Bishop Irwin retires as auxiliary and regional bishop

As announced in The Pilot last week, Bishop Francis X. Irwin has retired from the office of auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese; his resignation was accepted by Pope Benedict XVI on “having reached the age limit.” Bishop Irwin celebrated his 75th birthday earlier this year. At the same time Cardinal O’Malley accepted his resignation as regional bishop of the North Region and granted him Senior Bishop/Retirement status. Both the Holy Father’s and Cardinal O’Malley’s decision were announced on Oct. 20, 2009.

Bishop Irwin’s priestly service spans almost half a century and his service as regional bishop in the North Region has been widely appreciated for the past 13 years. His family, rooted in the Catholic Church and in the city of Medford, is well known and various members have been generous to the Church, the local community and to the Commonwealth at large.

He is one of the seven children of the late John and Mary Irwin. The Irwins were raised in Medford’s St. Joseph Parish; Francis attended the parish grammar school, Boston College High School and Boston College. He entered St. John’s Seminary and Richard Cardinal Cushing ordained him to the priesthood at Holy Cross Cathedral on Feb. 2, 1960.

For eight years he was an assistant at three parishes: St. Joseph, Roxbury, and then one very close to home in Medford, at St. Mary of the Assumption, Revere and then in the Merrimack Valley where he was at St. Patrick, Lawrence (1962-1968). He returned to the Medford area and to Boston College, when he was assigned to graduate studies at the Heights School of Social Work. During those years he lived in residence at St. Camillus in Arlington. Although he was “only in residence’’ he has a large group of friends there to this day.

In June 1970 Bishop Irwin began an almost two decade long series of appointments in Catholic Charities and Archdiocesan Social Services. During these years he was Assistant Director at the Boston office; Director of the Brockton Office, Archdiocesan Director and in the rearrangement of the archdiocesan structure on the arrival of Archbishop Law he was named Secretary for Social Services. During that time he left the archdiocese for an 18 month teaching stint at Fordham University. Bishop Irwin has always been a presence wherever he has been. He is gregarious with clergy and laity; he can tell great stories about himself and others with whom he has worked and served -- always with a humorous twist, light hearted and without offence.

During his two decades at Charities he lived in residence, first at St. Mary, Holliston and then from 1972 to 1991 at St. Susanna in Dedham. And just as he made friends in Arlington as a student priest, so he did in Holliston and Dedham as a priest in residence.

In 1991, in addition to his being Secretary for Social Services he was also named pastor at St. Susanna. Both of those appointments came to an end when in June 1993 he was named pastor of St. Agnes Parish, Arlington, succeeding the long time and very colorful and memorable pastor, Msgr. John Linnehan. Just three years later that assignment would be ended by Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Law when the announcement was made that Father Irwin was to be an auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese.

On July 24, 1996 together with Father Emilio Allue, SDB, Father Irwin was named a bishop and designated as an auxiliary of the archdiocese. Pope John Paul II appointed him to the titular see of Ubaza and Cardinal Law ordained him and Bishop-elect Allue to the episcopate on Sept. 17, 1996 at Holy Cross Cathedral. It was the second double episcopal ordination within nine months in the archdiocese.

His appointment as auxiliary meant having to leave St. Agnes in order to be Regional Bishop of the North Region. The regional’s bishop’s office was in the Peabody area and since then the office has moved a few times as well as Bishop Irwin’s residence; most recently the office has been in the Convent of Bishop Fenwick High School, while his residence has been at nearby St. Mary of the Annunciation Rectory in Danvers.

With his appointment as auxiliary he also began to serve on a host of archdiocesan consultative bodies, boards and commissions. His counsel, advice and good humor were much appreciated by Cardinals Law and O’Malley and also by Bishop Richard Lennon when he was the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese.

A friend to many priests of the archdiocese, you can always rely on Frank to shoot from the hip; to offer a word of encouragement and support and to make the call if a problem arises. One of the attributes that makes him appreciated among priests is that he wouldn’t ask you to do something that either he has not already done or would not willingly do himself.

The last two years have been especially sad for Bishop Irwin and his family. Protracted illnesses have led to the deaths of three of his six siblings: His older sister Mary, Jan. 12, 2008; his younger sister Joan Curran, July 31, 2008; and his brother Judge John Irwin on Christmas Day last. The family has always been close; his sister Margaret Callahan lives in Randolph; brother Eugene on Cape Cod while brother Robert, a retired Air Force Colonel, lives in Las Vegas.

Bishop Irwin has made no secret about his looking forward to his retirement and it is well deserved, if a bit delayed. He will be available to assist with Confirmations, albeit on a much more limited basis.

He plans to spend some time on Cape Cod at the family home there; and sometime in the archdiocese where he will be in residence at St. Raphael Rectory in Medford in response to the generous invitation of Father Kevin Toomey.

Since he remains titular bishop of Ubaza in present day Algeria, The Pilot staff asked when he was planning on a visit there now that he had the time? At press time we still had not received details of the trip.

Thanks Bishop Irwin for the many years of episcopal and priestly service, for your great priestly heart, your warmth and support for so many. May the Lord give you many years to enjoy a well earned retirement.