The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo's oldest priest is celebrating the 75th anniversary of his ordination today.
Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Bernard J. McLaughlin, 98, will commemorate the occasion with a family dinner in his Town of Tonawanda home and a visit from Bishop Edward U. Kmiec.
Kmiec, who will celebrate his 75th birthday in 2011, had high praise for McLaughlin, the nation's second-oldest Catholic bishop and the ninth-oldest bishop in the world.
"He epitomizes the best you can see in the priesthood," said Kmiec. "He's a humble man, a holy man and a man who serves people."
In addition, today has been declared "Bishop Bernard J. McLaughlin Day" in Erie County, Buffalo and the Town of Tonawanda by Erie County Executive Chris Collins, Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown and Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Anthony Caruana.
In 1935, fresh out of the Urban College for the Propagation of the Faith in Rome, McLaughlin was ordained to the priesthood inside the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
His first assignment in Buffalo was as an assistant pastor at the former St. Joseph New Cathedral on Delaware Avenue.
Until a few years ago, he regularly celebrated the early morning Mass at St. Timothy parish in the Town of Tonawanda. Failing eyesight forced him from the pulpit, although his health otherwise generally has been good, according to friends.
"He's very cheerful and very optimistic," said Monsignor John I. Ducette, former pastor of St. Timothy, who also served as secretary to McLaughlin in the 1970s. "He's certainly doing better than I'll ever do at 98. He takes things one day at a time."
McLaughlin declined to be interviewed.
That's not surprising, said Ducette, noting that McLaughlin always "preferred to stay out of the limelight," even before he was retired in 1988.
"It was easy to work with him because he was so humble and unassuming," Ducette said.
On top of his longevity, McLaughlin holds several other distinctions in the Buffalo diocese.
He attended both the 1936 funeral of Father Nelson H. Baker, Buffalo's candidate for sainthood, and the 1977 canonization ceremony for St. John Neumann, the missionary who founded several parishes in Western New York, including St. John the Baptist in the Town of Tonawanda, where McLaughlin served as pastor for many years.
McLaughlin's own ordination to auxiliary bishop was highly unusual. The pope himself, Pope Paul VI at the time, presided at the ordination in St. Peter's Basilica inside the Vatican. McLaughlin was joined on Jan. 6, 1969, in the basilica by another 12 men from around the world who were elevated to bishop. Typically, bishops are ordained in the dioceses where they serve.
McLaughlin remains the only priest from the Buffalo diocese to be ordained as a bishop by a pope.