Bishop William J. McCormack

Retired national director of Society for the Propagation of Faith was 89

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Auxiliary Bishop William J. McCormack, retired director of the National Office of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, was remembered at his Funeral Mass Nov. 26 as a “beautiful witness” of all a bishop is called to be.

Bishop McCormack, who was 89, died Nov. 23 at Mary Manning Walsh Home in Manhattan, where he had resided in recent years.

Cardinal Dolan celebrated the Funeral Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral Nov. 26.

During remarks at the end of the Mass, the cardinal remembered Bishop McCormack for his simplicity, sincerity and humility.

“Praise be Jesus Christ for the gift that he was,” the cardinal said.

Bishop McCormack stepped down in February 2001 as director of the National Office of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and its sister agencies, the Society of St. Peter the Apostle and the Pontifical Missionary Union after 21 years in the post.|

At that time, Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, then president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressed the gratitude of the ‘‘entire Church” for Bishop McCormack’s service, saying, ‘‘You have helped to educate U.S. Catholics to the work of the missions that is part and parcel of our faith.”

As national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith—a pontifical society which supports the missionary work of the Church around the world—Bishop McCormack continued a priestly career that focused largely on what he called ‘‘the worldwide dimensions of the Church.’’

In 1961, just two years after he was ordained a priest, he was appointed assistant director of the archdiocesan office of the Propagation Society and in 1964 was named archdiocesan director and served until 1970.

The international focus continued in his next assignment as director of the archdiocesan Office of World Justice and Peace, an assignment that began in 1968 while he was still heading the Propagation office, and lasted until 1976.

In 1970 he was named a vice chancellor of the archdiocese and chairman of the Archdiocesan Building Commission until returning to the Propagation Society as national director in 1980.

He remained in the post after his Jan. 6, 1987, ordination as a bishop by Pope John Paul II in Rome.

During his tenure, he saw the Church grow beyond imagining in the developing world, especially Africa. In 1991, for example, Bishop McCormack ordained 13 young men to the priesthood in Abuja, Nigeria. Urging them to remain true to the motto of their missionary society, the Missionaries of St. Paul, he told them, ‘‘We are ambassadors for Christ.’’

At the morning Funeral Mass, Msgr. Ferdinando Berardi, pastor of Holy Family parish in New Rochelle and a former director of the archdiocesan Office for the Society of the Propagation of the Faith, delivered the homily, telling the bishop’s family and friends how he would often discuss Mass with Bishop McCormick during their frequent phone calls.

“How he loved the liturgy!” he said with great emotion and admiration.

“He was so truly in love with Christ,” he said.

Among those present at the funeral were members of the archdiocesan Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the national office of the Pontifical Mission Societies, the Carmelite Sisters who serve at Mary Manning Walsh Home, the Sisters of Life and members of the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office. Members of the bishop’s family were also present.

Msgr. Berardi described Bishop McCormack as “a model of holiness,” “a true witness to the Gospel,” and a “truly humble priest.”

“In his love for the Church, he was like St. Joseph,” he said, as he described the bishop as a custodian of the Church.

He said, “He taught principally by example, in a quiet and simple way.”

Cardinal Egan, Archbishop Emeritus, offered the Mass of the Holy Eucharist at Mary Manning Walsh Home the evening of Nov. 25.

The cardinal, in a statement, recalled Bishop McCormack as “a devoted priest and bishop and dear friend of many years.”

“During my tenure as Bishop of Bridgeport, Bishop McCormack regularly confirmed in our parishes and never failed to inspire the faithful with his deep liturgical piety and his marvelously thoughtful homilies,” the cardinal said.

“Throughout my years as Archbishop of New York, the bishop was always a wise counselor and an enthusiastic supporter of our every undertaking,” the cardinal continued.

During Bishop McCormack’s tenure as national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, “his total commitment to the missions across the world was an example to us all,” the cardinal recalled.

The Manhattan-born bishop was one of two children of William J. and Irene Curry McCormack. They lived in Annunciation parish on the Upper West Side and sent young William to private schools. He enrolled in Williams College but left after a year to join the U.S. Coast Guard, serving for four years during World War II in the North Atlantic.

Following his discharge in 1945 he began a career as an executive of the Transit-Mix Concrete Corp. and the William J. McCormack Sand Division, a family business. His call to the priesthood came rather late for that era (he was 30 when he entered the seminary), and he ascribed it, simply, to ‘‘grace.’’

In 1954 he entered St. Bonaventure University in Olean, where he completed his studies for a bachelor’s degree and studied for the priesthood at Christ the King Seminary, which was a Franciscan seminary although he trained as a diocesan priest.

He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of New York on Feb. 21, 1959, by Bishop Joseph A. Burke of Buffalo in St. Joseph’s Cathedral there.

His first assignment in the archdiocese began that June when he was named a parochial vicar at St. Mary Star of the Sea parish on City Island in the Bronx. He served for a year and a half before his assignment to the archdiocesan Propagation office, and 18 months after that he was named a monsignor.

As director of the archdiocesan Office of World Justice and Peace, which was formed following a request by Pope Paul VI that such offices be established in dioceses, he was responsible for ensuring that the social teachings of the Church were disseminated through parishes and religious education programs and to the general public.

In 1970, Cardinal Cooke named him vice chancellor of the archdiocese and gave him the hefty responsibilities of chairman of the Archdiocesan Building Commission; Institutional Commodity Services, the archdiocesan purchasing agency; and Ecclesiastical Maintenance Services, which provides building management and janitorial services for archdiocesan offices.

Among the projects he helped to completion was the 20-story Terence Cardinal Cooke Catholic Center, which houses archdiocesan offices in Manhattan, Cathedral High School and St. John the Evangelist Church.

In 1971 he was named secretary to the archdiocesan Board of Consultors and in 1975 he served briefly as administrator of Holy Family parish in Manhattan.

He was elected in 1989 to a three-year term as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on the Missions; in 1992 he was elected to the board of Catholic Relief Services; and in 1993 he became a member of the administrative board of the U.S. Catholic Conference and its Committee on International Policy. He was appointed a member of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in 1992 and reappointed to a second term in 1998.

In his statement on retiring from the Propagation Society post, Bishop McCormack said the principal objective of organizations such as the Propagation Society is ‘‘to stimulate the missionary spirit that’s inherent in our faith.’’

Burial was in Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Hawthorne.

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