More than 50 years after his death, people who knew Bishop Richard T. Guilfoyle remember how kind he was and how much he loved the children, said a woman who compiled a book of memories about him.
"He was the most wonderful man you'd ever want to know,'' wrote Janet Evans, who assembled her thoughts and those of other students who attended parochial schools in the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown in the 1940s and '50s. "The Most Rev. Richad T. Guilfoyle, A Collection of Memories" is on sale at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona.
Evans, who passed away earlier this month, believed people needed a way to know who Guilfoyle, the third bishop of the diocese, was. He served from 1936 until his death in 1957.
Guilfoyle's name is perhaps best known because of the Catholic high school in Altoona that bears his name.
In Evans' school years, the high school was called Altoona Catholic and was located at another site.
Evans said, in an interview before her death, that she wanted to write down her memories of Guilfoyle and those of other students so that Bishop Guilfoyle would mean more than a name on a diploma to students attending the school.
"I wanted the students to know what kind of person he really was, not just a name on the building,'' she said. "I wanted them to know what a great priest he was, how much he cared about the students.''
As the shepherd of the diocese, Guilfoyle would often visit the schools and took an interest in the students' education.
Evans had no trouble finding fellow former parochial students to talk about him.
"He was always lighthearted and cheerful,'' said Joe Wiedemer of Altoona, who is a 1947 graduate of Altoona Catholic High School. "One felt as if he was a personal friend, and he certainly was.''
Wiedemer also commented on another characteristic of Guilfoyle's that many other former students mention in Evans' book - the bishop's love of sports and his competitiveness. Sister Beverly Hmel, I.H.M., remembered playing softball when Guilfoyle would serve as umpire.
"Standing behind the pitcher, he would cheer and yell with the rest of us,'' she wrote. "It was always clear, however, that the game was serious to him!''
Hmel recalled Guilfoyle as a frequent visitor to St. Mary's Home (an orphanage) in Cresson when she was a young girl. She said the bishop "had a practice of awarding a 50-cent piece if you could spell his name correctly.''
She said the nuns would get excited when the bishop would visit, "but for us girls, it was just our bishop coming to see us again, a special but not unusual occasion.
"I don't recall that anyone was uncomfortable,'' she said, "because he was very easy and comfortable with us.''
Evans said he would often stop them in the halls at school and ask them to recite a certain prayer or spell a word.
Guilfoyle was a lifelong devotee of Mary, the Blessed Mother of Jesus, and one of his favorite prayers was "Lovely Lady, Dressed in Blue.'' It's a prayer about the Virgin Mary, and first-graders in Catholic schools still recite it today. It is often said in May, the month traditionally reserved for devotion to her.
Hmel recalled memorizing that prayer along with many others under Guilfoyle's guidance at her elementary school (first through eighth grade) in Cresson.
"I had no problem learning these things, but when it came to presidents and state capitals, which he taught me by means of a little melody, my interest and my memory flagged,'' Hmel said.
"At my confirmation, he asked the question, looking directly at me all the time, 'who can recite the names of all the books of the Bible for us?''' Hmel said. "Of course, I dutifully raised my hand. And Bishop was just as pleased with himself for having taught them to me as he was of my learning and reciting them.''
Evans' book features reprints of letters that Guilfoyle sent to former students later in life and also photographs of students.
One of the photographs shows the subject as a young girl, Theresa (Shaunessey) DePue,who apparently, did very well after Guilfoyle's instruction in memorization. But when it came to sports, DePue came up a little short, it seems.
According to Evans, when DePue "got to bat, she swung and let go of the bat, and it hit the bishop in the shin. She was never to return to play again with us. She was, however, one of the bishop's best at memorizing his poems, and she was truly one of his closest friends.''
Evans' book is available for $5 at the Cathedral office.