Former parishioners express gratitude for Bishop Fisher’s servant leadership as pastor
July 9, 2018
Prior to being appointed as Episcopal Vicar for Clergy and Secretary for Ministerial Leadership in the Archdiocese of Washington, Bishop Michael Fisher served as a pastor, first at Holy Family Parish in Hillcrest Heights and then at St. John Neumann Parish in Gaithersburg.
When he arrived to Holy Family Parish in 1995, the outgoing pastor, Msgr. Oliver McGready, told Bishop Fisher, “Mike, you’ll never want to leave here,” and looking back, Msgr. Fisher said, “He was right.”
“The people, they were the sweetest people,” Bishop Fisher said. “They were always supportive of me.”
The feeling was mutual, because Deacon Jerry Collins recalled how he had recently talked with several other longtime parishioners of Holy Family, and they “all expressed their pride in the selection” of Msgr. Fisher as auxiliary bishop of Washington.
Since Msgr. Fisher was a young priest when he became pastor of Holy Family, Deacon Collins said many of the parishioners welcomed him in as a son. One of those parishioners was a woman named Pat Trefry, who used to say that through his demeanor and compassion, Bishop Fisher always seemed to say to people, “There is no one more important to me than you,” Deacon Collins recalled.
Trefry died a few months ago, and then-Msgr. Fisher returned to the parish to celebrate her funeral Mass.
Bishop Fisher also had a significant impact in Deacon Collins’ own life, as it was during the time that Bishop Fisher was pastor at Holy Family that he was discerning his vocation to the diaconate. Through conversations with Bishop Fisher, Deacon Collins clarified his call.
“He has a very easygoing style. He puts you at ease, makes you feel quite comfortable talking to him,” Deacon Collins said. “…He said, ‘If this is what God is calling you to, you will find a way.’”
Deacon Collins recalled how he was drawn to Bishop Fisher’s servant leadership and lack of personal ambition.
“Mike Fisher is not the guy who came to save the world, he is a guy who came to help others save the world,” he said.
When he was ordained a deacon in 1997, Bishop Fisher was the one to vest him in his robes, which Deacon Collins said, “to date is one of the most humbling experiences of my diaconate.”
Twenty-one years later, Deacon Collins once again vested in his robes, this time to process into the basilica to participate in Bishop Fisher’s Episcopal Ordination Mass on June 29.
Deacon Collins noted that when he talks to other priests or deacons, it is hard to get them to refer to Bishop Fisher as anything other than “Father Mike,” even after he had become “Msgr. Fisher,” because, “He is more like the guy next door, or at least the guy you hope was next door.”
When Bishop Fisher arrived at his next assignment as pastor at St. John Neumann Parish in 1999, he oversaw several changes in the parish. First, he decided to create a new parish council, which Larry de Lorimier was a part of. He got to work with Bishop Fisher in that role and then also on the parish’s finance council, so they got to know each other well.
“From a business standpoint, he was very quick to understand problems and come up with solutions to them,” de Lorimier said. “I think our parish grew disproportionality well during the time he was there.”
He and his wife, Rosie, invited Bishop Fisher to travel with them to Austria one year, and Rosie de Lorimier said, “I was enamored by his passion for the other people that we met,” recalling one instance in which he gave money to a beggar on the street.
Since they had spent a lot of time in Europe, the couple said they had grown cynical about people who asked them for money on the streets, but the future bishop was not. “It could be Jesus,” he had told them.
“He is very giving, and we love him,” said Rosie de Lorimier.
While he was at St. John Neumann, there were several parishioners who approached then-Father Fisher with a desire to have a Perpetual Adoration chapel.
“There was a great love for the Eucharist,” Bishop Fisher recalled.
Although he was initially hesitant to heed this request due to the difficulty of ensuring that there were people to adore the Eucharist at every hour of every day, he ultimately decided to establish the chapel for the parishioners. After he did so, there was a huge response from parishioners, and also people outside the parish, and the chapel is still there today, Larry de Lorimier said.
When Bishop Fisher left St. John Neumann Parish, Larry de Lorimier remembers him saying that he was going to miss being a pastor because he loved working with people and building up the parish. But now as bishop, he will have the ability to be responsible for many parishes and act as a pastor for more people, de Lorimier said.
“I know that at heart he is a pastor,” agreed MaryLu Hartsell, the director of the Office of Music and Liturgy at St. John Neumann Parish, who noted what a caring shepherd he was to the people there.
“If people needed him, he was there for them. He didn’t palm off jobs to other people or other clergy,” she said. “If a family was ill or hurting, if someone was dying or ill, he was there for them all the time…and he has been that way with his priests since he has gone to work at the Pastoral Center…he is always there for his priests and for his people.”
In addition to being a caring pastor, Hartsell also remembered Bishop Fisher as “a superb musician.” During his time at the parish, he was studying classical guitar, and would sometimes play music at parish events like the blessing of the animals for St. Francis of Assisi’s feast day, or at gravesites if families wanted a specific song played for at their loved one’s burial.
Hartsell said when she heard the news about his appointment, her first reaction was, “It is about time.”
Through his different parish assignments, Bishop Fisher said he learned “to be patient, to always be kind” and “that we are all seeking the same thing – the love of God. No matter what parish I’ve been in, that’s the bottom line. They want to know God loves them, and being a part of a community of faith is where they find that love. As priests, we truly need to be the face of Christ’s love to those we meet.”
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