By Pete Sheehan
Senior Reporter, The Long Island Catholic
August 10, 2011
BLUE POINT — Following the decades of change he experienced during his more than 60 years as a priest, Bishop James Daly sees one constant.
“The Church is still preaching the same message, full of wisdom and insight,” said the retired auxiliary bishop. “And the world still needs to hear it.”
Bishop Daly, former diocesan senior auxiliary bishop and vicar general and diocesan vicar for Nassau County and later for Suffolk, retired in 1996. He lives at a house in Blue Point.
Our Lady of the Snow Church here will celebrate his 90th birthday Aug. 14 at the parish’s 11 a.m. Mass. An informal reception will follow. “The people of the parish love Bishop Daly,” said Father James Drew, administrator of Our Lady of the Snow.
Bishop Daly grew up in Jamaica, Queens, one of six boys. “My father laid carpet and linoleum. My mother later worked at Saks Fifth Avenue.”
Inspired by a parish priest at St. Monica’s in Jamaica, Queens, he aspired to the priesthood. He attended public school for a year because his family couldn’t afford tuition at Brooklyn Cathedral Preparatory School. Then his parish paid his tuition for one year. “After that, I got a scholarship.”
Complications ensued when his father died from pneumonia. “It was difficult but we managed,” Bishop Daly said. “I think it was different then. Today, kids have more and demand more.”
He continued onto the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception and was ordained May 22, 1948, for the Brooklyn Diocese, which included Nassau and Suffolk counties as well as Brooklyn and Queens.
His first assignment was Our Lady of the Snow, Blue Point. “It was a great assignment. I loved the people,” Bishop Daly said. “Life was different out here from Jamaica, but the people were the same.”
After a brief assignment in Queens at Holy Child Jesus in Richmond Hill, he was transferred to St. William the Abbot, Seaford. “It was a growing parish with many new families. Our pastor, Msgr. Dermod Flinn, taught me a lot.”
While at St. William’s the news came: The Diocese of Rockville Centre was being created for Nassau and Suffolk. Priests serving in the territory of the new diocese would become priests there while the others would remain priests of the Brooklyn Diocese.
“It took everyone by complete surprise,” Bishop Daly said. “I think most priests saw it as an opportunity, a new beginning. I happened to be in the right place at the right time. Bishop Walter Kellenberg was a wonderful choice for our first bishop. He had much practical, common sense.”
In 1958, Bishop Daly joined the faculty of the seminary in Huntington. “I enjoyed helping form priests for the people of the diocese.”
Life changed again in 1959 when Pope John XXIII called for the Second Vatican Council, which ushered in Mass in English, a more active role for lay people, and a greater openness to the world outside the Church. “Many things that were taught one way for a long time had to be changed.”
Though happy with the council, Bishop Daly said, “I don’t think we have gotten the full value out of Vatican II.” Much still needs to be done to involve the laity more fully in the ministry of the Church, he said.
Bishop Daly in 1968 became director of priest personnel. “I tried to work with the priests. I put 20,000 miles a year on my car going to see them rather than having them come to my office.”
“It was also a tough period,” Bishop Daly said, with many priests leaving active ministry. “I think many people are still recovering from that.”
In 1972, he became pastor at St. Boniface in Elmont. “That was magnificent. It was a humble parish with great people. We had a terrific school and Dominican sisters who taught in the school and worked in the parish,” he said.
“The best thing about being a priest is being a pastor,” Bishop Daly said. “You really feel that you can influence the lives of the people.”
When he was appointed auxiliary bishop in 1977, “obviously, I was honored but I knew I would miss being pastor.” Still, he appreciated his role in administering the diocese.
Bishop Daly worked closely with Bishop John McGann. He praised Bishop McGann for prudent guidance and collaborative leadership which fostered the growth of the diocese. “Anyone could come to Bishop McGann with a concern and get a fair hearing.”
Bishop Daly continued to be an active minister in retirement. “I used to visit the sick regularly at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore and visit priests I knew who were in the hospital, but as I have gotten older, I have had to cut back. I still do it when I can.”
Bishop Daly appreciates the efforts of faithful Catholics in going to Mass, supporting their parish, and in caring for their families. “I see the challenges that parents face in my own family. Yet if a parent makes the effort, their kids have a good chance.”
“The Church does so much good,” despite its imperfections, but he would like to see lay Catholics take a more active role in the work of the Gospel.
“We should listen to our people,” Bishop Daly said. “They’ll tell us what they need to know.” Many Catholics are less aware of their duty to make the Gospel part of their daily lives — “The Beatitudes, concern for the poor.”
“Christ called all of us,” Bishop Daly said. “That’s what we have to get across.”