Our diocese has lost a good shepherd, and the church, a needed voice in our divisive times. May we honor his legacy by remembering that we are all family in the body of Christ.
Read Bishop McGrath’s full obituary here.