SCRANTON — Everyone has a “Bishop Dougherty story.” Usually several.
But whether the remembrances tell of his keen administrative ability, his untiring efforts to be omnipresent for anyone in need of God’s mercy or his genuine piety while celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the stories always speak of the singular wit, wisdom and humility of one John Martin Dougherty.
Jane McLane is a longtime member of Saint Patrick Parish in Scranton’s West Side and recollected how a 53-year-old Monsignor John Dougherty — having just stepped away from his role as Chancellor of the Diocese yet continuing to shoulder enormous leadership responsibilities on the diocesan level — departed the Chancery Building in 1985 to face unprecedented challenges in his new assignment as pastor of Saint Patrick’s.
Saint Patrick’s had been linked with the parishes of Holy Cross, in the city’s Bellevue section, and Saint John the Baptist, on Main Avenue. Not only were there more than 3,000 faithful as registered parishioners, but the pastoral appointment also included the operation of a Catholic elementary school with nearly 700 students.
“During his ten years at Saint Patrick’s, he modeled pastoral organizational skills,” McLane noted, referring to Monsignor Dougherty’s tenure that came to a close with his episcopal elevation to serve as Auxiliary Bishop of Scranton in 1995.
“Thankfully, Bishop Dougherty had invaluable assistance from young priests who served him well over the years,” McLane continued. “He inspired them with his priestly conduct, his boundless charity and tireless efforts to be a presence in the lives of his parishioners,” attending school events, meetings of parish societies, and always at the bedsides of the sick and dying.
“We parishioners remember Bishop Dougherty as a talented administrator and a joyous, faith-filled priest,” she concluded.
Fellow Saint Patrick parishioner Jeanne Palumbo remarked that memories of the late bishop will remain forever in her heart, as she referred to him as a tremendously important and unforgettable part of her life.
“I had the pleasure and honor of knowing him as a very caring, kind, dignified, holy, honorable and compassionate priest and leader who captured the hearts of everyone,” Palumbo said of Bishop Dougherty, whom she credits — and is eternally grateful to — for involving her in church service as a Eucharistic minister and lector.
She continued, “He was also a dear friend, as well as a bishop, when I needed one,” remembering how he offered endless comfort and counsel as she grieved the passing of her mother.
“He was always caring, patient and asking if I was okay,” Palumbo said. “He was always there for me. Heaven has certainly opened its door to a great, holy, remarkable man.”
Palumbo’s dear friends — Louise Passarella and her husband of nearly 70 years, Gene (Dempsey) Passarella — fondly recalled how their onetime pastor uniquely touched their lives forever. Louise explained that she shared an enviable relationship with Bishop Dougherty since she is first cousins with Margaret “Peggy” Dougherty, whose husband Joe, the bishop’s late brother, owned the landmark Dougherty’s Restaurant in Scranton’s Pine Brook section.
“When my mom was very ill, I had to make an end-of-life decision concerning her, and I was very upset and called Bishop Dougherty,” Louise reflected. “We talked from early evening until almost midnight. He helped me through the most difficult decision I ever had to make.”
“The next day the Lord took it out of my hands as my mother passed. I am so grateful for that conversation with Bishop Dougherty.”
The Passarellas remembered how then-Monsignor Dougherty assured Gene, the founding bandleader of the area’s venerable Gene Dempsey Orchestra, that his musical group would always have the support of Saint Patrick’s as a permanent part of the parish’s annual summer picnic.
“Whenever the bishop saw us, he would greet us with, ‘Hi, cuz. How’s the band?’” the couple noted.
Ninety-three-old Jim Connor continues to serve as an altar server for funeral Masses at Saint Patrick’s, as he did during Bishop Dougherty’s pastorate there.
He and his wife Eleanor, a parish lector, fondly reminisced about the late auxiliary bishop and his lasting impression on them, noting that while visiting loved ones in the hospital it was not unusual to cross paths with their pastor — at four o’clock in the morning!
“He was a just a great guy, and not only our pastor but a close friend,” Jim shared. “Bishop Dougherty was a prime example of a Catholic priest.”
Peggy and Bill Cusick of Saint Patrick Parish were enthusiastic about sharing their most memorable Bishop Dougherty “stories” while he served as their shepherd at the Scranton parish.
“I remember Monsignor Dougherty coming to visit me during one of my extended hospital stays,” Peggy began, seemingly about to recount another of the countless classic examples of the priest’s compassion for the suffering.
The tale took an unexpected twist, however, and wound up being an example of his classic dry wit, as she added, “He said to me, ‘Don’t worry, Peggy, everything is under control at home. I just went by the house and Bill was hosing off all the dinner dishes in the front yard.’”
On a serious note, Peggy explained the reason why Bishop Dougherty was always the last person in line at the funeral home during a viewing. “He made sure that if anyone was behind him, he insisted they go ahead of him.”
Two years after Bishop Dougherty was required by canon law to submit his letter of resignation at the age of 75, Pope Benedict XVI released the Scranton Auxiliary from his official duties in 2009. Not surprising, however, the word “retirement” had only a nominal effect on the 77-year-old shepherd.
In addition to other such official/unofficial assignments he fulfilled as Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus, Bishop Dougherty served in residence for several years at Christ the King Parish in Archbald.
“I became a better Catholic because of Bishop Dougherty,” Christ the King parishioner Mary Lynn Krushinski said. “His solemn Masses, his stature was so noticeable, along with his deep voice that got your attention. He renewed my love for God by his example.”
Rockne O’Connor, a member of the Archbald parish who attends Holy Cross High School in Dunmore, prefaced his comments with the following quote from Saint John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests, which he believes best sums up the bishop’s legacy: “The priest is not a priest for himself…he is for you. After God, the priest is everything.”
“Bishop Dougherty, by his selflessness and humility, is a true priest for all of us forever,” the young man stated.
Rockne’s father, Jay, was spiritually insightful and somewhat poetic in offering these thoughts on the revered clergyman of cherished memory: “His voice, as stern and as authoritative as I would imagine God’s would be; his eyes and heart as empathetic, kind and merciful as I know Mary’s are, he was and will forever be a giant of a man of God and an immaculate example of a true priest in his humble, selfless service to all.”