I’d like to share some final thoughts about Bishop John J. McRaith. These thoughts are in no particular order, but simply serve as some final thoughts. Two weeks prior to Bishop John’s death, I was visiting my mother who lives at the Carmel Home. It was about 8:30pm. As I was leaving through the back entrance of the facility, I happened to look to my left, towards the solarium, and there I saw Bishop John sitting in his wheelchair. He was visiting with a friend and smoking his pipe. It was a comfortable image of Bishop John doing what he loved to do best, spending time talking to his friends, and smoking his pipe. The night before Bishop John died, I took the opportunity to stop by his hospital room. In that brief visit I shared with him two words, “Thank you.” Thank you for ordaining me a priest. Thank you for being such a kind shepherd to so many people. Thank you for teaching me how to be a good steward of God’s land and natural resources. And thank you for being a friend to my father and mother who were also farmers. At the foot of Bishop John’s casket laid his pipe. When I saw it laying there at the Vigil service, it reminded me of a story that he once told me. The story was of him going to dinner in a very nice restaurant in New York City. He was in the city for a meeting with bishops and leaders in the Church. He told me that the meal wasn’t very good, with its small portions of gourmet food. But he brought some excitement to the meal with his pipe. He almost always kept his pipe going, by taking a puff off of it and then putting it in his suit coat pocket. So while sitting at this nice table, eating some not so good food, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his pipe and took a drag off it, then put it back into his pocket. After sneaking a drag off his pipe he began to smell smoke, and others did too. Looking around they thought that something might be on fire in the kitchen. But quickly the bishop realized that it was him who was on fire, as the pipe in his pocket had caught his suit coat on fire! One of the most touching moments of Bishop John’s funeral came in the funeral procession from St. Stephen Cathedral to his place of burial in the Ursuline Cemetery at Mount Saint Joseph, Maple Mount, KY. Along the route, the farmers from Sorgho, St. Joseph and Curdsville, my brother Marion being one of them, lined the fields with their tractors, combines, and grain trucks to give honor to Bishop John who was also a farmer.
This tribute by the farmers showed how the bishop had touched these farmers’ lives by his simple example of being a shepherd who cared for and loved the land.
Fr. Carl McCarthy