Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore
James Francis (Frank) Stafford was born July 26, 1932 in Baltimore, the only child of Francis Emmett and Mary Dorothy (Stanton) Stafford. His father was owner of a successful furniture store. Always studious and an “achiever,” Frank moved from Loyola High School in 1950 to Loyola College in Baltimore with the intent of pursuing a career in medicine, but in 1952 the violent death of a friend caused him to rethink his future and to enter St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. In 1954, he was sent by Archbishop Francis Keough to the Pontifical North American College in Rome in order to attend the Gregorian University. There he received a licentiate in sacred theology in 1958. He was ordained to the priesthood on December 15, 1957 at the North American College by its rector, Bishop Martin J. O’Connor.
A parish priest until 1962, Father Stafford was sent for two years to the Catholic University of America to study community organization and social work and there received a master’s degree. He matriculated also at Rutgers University in alcohol studies and the University of Wisconsin in management. In 1964 he was chosen assistant director and in 1969 director of the archdiocesan Associated Catholic Charities by Cardinal Lawrence Shehan, to which body was entrusted in 1969 most of the inner-city programs. In 1969 he was also named chairman of a committee to reorganize the central services of the archdiocese and in 1971 was made head of a committee to create its collegial structures, pastoral councils at three levels. In 1971 he was also elected president of the priests’ senate, by his fellow priests, which under Cardinal Shehan played an important role in many of the latter’s most important decisions.
A monsignor since 1970, Francis Stafford was chosen by Archbishop William D. Borders as one of his two auxiliaries and was by him ordained bishop on February 29, 1976, in the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. That same day he was appointed urban vicar for the city of Baltimore. During his twenty-six years in Baltimore he initiated or served on more than sixty-five boards, committees, and other organizations both ecclesial and civic.
On November 17, 1982, Bishop Stafford was named by Pope John Paul II the second bishop of Memphis, Tennessee. There he openly opposed the prevailing racism, defended the rights of workers and opened new avenues for ecumenism. On May 30, 1986, he was named archbishop of Denver, Colorado. The most memorable event of his ten years there was the World Youth Day he organized in 1993 for the visit of Pope John Paul II. In his last year he launched the first capital campaign in forty years and a “Strategic Plan” for Catholic Schools.
During his episcopacy, Archbishop Stafford wrote and spoke increasingly on the importance of doctrine, ecumenical relations, marriage, family life, and other matters of concern. In 1978-1984 he headed the U.S. Catholic Conference Commission on Marriage and Family Life and in 1980 was one of the U.S. bishops’ delegates to the Synod of Bishops in Rome, which had marriage and family life on its agenda. But his concerns were far reaching. In a 1994 pastoral letter he warned against land development in Colorado that displaced the poor and elderly.
On August 20, 1996, Archbishop Stafford was called to Rome to head the Pontifical Council for the Laity. In December 1996 he convened a Vatican Conference on Women, and in 1997, he organized a World Youth Day and a papal visit in Paris, as well as the first congress of lay Catholics in the Middle East, at Beirut, Lebanon. He also worked with a small group of American archbishops on a lectionary for the Mass to resolve the problem of inclusive language and was one of eight curial heads to sign an instruction approved by the pope that warned against assigning priestly roles to lay ministers.
In a consistory on February 21, 1998, he was one of twenty-two elevated to the College of Cardinals by Pope John Paul II. Under the late Holy Father’s papacy, he served on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Bishops, and the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts. For the Jubilee Year in 2000 he laid plans for another World Youth Day and for an international congress on the elderly, both held in Rome.
On Oct. 3, 2003, Pope John Paul II appointed Cardinal Stafford to head the Apostolic Penitentiary.
There can be little doubt that in this intellectually gifted American bishop Pope John Paul II quite early perceived a mind attuned to his own in matters of doctrine and ecclesiology.
Bibliography: Thomas W. Spalding, The Premier See: A History of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, 1789-1989 (Baltimore, 1989); personnel files in the Archives of the Archdiocese of Baltimore; Reflections of Bishop Stafford (Memphis); accounts in the (Baltimore) Catholic Review, Denver Catholic Register, and from the Catholic News Service.