Thursday, September 28, 2023

Priest Friends Describe Bishop Senior as a Servant-Leader with a Compassionate Heart

Priests who have been among Bishop Timothy Senior’s closest friends in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia were not surprised for one moment when he was appointed to the Diocese of Harrisburg on April 25.

Nor were they surprised when he was named an Auxiliary of Philadelphia, or to posts as rector of St. Charles Seminary, Vicar for Clergy and Secretary for Catholic Human Services for that matter.

“Bishop Senior first came to my knowledge when I was a pastor and he was a seminary classmate of one of our deacons serving then at St. Lawrence Parish in Upper Darby. He came to visit a couple times, and even then I knew that he was a quality guy,” said Msgr. Joseph Garvin, who celebrates his 24th year as pastor of St. Christopher Parish in Philadelphia this year.

Msgr. Garvin, 50 years a priest, has seen Bishop Senior’s servant-leadership in the Archdiocese, and in certain respects was a bit of a guiding hand through his ministry.

When Msgr. Garvin became Director of Catholic Human Services and he was asked to suggest candidates for Deputy Secretary in the office, he wholeheartedly offered then-Father Senior’s name among a short list. He was ultimately selected, and sent to study at Boston College, where he earned a Masters in Social Work and Masters in Business Administration in 1992.

“Even as a young guy, he showed tremendous promise. From day one, the people in Catholic Human Services knew they were dealing with a quality guy, and I was so happy to have him as an assistant, and then later become Secretary when I was assigned as a pastor,” Msgr. Garvin said.

In 2004, then-Msgr. Senior was named Vicar for Clergy in the Archdiocese. Msgr. Garvin recalled their conversation about the appointment, giving his friend some counsel on the new position.

“I said, ‘Timothy, you can do this job. You are more qualified than anybody has ever been in taking care of the clergy of the Archdiocese. You know all about management and the various things of personnel, you can work with the priests and you have such a good head on your shoulders. This position will teach you humility,’” he recalled.

Several years into that appointment, he visited Msgr. Garvin at St. Christopher’s. The pastor recalls the conversation, with then-Msgr. Senior asking, “Do you remember what you said to me when I went to the Clergy Office, about what it would teach me? I really do think it has taught me that.”

“I said, ‘Yes, and now I bet they’re going to make you a bishop. If not you, who?’” Msgr. Garvin said.

He was right. His friend was appointed as Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia on June 8, 2009, and ordained on July 31. And throughout all these years, the two have remained close.

“I’m sure it’s difficult when you’re a bishop, in that sometimes you lose your friends and your privacy, but he is one bishop who has stayed current with his friends. He has a lot good friends among priests and laity, and he’s kept up with them,” Msgr. Garvin said.

Another close friend is Father James McGuinn, pastor of St. Anthony and St. Joseph Parishes in Ambler, in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Their friendship goes back to their days as seminarians at St. Charles in the early 1980s.

“He was just a lot of fun to be with and real sincere. He had been in the seminary for a few years by the time I arrived, so he just reached out and helped me a little bit,” Father McGuinn shared. “Besides he and I hitting it off, our families also got along nicely, and my brother and sister and parents liked being around him and his family, too.”

Although they never served together in any of their assignments, they forged and maintained their friendship, over the decades.

“I think for Tim, relationships are really important, especially close relationships with his friends and family. He treasures relationships; they’re almost sacred to him. He is super loyal. If you’re a friend of his or a part of his life, he’s tremendously loyal to people,” Father McGuinn said. “And, he knows all types of people – older people, younger people, non-Catholics, Christians. It’s really amazing the breadth of people that he knows.”

With Bishop Senior’s characteristics, servant-leadership and breadth of experience, “we weren’t surprised when he was named a bishop – first in Philadelphia and now for Harrisburg,” he said.

“He’s a good listener. He’s very studied. He thinks things through and listens to people. He’s really balanced and tries to pay attention to the needs of different groups of people,” Father McGuinn said. “Tim has always been that servant-leader, who wants to add value to everybody’s life. When the tide rises, all the ships rise together. That’s Tim’s approach.”

He also spoke of his friend’s endearing qualities, including his love for his family, his sense of humor, a penchant for having fun, and, of course, his musical abilities.

“It’s no secret that he’s a great musician and a classically-trained pianist, but he’s more than that musically. He could also play four hours of show tunes and contemporary songs and have people singing along and having a great time,” Father McGuinn said. “He sings and he plays and he appreciates various types of music, and I think he connects with people very well in that way.”

Msgr. Garvin said Bishop Senior will be the perfect fit for the Diocese of Harrisburg and its continued mission of bringing people closer to Christ.

“Bishop Senior has done an outstanding job wherever he has been and in whatever he has done. He will be an outstanding Bishop of Harrisburg. He has a compassionate heart, a brain far and above the rest of us mere mortals, and is just a really wonderful guy,” he said. “I think Harrisburg hit the jackpot, and I’m happy for the Diocese. I’m happy for him too.”

(Photos courtesy of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Bishop Senior’s family.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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