Diocese of Fort Worth Past Bishops: Joseph Patrick Delaney (1981-2005)

By Nicki Prevou


Bishop Joseph Delaney’s formal portrait.

The second bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth, Bishop Joseph Patrick Delaney, was born in Fall River, Massachusetts on Aug. 29, 1934. The eldest of five children born to Joseph and Jane Delaney, he was part of a devout, close-knit, and loving Irish family.

A parishioner of Sacred Heart Parish in Fall River, he attended Monsignor James Coyle High School in Taunton, Massachusetts; Cardinal O’Connell Seminary in Boston; Theological College in Washington; and the North American College in Rome. He was ordained a priest on Dec. 18, 1960, for the Diocese of Fall River.

The young priest served as an associate pastor of his home parish of Sacred Heart, and as a high school teacher and chaplain at Monsignor James Coyle High School. He also served as the assistant superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts.

Because of his intense interest in Hispanic culture and the growing need for outreach to Spanish-speaking members of the Catholic Church, he sought and received permission from Bishop James Louis Connolly to transfer to the Diocese of Brownsville, in 1967. He served in that diocese as an associate pastor of St. Jude Church in Pharr, and at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in McAllen. He later served as pastor of Good Shepherd and Christ the King parishes in Brownsville. At the diocesan level, he served as superintendent of Catholic schools; as judicial vicar and co-chancellor of the Diocese of Brownsville; as the chief judge of the diocesan marriage tribunal; and as editor of the diocesan newspaper. He was incardinated as a priest of the Diocese of Brownsville in 1971.

Bishop Delaney was named bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth by Pope John Paul II on July 10, 1981, and was ordained to the episcopacy in the Tarrant County Convention Center on Sept. 13, 1981 by his predecessor, Bishop John J. Cassata, the first bishop of Fort Worth, and by Archbishop Patrick F. Flores of San Antonio.

Bishop Delaney’s leadership of the Diocese of Fort Worth spanned 24 years, during a time of tremendous growth and change within the Church. The Catholic population of the diocese’s 28 counties grew from approximately 67,000 individuals in 1969 to more than 430,000 baptized Catholics at the time of the bishop’s death in 2005.

The introspective, intellectual pastoral leader was responsive to the changing demographics within the Church, and particularly to the needs of Catholic living in the rural communities of the diocese, wrote Jeff Hensley, editor of the North Texas Catholic, at the time of Bishop Delaney’s death in 2005. “In this time of unprecedented growth of the Catholic population, Bishop Delaney’s emphasis on financial stability and accountability and the growth of the development and fund-raising services provided by the diocese have been particularly important in supporting the building of new churches, and the expansion and replacement of existing facilities,” wrote Hensley.

“Most notable” among the bishop’s priorities, wrote Hensley, was his support of “funding for rural and inner-city parishes and schools, Catholic Charities, prison ministry, and hospital ministry.” However, it was the spiritual health of the diverse population of Catholics within his diocese that most concerned Bishop Delaney, wrote Hensley, noting that the bishop built a diocesan staff that could support priests and pastoral administrators and their parish and Catholic school staffs. Diocesan offices offered leadership and support in many areas of ministry, with a special emphasis upon outreach to youth and young adults, to Hispanic, Vietnamese, and African-American parishioners, and to those with disabilities.

Though he was by nature reserved, Bishop Delaney displayed personal magnetism in working with people on a one-on-one basis. Known for the collaborative nature of his ministry, he inspired great loyalty from his staff and diocesan employees as well as the priests and parishioners of the diocese.

Bishop Delaney meets Pope John Paul II during his ad limina visit with the Holy Father in 1997.

Because of his commitment to continuing education and consultation, the bishop implemented traditions such as the “Ministerium,” an annual, interactive meeting of all diocesan and parish ministers, in which nationally recognized presenters came to offer information about relevant topics in ministry. Another collaborative initiative, the diocesan Synod, a five-year process spanning 1998-2003, involved extensive surveys, the gathering and processing of data, and the convocation of two assemblies of hundreds of synod delegates from across the diocese. As a result of this process, designed to better understand the priorities of Catholic parishioners from across the diocese, Bishop Delaney created a comprehensive pastoral plan for the diocese, which was published in 2003.

A key supporter of the Texas Initiative, a program linking the Catholic dioceses of Texas with the Catholic dioceses of Honduras in the aftermath of the devastation of Hurricane Mitch in 1998, Bishop Delaney supported a vibrant partnership between the Diocese of Fort Worth and the Diocese of Juticalpa, Honduras. The bishop, who spoke fluent Spanish, led several delegations of diocesan staff members and parishioners to form strong bonds of faith, friendship, and mutual support with Honduran citizens.

Peter Flynn, Vice Chancellor of Financial Services for the Diocese of Fort Worth, reflected upon the impact that Bishop Delaney had upon the Central American country. “I think [the bishop] saw in Honduras an opportunity to provide Catholics in the Diocese of Fort Worth with a mission experience that was real in terms of people-to-people, face-to-face, church-to-church interaction,” said Flynn, in an interview with the North Texas Catholic at the time of the bishop’s death. “He made the concept of one Church in the Americas a reality to people in Honduras and Fort Worth,” said Flynn. “He loved to go [to Honduras]. He really connected with the Honduran people and became very attached to them.”

Volunteer groups from the Diocese of Fort Worth helped to erect more than two dozen chapels and numerous catechetical centers within the Diocese of Juticalpa, while also offering extensive repair work in convents, schools, and homes. Bishop Delaney’s leadership led to the creation of a system that provided clean water for 14 villages, effectively halving the infant mortality rate in the area.

At the time of his death, Bishop Delaney was a consultant to the U.S. bishops’ (USCCB) Subcommittee on Lay Ministry. He had previously chaired the subcommittee and the full Committee on the Laity. Through the years, he had served on various committees of the USCCB, including his work as chair of the Liturgy Committee.

“Due to his humble and self-effacing nature, many of his honors and involvements were discovered as surprises by members of his diocesan staff,” wrote Jeff Hensley. “He simply did the work for the greater good of the larger Church, never for the accolades.”

Bishop Delaney died in his home after suffering a heart attack on July 12, 2005, at the age of 70, after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer. His death came one day before the planned ordination of Monsignor Kevin William Vann as coadjutor bishop. Upon Bishop Delaney’s death, Msgr. Vann was installed on July 13 as presiding bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth.

Bishop Kevin Vann served as principal celebrant at Bishop Delaney’s funeral Mass, held July 18, 2005, at St. Patrick Cathedral in Fort Worth. Bishop Vann was joined by 13 other bishops, including Archbishop José Gomez and Archbishop Emeritus Patrick Flores of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, and by other bishops from around the state of Texas and the region.

See Also

St.-Patrick-Cathedral-BUTTON.jpgA brief history of the Diocese of Fort Worth

In 1890 the Catholic population of the area of the Brazos and Trinity rivers had grown large enough that Pope Leo XIII established the Diocese of Dallas. As early as 1870 Claude Marie Dubuis, the second bishop of Galveston (the diocese that encompassed all of Texas at the time), had begun sending Father Vincent Perrier twice a year to visit Fort Worth. At that time several Catholic families were meeting in the Carrico home. Fort Worth’s first parish church was a frame structure built at 1212 Throckmorton Street and called St. Stanislaus Church. It stood until 1907. The cornerstone of St. Patrick Church, which eventually became St. Patrick Cathedral, was laid in 1888; the church was built just north of St. Stanislaus and dedicated in 1892. When Dallas was made a diocese the region that eventually became the Diocese of Fort Worth had seven parishes: in Fort Worth, Cleburne, Gainesville, Henrietta, Hillsboro, Muenster, and Weatherford.

Bp-Cassata-in-Choir-Cassock-BUTTON.jpgDiocese of Fort Worth Past Bishops: John Joseph Cassata (1969-1980)

John Joseph Cassata, the first bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth, was born in Galveston, on Nov. 8, 1908, the son of Vincent and Anna (Pizzitola) Cassata, both natives of Sicily, Italy. When he died in Houston on Sept. 8, 1989, from complications of  heart surgery at the age of 80, he was eulogized as a “wonderful” priest and bishop, as a loyal, generous friend, and as a devoted brother to his six siblings.

Diocese of Fort Worth Past Bishops: Kevin William Vann (2005-2012)

Bp-Vann-in-Choir-Cassock-BUTTON.jpgBishop Kevin William Vann was born May 10, 1951 in Springfield, Illinois, the oldest of six children born to William M. Vann, Jr., and Theresa Jones Vann. A graduate of Springfield’s St. Agnes Catholic School and of Griffin Catholic High School, he attended Springfield College and earned a Bachelor of Science in Medical Technology from Millikan University in Decatur, Illinois.

Bp-Delaney-in-Choir-Cassock-BUTTON.jpgThe second bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth, Bishop Joseph Patrick Delaney, was born in Fall River, Massachusetts on Aug. 29, 1934. The eldest of five children born to Joseph and Jane Delaney, he was part of a devout, close-knit, and loving Irish family.