Jaclyn Senior Brown often refers to her Uncle Tim as a “shepherd in sneakers.”
“There’s no better way to describe him,” she says. “He’s present to the family of his flock – whether that’s his biological family or the family he shepherds in the Church. He’s everywhere, and to be everywhere, you have to be in sneakers.”
“In terms of him being a shepherd in our family, so much of it is about being present – of course in the joyful times like graduations and first Holy Communion and during the times of difficulty and times of loss – but also in the very mundane times like coming over for dinner and watching an Eagles game,” said Brown, who is Bishop Senior’s niece and Goddaughter.
“His time with us doesn’t always center on Easter and Christmas; it can be as simple as Uncle Tim coming over on a Tuesday night. That’s how I knew him growing up. Even with all his various roles, he’d come and hang out with the family,” she said.
Bishop Senior’s sister, Myra DiNicola, said he’s always tuned in to what he can do for his family, and for the faithful.
“He is the shepherd, and the sheep are always flocking right behind him to be with him. People want to know and feel that they’re cared about, and he does,” said DiNicola. She is the second-oldest of the three Senior children, between James – the oldest, who died in 2021 – and Bishop Senior.
She said she always knew he was “destined to become a priest,” recalling how he would take bread and water into his bedroom and pretend to celebrate Mass, and later serve their home parish of St. Rose of Lima in North Wales as an altar server and later as organist.”
“Growing up, he was always looking after people, serving people. Even when he became a priest and then a bishop, he’s been the fatherly figure in our family,” DiNicola said of Bishop Senior. “If I call him in the middle of the night because a tree fell in our yard, he’ll answer. When our mother fell and fractured her pelvis, I called him when he was in Connecticut, he said, ‘I’ll be there in a few hours and I’ll take over when I get there.’ He’s very family-oriented. He is a part of everything with our family.”
“As a sister who loves him very much, I rejoiced when I heard that his assignment was going to be Harrisburg, because I was so worried that he would be called far away,” she said. “I think that was a gift from God, because Tim and I are so close, and I need my brother. He keeps telling me, ‘Remember Myra, Harrisburg is just an hour and 33 minutes away.’”
It seems Bishop Senior has already scouted out local attractions and activities to enjoy with his family members when they visit, to continue the tradition of shared experiences.
Brown said her uncle always gives experiences instead of gifts, and recalls how he would take her and her siblings Kate and Garrett and cousins Myra Katharine and Matthew to various events when they were younger. She spoke of memorable train rides to the Wanamaker Light Show, concerts at Mann Center for the Performing Arts and trips to see the Nutcracker at the Academy of Music.
“That is something he’s continued to do throughout my life, and I think that’s why we’ve stayed so close, because they are touchpoints in our lives,” said Brown. “He’s continuing that with his great-nieces and great-nephews, with tickets to the Children’s Museum of Philadelphia and to see a 76ers game. It’s beautiful to see that extend into the next generation. When he was appointed to the Diocese of Harrisburg, one of the first things he mentioned to me was the Harrisburg Senators and HersheyPark nearby, and this will open up doors to new memories and new traditions.”
Bishop Senior’s sister-in-law, Ann Marie Senior, is grateful for the bishop’s continued presence in the lives of her children and grandchildren.
“They are thrilled to have an uncle who is a bishop, and because of that, they’ve come to know that priests and bishops are real people, with families and interests,” she said. “I’ve found it so marvelous that Tim was always able to be around and be with us, even with all his responsibilities as a priest and bishop, and I think that’s important for his life and wellbeing, too.”
With family life comes joys and sorrows, and the Senior family turned to their brother and uncle to help guide them through sickness, death, and the pain of loss. Bishop Senior’s nephew, Matthew DiNicola, died in 2004 at age 18; his brother Jim in 2021; and his brother-in-law Ron DiNicola in 2022.
“Tim was there for me when Matthew died, and took over when I needed him to be strong. When my husband Ron was sick and dying, he was there every step of the way,” Myra said. “He’d go into the hospital and visit Ron and bless him. He just has a way of making things easier to handle. He’s a strong leader for our family.”
Ann Marie Senior said she loves her brother-in-law like a brother. “He reminds me of my late husband, Jim, and of my father, who was such a family man that was willing to do anything for those he knows and loves,” she said.
Brown acknowledges that her uncle does play a different role in the family during difficult times because he is a priest, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel sorrow and grief too.
She recalls a reflection he wrote for Catholic Human Services’ newsletter after his nephew and a close friend passed away.
“He said, ‘As Catholics, we are called to look into the empty tombs in our lives with hope, not desolation.’ That has always stuck with me, and I find myself going back to it as a touchstone about the challenge of being hopeful and believing in the Resurrection,” Brown said. “If you can look into the empty tomb with hope, it’s because you believe in life after death. That has been ingrained into our family – the call to be joyful.”
Bishop Senior’s family members reflect on their relationship and a lifetime of memories with their brother and uncle, and see a leader and family man who has everyone’s best interest at heart.
“He is the Good Shepherd who wants to let his light shine through and not be in the spotlight or high profile,” Senior said. “He leads by example, and wants to make sure everyone is happy and healthy.”
“My brother reaches people. He smiles at them. He cares about them,” DiNicola said. “That kind of contact means a great deal to all the people he meets. He reaches adults, students, seminarians, priests. I’ve had countless people approach me to say how much they’re going to miss my brother here in Philadelphia. Any Diocese would be so lucky to have him. He doesn’t sit and let other people do the work; he does the work.”
Brown said she doesn’t consider her uncle to be leaving the family of Philadelphia for the family of Harrisburg, but rather to be shepherding more people in the family that is the Church.
“My parents always raised us to look at the priesthood as one vocation among many. Similar to the vocation of marriage where you welcome another family into the fold and share that loved one with others, we always understood my uncle as being part of everyone’s family – whether the parish, or the seminary or the archdiocese,” she said.
“And he’s going to be part of your family too, in Harrisburg. I don’t have any claim on him or on his time. Our role as his family is to be there to support him, and – to the extent that we can – get to know the new members of our now larger family. He’s so much more everyone’s. And I know he is excited to welcome the Diocese of Harrisburg into our own family and the larger fabric that will now be woven.”
(Photos courtesy of the Senior family.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness