Obituary: Bishop Daniel Hart, former Norwich bishop

Last August in Nashville, Bishop Robert Hennessey and I were walking to Mass at the annual meeting of the Knights of Columbus. With us was Bishop Daniel Hart, former bishop of Norwich and former and longtime auxiliary of the archdiocese.

As we chatted over matters great and small Bishop Hart commented that he appreciated the obituaries that I penned for The Pilot about the priests of the archdiocese -- “I should hire you to write mine.”

Nothing that early August day indicated that I would be needed for such a job so soon. In early September however, we received notice that Bishop Hart had been found to have an especially aggressive form of cancer and that his earthly pilgrimage was nearing its end.

His successor at Norwich, Bishop Michael Cote reported that Bishop Hart, on learning his condition, with faith-filled resolve and priestly serenity said “I can’t complain. I have had a wonderful life. I can’t ask for more.”

Bishop Hart’s pilgrimage here on earth ended on Jan. 14 at St. Joseph Living Center in Windham, Conn. His health had been deteriorating and he was fading in and out of consciousness until the end. Bishop Cote had asked that the bishop “not be alone when he died” and when the word went out for volunteers -- priests and people to be with Bishop Hart -- there was an uninterrupted flow, some sitting quietly, others reciting the rosary, and priests and religious offering the Liturgy of the Hours.

Daniel Anthony Hart was the third son of the late John and Susan (Tierney) Hart. He was born in Lawrence on Aug. 24, 1927 a son of St. Patrick Parish, an alumnus of its grammar school and of Central Catholic High, Lawrence. He entered St. John’s Seminary and Archbishop Richard Cushing ordained him to the priesthood on Feb. 2, 1953 -- a member of the “first class of 1953.”

His first assignment was as an assistant at Our Lady of the Assumption Parish, Lynnfield. A year later he was assigned to graduate studies at Boston College in a new management program designed for priests -- among his classmates was the future Bishop Daniel Reilly, one of his predecessors in Norwich and now the former Bishop of Worcester. During his student days he lived in residence at St. Paul Parish, Wellesley.

He returned to parish ministry as an associate at Sacred Hearts, Malden where he remained from 1955 to 1964 when he was named vice chancellor of the archdiocese.

In this position he had regular, almost daily, contact with the priests of the archdiocese, dealing especially with issues of canon law and particularly with marriage dispensations. He gained a reputation among the priests as a listener and someone with a calm manner and understanding of daily parish priestly ministry.

In 1970 he returned to parish ministry, again as an assistant, now at St. John the Baptist, Peabody. During this time he was elected president of the archdiocesan Senate of Priests which at the time was a full-time special ministry, but Father Hart remained to assist at Peabody.

On his 49th birthday he received notice that Pope Paul VI had named him an auxiliary of the archdiocese and titular bishop of Tepelta. Cardinal Medeiros ordained him a bishop on Oct. 18, 1976 at a packed Holy Cross Cathedral becoming, as someone remarked, “the bicentennial auxiliary.”

For the next 19 years Bishop Hart watched over the south region of the archdiocese which had been his special responsibility since his episcopal ordination.

In addition to the usual sacramental responsibilities, not only in the south region but across the archdiocese, Bishop Hart was a great promoter of lay ministry and supported energetically CHRISM, a program under the aegis of the south region’s bishop to this day.

On Nov. 1, 1995 he was installed in St. Patrick Cathedral as the fourth bishop of Connecticut’s easternmost diocese -- Norwich -- succeeding his classmate Bishop Daniel Reilly and being installed by another classmate, Hartford’s Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin, himself a former auxiliary of Boston.

In Norwich, Bishop Hart quickly earned the respect and love of priests and people alike. He set about strengthening parish ministry, creating endowments for parish and diocesan projects. No invitation was beyond his yes and no person beyond his gentle touch. He was famous for his handwritten notes -- thank you’s to parishes for hospitality during his visits; congratulations to priests on their anniversaries and birthdays.

In compliance with Canon Law, he duly submitted his resignation on his 75th birthday and following the installation of his successor in May 2003, he made himself readily available as an “assistant”: to any pastor or priest who needed a day or week off, and he assisted Bishop William Lori on the other side of Connecticut with Confirmations each spring and fall.

When he was named a bishop, he took as his episcopal motto “Do Not Be Afraid” and he lived that motto. As people have noted, because of his deep faith in Jesus, the great High Priest in Whom to have faith it is easy to fulfill, as Bishop Hart did so admirably, that motto.

Bishop Hart leaves an impressive legacy of priestly and episcopal service in Boston and diligent and faithful ministry as bishop in Connecticut.

Bishop Hart’s funeral Mass was to be celebrated on Jan. 18 at St. Patrick Cathedral, Norwich. The principal celebrant was scheduled to be Hartford’s Archbishop Henry Mansell with Norwich’s current Bishop Michael Cote as the homilist. Joining them were expected bishops from New England and beyond and priests from Norwich, Boston and Bridgeport, as well as people from Bishop Hart’s previous assignments and his beloved flock in Norwich.

Bishop Hart is survived by two brothers, William, Hampstead, N.H. and Leo, Windham, N.H. and many nieces and nephews.

Following the funeral Mass Bishop Hart was to be buried in the Bishops’ and Priests’ lot at St. Mary and St. Joseph Cemetery, Norwich, Conn.