Bishop Francis X. Irwin laid to rest

MEDFORD -- The funeral Mass for retired Auxiliary Bishop Francis X. Irwin took place on Nov. 2, All Souls Day, at St. Raphael Church in Medford, which was filled with dozens of his friends, relatives, and colleagues.

Bishop Irwin was ordained a priest in 1960. Over the years, he was assigned to parishes in Revere, Lawrence, Arlington, and Dedham. Bishop Irwin was the secretary of social services from 1985 to 1993 and worked for Catholic Charities for almost 20 years. In 1996, he was ordained an auxiliary bishop of Boston and titular bishop of Ubaza. When Bishop Irwin reached the mandatory age of retirement in 2009, he retired to his home in Cape Cod. He died on Oct. 30 at the age of 85 following a brief illness.

The principal celebrant at the funeral Mass was Cardinal Seán O'Malley. Father Michael Guarino, a senior priest and a friend of Bishop Irwin for 50 years, served as homilist.

Father Guarino called Bishop Irwin "a living sign of what it is like to live as Jesus did."

"In life, we all meet men and women of faith who inspire us. But it's very seldom that we meet a giant of faith who not only inspires us, but calls us to inner renewal, to inner change, to be faithful to the gospel, calls us to understand more deeply the ministry and the mystery of the Church, the mystery of the cross. Frank Irwin was such a giant," Father Guarino said.

"And he did it not by anathemas and exclusion and proclamations. He did it out of his loving spirit. He did it by including people. He did it by, indeed, eating with sinners," he added.

He spoke of Bishop Irwin's "legendary" work in the archdiocese's social services.

"It really came from who he was. He loved God and he loved his Church and he was so happy when he was able to serve both. I can still hear him in my mind talking with such affection about God and the Church, and he never doubted his call to minister in word and sacrament. He was a great priest, a great bishop, a great man," Father Guarino said.

He recalled that Bishop Irwin spent almost three years either in a hospital or in rehabilitation after his most recent knee surgery.

"In all that time, his spirit never faltered. He knew that the Lord had given him a heavy cross and had found him spiritually up to the challenge," Father Guarino said.

After his second time in rehab, Bishop Irwin started to believe that he was near the end of his life. Father Guarino said Bishop Irwin called him and told him to begin to prepare the homily for his funeral. More than four years went by before it was needed.

Father Guarino shared anecdotes from Bishop Irwin's life, and reflected on his episcopal motto, "To live in joyful hope."

"I can't wait to meet him in the kingdom just to hear what he's going to say, his witty expression, about the fact that he was laid to rest on All Souls Day. He has to love this," Father Guarino said.

At the end of the Mass, Cardinal O'Malley offered brief remarks. He said Bishop Mark O'Connell, Bishop Peter Uglietto, and Bishop Robert Reed had wanted to be present but were already in Rome for their ad limina visit.

"Our sadness at saying farewell to Frank is tempered by our sense of gratitude for his life, for his ministry, for his friendship, for all the good that he did accomplish," Cardinal O'Malley said.