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Humility in the Flesh – An Image is Worth 1000 Words - Tom McFadden

Humility in the Flesh – An Image is Worth 1000 Words


What does humility look like? Tom McFadden recounts his example of what humility in the flesh looks like – in the life of Bishop William Dermott Molloy.

Humility is a virtue we all know about.

Or at least, it is a virtue we know we are supposed to practice if we wish to enjoy the Beatific Vision in Heaven. But what does it really look like? What does it mean to be humble?

The Church points us to the Blessed Virgin Mary as the best example of humility in a creature. Her whole life was never about her, but rather, about the Will of God. She was merely “the handmaiden of the Lord.”

As we try to raise our children in the Faith and help them on their way to Heaven, teaching them humility, while at the same time encouraging a healthy self-esteem, can be difficult. We are told to look to the saints and learn from their lives.

But sometimes it is hard to get a true understanding from reading books. Sometimes, we need to actually experience things for ourselves to really understand them.

What Humility Looks Like

I’d like to tell a short story about the day that I fully realized what humility looked like – in the flesh. Working at Christendom College allows me to come in contact with some of the most notable Catholic luminaries out there. Many famous priests and bishops come to campus to give talks, visit with students, give retreats, or offer the Sacraments.

I have gone to Mass and met with Cardinal George Pell, Cardinal Francis Arinze, Cardinal Raymond Burke, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, Archbishop Charles Chaput, and Archbishop James Conley. I have dined with Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Fr. George Rutler, Fr. Thomas Dubay, Fr. Mitch Pacwa, Fr. Kenneth Baker, Abbott Fr. Phillip Anderson, and many more.

In short, I have had the great honor and pleasure to be around many holy men of the Church, and I have found them to be inspiring examples to follow, and humble servants of the Lord. But there is one person who is probably unknown to most people, and it is he who gave me an indelible image and understanding of what humility means – in the flesh.

Many years ago, during the summer months at Christendom College, I served the college chaplain as the sacristan for the daily 11:30 a.m. Mass in the Chapel of Christ the King. I would leave my office at around 11:15 a.m. each weekday, and walk to the chapel where I would set up the altar and ensure that the chalice, ciborium, and cruets were all present. Then I would ensure that the right readings were marked in the lectionary, light the candles, and then serve the Mass for Fr. Robert Ruskamp, our then-chaplain.

One day, I arrived to do my daily routine and I entered the vestry to find Fr. Ruskamp with another man, who appeared to be a priest. I assumed he was going to concelebrate the Mass, as is often the case with visiting priests. They were chatting a bit, so I went about my business getting everything ready for Mass.

After lighting the candles and returning to the vestry, Fr. Ruskamp told me that he didn’t need me to serve that Mass because this other man was, in fact, not going to concelebrate, but serve as altar boy.

“Are you sure, Father? I mean, it’s really not a problem,” I said.

“No, thank you. We have it covered,” he replied.

How Mysterious…

I went back to my pew with my family, and the older priest rang the bell, walked out in front of Fr. Ruskamp, and then it happened.

“Good morning,” began Fr. Ruskamp. “Before we begin Mass today, I’d like to welcome an old friend of mine to Christendom College. He has been here before, but many years ago. His name is Bishop Dermott Molloy, and he is the Bishop of Huancavelica, Peru, where he has served since 1982.”

I thought to myself, in disbelief, “If this man is a bishop, why wouldn’t he be offering Mass, or at least concelebrating, rather than serving as an altar boy for Fr. Ruskamp? This is one of the weirdest things I have ever seen!”

I looked over at my 12-year-old son at the time, John, who often served Mass at Christendom with me, and saw that his eyes were fixed on the 72-year-old bishop, standing erect, with hands folded in front of his chest at the side of the altar. Of course, he too, like everyone else, was taken aback by this seemingly strange event.

As Mass continued, Bishop Molloy brought over the water and wine cruets, washed Fr. Ruskamp’s hands, knelt on the hard wooden floor during the Consecration, rang the bells, and then held the paten for Fr. Ruskamp during Communion.

Then it dawned on me. This Bishop, this Prince of the Church, was showing us what humility was, putting flesh on what Jesus had said in Matthew’s Gospel:

“Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt. 20:26-28)

In 2005, just a couple of years after his visit to Christendom, Bishop Molloy suffered a triple stroke that left him paralyzed until his death in 2013 – 8 long years of suffering. Just one month before his death, the Peruvian Congress awarded Bishop Molloy the Medal of Honor for his work in taking care of the poorest of the poor for more than 30 years, and for translating the Bible into the local Quechua language.

Bishop Molloy, through that one simple act of service, gave me, my family, and the entire congregation, a visible means of knowing what humility looked like, and for that, I will be forever in Bishop Molloy’s debt.

As I think about my son, John, who is now Br. McFadden as a Benedictine monk at Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma, I wonder how much of an effect Bishop Molloy’s actions had on him as he discerned his call to the religious life.

I doubt that people will write any books about him, or make movies about his life, or even work to promote his cause for canonization, but what Bishop Molloy taught from that altar in Christendom College’s Chapel of Christ the King is certainly something to remember.

Picturing the 72-year-old bishop kneeling on the hard floor, receiving Communion from the hands of his brother priest, serving a college chaplain at the altar, and then holding the paten for the faithful while they received the Lord of Lords is an image I will never forget.

He was the image of humility. May Bishop Molloy rest in peace. Amen.

About Tom McFadden

Tom McFadden
Tom McFadden holds a BA and MA in Theology and has worked at Christendom College since 2000, serving first as the Director of Admissions and most recently as the Vice President for Enrollment. He and his wife Amanda are the proud parents of eleven children.

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