The solemn Mass of Installation of the Most Reverend Joseph P. McFadden as the tenth Bishop of Harrisburg at Saint Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg in
The solemn Mass of Installation of the Most Reverend Joseph P. McFadden as the tenth Bishop of Harrisburg at Saint Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg in August 2010. (John A. Pavoncello / jpavoncello@yorkdispatch.com)

Light peeked through a stained-glass window high above a makeshift altar memorial to Bishop Joseph McFadden.

Church bells tolled at St. Joseph Parish on Thursday as they would during a funeral at the church on Kingston Road in Springettsbury Township.

The 370 students at the parish's Catholic school sang hyms, praying for peace.

"Today we are summoned here for the death of our bishop ...We come here to pray," said Father Dennis Klemash.

Pews full of young girls and boys-3-year-old preschoolers to 12-year-old sixth-graders-bowed their heads as Klemash shared memories of McFadden's visit to the parish on Kingston Road.

"He's been here as a pastor to us, and he always said, 'Pray for me as I pray for you.' In prayer, we will stand with each other," Klemash said.

Children held their beads as they recited the rosary, occasionally lifting their heads to look at the memorial on the altar.

A photo of McFadden donning the cloth of his calling and smiling broadly was surrounded by candles and bouquets of flowers.

"Pray when you say goodbye to a loved one you will have the strength to move on in happiness," Klemash said.

Services: The Thursday afternoon prayer service was one of a few planned by local parishes following the announcement of McFadden's death.

McFadden, 65, died unexpectedly at 7:40 a.m. Thursday, the Diocese of Harrisburg announced.

McFadden had been attending a meeting of the Catholic Bishops of Pennsylvania being held in Philadelphia, the diocese said. He awoke feeling ill and was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

A cause of death has not been determined, said Joseph Aponick, spokesman for the diocese.

"I can tell you he had regular health check-ups and was very active. We don't know what caused his death," Aponick said.

McFadden was appointed on June 22, 2010, by then-Pope Benedict XVI. He was installed as Bishop of Harrisburg on Aug. 18, 2010, in St. Patrick Cathedral, Harrisburg.

The governance of the Diocese of Harrisburg passed to the College of Consultors upon his death. They will have eight days to elect an administrator who will be in charge of the day-to-day operation of the diocese until a new bishop is appointed by Pope Francis.

Just as the church prayed while a new pope was selected in March, the church will pray while a new bishop is chosen to lead 244,000 Catholics throughout 15 counties in the midstate, Klemash said.

'Vibrant' leader: Father Louis Petruha, who leads St. Joseph Parish in Springettsbury Township, called the bishop's death "an overwhelming surprise."

"Its suddenness actually stuns us, even though things like this happen every day," he said. "At this time we place our trust in God, believing that the Lord welcomes him to everlasting life. And at the same time we also pray with all the diocese for God's presence and guidance during this time of mourning."

Father Samuel E. Houser, who leads St. Patrick Catholic Parish in York City, was also surprised.

"Undoubtedly, I am stunned," he said. "Bishop McFadden has been a vibrant and faith-filled leader of our diocese, and has been instrumental in bringing many blessings to the clergy and laity of our diocese in the short time that he has been our bishop."

The church will hold prayer services during the time of mourning. A Mass will be held at 5:15 p.m. Thursday, and priests will also include his memory in a Mass at 8:30 a.m. Friday, Houser said.

St. Mary's Church in York City will also honor McFadden, said Father Jonathan Sawicki, pastor at St. Mary's and chaplain at York Catholic High School - during a Spanish mass at 6:45 p.m Thursday and English mass at 8 a.m. Friday.

After McFadden's death was announced Thursday morning, Sawicki called the York Catholic student body to the school's auditorium to pray for the bishop, the pastor said.

"He connected with people beautifully, especially to youth. He had an uncanny ability to sit and talk with people, to console and encourage them. He knew what was expected of him," Sawicki said.

McFadden took a special interest in immigrants, cultural celebrations and Catholic schools, he said.

"He had a vision to really stabilize and ensure the future of Catholic education," Sawicki said.

McFadden attended graduation ceremonies for York Catholic's class of 2012 in May, according to a story in The York Dispatch.

"As you begin the next phase of your lives, I assure you I accompany you with my prayers," he told the graduates.

- Candy Woodall can also be reached at cwoodall@yorkdispatch.com.