Auxiliary Bishop James J. Daly was one of the most powerful and influential figures in the history of the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
The right-hand man to Bishop John McGann for years, Daly also served as dean of the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington and was in charge of helping decide which parishes priests would serve in.
Yet colleagues said he was unassuming and humble, and was happiest being a parish priest. Daly died Monday at 92. His funeral Mass is at 1 p.m. Friday at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre.
"He was truly a trailblazer and visionary during the early formative years of this diocese," said Bishop William Murphy, the current spiritual leader of the diocese. "Bishop Daly's humility, sense of humor and, above all, spirituality touched thousands and thousands of the faithful in a very deep and personal way."
Msgr. James McNamara, who shared a residence with Daly at one point, said, "In the many years that Bishop John McGann shepherded our diocese, Bishop Daly was the wisdom figure behind the scene."
He added that Daly was also "a very unassuming man; not anyone who was looking to be a bishop or thought he would ever be one. He said the best job was being pastor."
Auxiliary Bishop John Dunne called Daly "a priest's priest" -- a person men of the cloth "felt they could talk to and trust."
Daly was born in the Bronx, grew up in Jamaica, Queens, and knew he wanted to be a priest by age 6, said Kathleen Daly, of Sayville, his niece and only surviving relative. He attended a Catholic high school, and studied for the priesthood at the seminary in Huntington.
His experience as a priest on Long Island started before the local diocese existed. When he was ordained in 1948, Nassau, Suffolk, Queens and Brooklyn made up the Diocese of Brooklyn. Nine years later, Nassau and Suffolk were carved out to create the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
In 1958, Daly was assigned to the seminary, where he rose to the post of dean. Students fondly nicknamed him "Tiger" because his gentle nature was the opposite of one, his niece said.
A decade later, Bishop Walter Kellenberg, the diocese's first bishop, named Daly the diocese's first director of priest personnel, charged with assigning priests to parishes and generally serving as a confidant.
Dunn recalled that when Kellenberg asked the priests of the diocese whom they thought should occupy the post, "hands down, his [Daly's] name was right at the top."
By 1972, he was named pastor of St. Boniface parish in Elmont. By many accounts, it was one of the happiest times of his life.
But the church hierarchy also needed him, and in 1977 McGann named him auxiliary bishop. He eventually rose to vicar general, the No. 2 post in the diocese. At one point, when Kellenberg fell ill, Daly temporarily ran the diocese, said Msgr. James Vlaun, head of the diocesan television station Telecare.
Daly retired in 1996, but remained active, visiting patients in hospitals and nursing homes. He also cared for a disabled brother in the house his family had bought decades ago in Blue Point, where Daly had his first assignment as a priest, from 1948 to 1951, at Our Lady of the Snow.
"He was a priest right to the end," Vlaun said.