As we prepared to go to press, the sad news came that John Keating, bishop of Arlington, Virginia, had died suddenly in Rome on the day following an ad limina visit with the Holy Father. Few bishops of the modern era brought to their duties such a felicitous combination of practical skill and personal piety. Keating was a deft administrator and an expert canonist, but he was, first and last, a priest of Christ forever.
For the faithful of his small but rapidly growing diocese, Bishop Keating was a providential shepherd. As with most dioceses, the greater part of his flock saw him only on ceremonial occasions when he beneficently materialized to bestow the sacrament of Confirmation or to bless some new rising of brick and mortar. He was in this apparition, as a five-year-old once put it, “the nice man in the funny hat.” These outward signs were the stuff of any episcopacy, the ordinary activities that fill the days and weeks of a busy bishop’s calendar and, over time, blur each into the other with a repetitive and unremarkable sameness.
The providential character of Bishop Keating’s tenure lay elsewhere—in his fidelity to the priestly life, in his unswerving loyalty to the Magisterium, and in the skill with which he recruited a small army of enthusiastic young men to the priesthood. These accomplishments worked in reciprocal harmony, according to a simple formula: build it, and they will come. The “it” in this case was a vibrant community of orthodoxy, at once ancient of days yet always fresh. And come they did: in thirteen years, in a diocese numbering but 185,000 souls at the time of his installation, Bishop Keating oversaw the ordination of eighty-four new priests—young, manly, zealous in their faith, anxious to preach and to live the Gospel of Life. Such numbers, which have not been seen in the United States in many decades, constitute a silent but powerfully eloquent reproach to dioceses many times the size of tiny Arlington.
John Keating’s legacy will endure, not only in Arlington but, let us pray, in the wider American church, which sorely needs the benediction of his shining example. Requiescat in pace.