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Obituary: Bishop Richard Lennon dies at 72


  • Bishop Richard G. Lennon Diocese of Cleveland photo
  • The Book of Gospels is held over the head of Bishop Lennon during his 2001 episcopal ordination. Pilot file photo/Lisa Kessler
  • Bishop Lennon addresses the Cleveland media on April 4, 2006, after being introduced as the successor to Bishop Anthony M. Pilla (left). CNS file photo/William Rieter
  • Pope Benedict XVI greets Bishop Richard Lennon during a 2012 meeting at the Vatican. CNS file photo/L’Osservatore Romano

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Bishop Richard G. Lennon, the 10th bishop of Cleveland and former apostolic administrator and auxiliary bishop of Boston, died in Ohio on Oct. 29. He had been suffering from dementia since his resignation as Cleveland's bishop in late 2016.

Born March 26, 1947, at Symmes Hospital in Arlington, Bishop Lennon was a son of the late Albert G. and the late Mary G. Halligan Lennon. He had one brother, the late Albert G. Lennon. For years, his father was the deputy fire chief in Arlington.

He told The Pilot at the time of his episcopal ordination that his parents' faith was characterized by their faithfulness to the Church.

"My parents lived exemplary Catholic lives, and that was inspiring to me as a young person," he said.

He also said that prayer was the fuel that enabled his parents to live faith-filled lives. "They prayed the rosary every day," he said.

He received his early education at St. James School and went on to Matignon High School in Cambridge, from which he graduated in 1965.

Following high school, he enrolled at Boston College, majoring in mathematics. "I had to pick a subject, so I selected math," he said. After two years, he left B.C. and entered St. John Seminary.

He was ordained a priest by Archbishop Humberto Medeiros on May 19, 1973, at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

Following ordination, Bishop Lennon spent 15 years as a parish priest -- nine years at St. Mary of the Nativity in Scituate and six years at St. Mary in Quincy. It was a time of fresh discovery in his life, when the idealism of a newly ordained priest became grounded and reinforced in the lives of the people he served: the faith-filled Catholic laity.

"I love parish life," said Bishop Lennon. "The faith of the people in the parishes is inspiring and reassuring. As much as you give, you get even more back from the people."

In 1999, he was appointed rector of St. John Seminary by Cardinal Bernard Law, a huge challenge and he acknowledged that, "it was humbling to be chosen." As he himself asked, "Could there be a more awesome task than helping to prepare fellow men to be other Christs and to act in 'persona Christi?'"

Bishop Lennon developed a personal interest in canon law and was quite expert in it, though never obtained a canon law degree.

That personal interest in canon law came into play in the parish. Not only in the usual sense, attending to parish registers or seeking proper dispensations for marriages, but also in a highly publicized situation.

There was "extra" land in the parish cemetery according to some and it should be used for archdiocesan sponsored low-income housing. Father Lennon undertook the defense of the parish rights and the cemetery's integrity and, in the name of the parish won the case, not in a civil court but in an ecclesiastical one. He knew canon law was more than a collection of rules in a book and that, properly used, it could promote and protect the rights and obligations of individuals and institutions.

During his tenure in the Office for Canonical Affairs, he developed a reputation among the priests of the archdiocese for his rapid replies to their requests for information and guidance, principally canonical but also on other pastoral matters.

"If Richard said he'd have an answer by 3 p.m. you had the call either with the answer or the explanation of why you might have to wait a bit longer," said one priest.

And it was never more than a bit.

Less widely known because of the confidential nature of the matters involved was Father Lennon's pastoral care of those priests who sought the process of dispensation. The process, detailed in canon law and in instructions from the Holy See, is both extensive and trying -- for all involved. But with customary diligence and great sensitivity, Father Lennon led a number of men along the path.

In 1998, Pope John Paul II named him a Prelate of Honor with the title of reverend Monsignor. The priests of the archdiocese also honored him as one of the priests of the year.

On June 29, 2001, he was named an auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese and had added to his already pressing responsibilities as rector, those of regional bishop of the West Region.

Immediately after his episcopal ordination on Sept. 14, 2001, he began visiting the parishes, priests and people of the region in addition to the usual rounds of confirmations across the archdiocese each spring and fall.

Pope John Paul II named him apostolic administrator of the archdiocese in December 2002, following the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law.

As he said in an April 2006 interview, at that time, the archdiocese was one "that was hurting, where there was anger and frustration, and I tried to do my small part in moving us forward. I especially felt that my meeting with the priests was important."

In early 2006, Pope Benedict XVI named him the 10th bishop of the Cleveland Diocese. Bishop Lennon was installed on May 15, 2006, in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.

Prior to his leaving for Cleveland, when asked about his happiest time here in the archdiocese, not surprisingly, he answered, "My visits to the parishes, meeting the people and especially the priests. I love it. I've been to 230 of the parishes."

Bishop Lennon's fundamental approach to any of his assignments was to begin with the parish as a model. Whether in a parish, in an office or a seminary he liked to meet people, get to know them and learn about their needs. He was genuinely committed to the people in whichever ministry was entrusted to him.

During his 10 years as bishop of Cleveland, he faced a number of challenges, some familiar because they were challenges similar to those in Boston -- shrinking urban parishes; a declining number of seminarians; economic pressures, especially on Catholic schools; and the need to meet parish needs with a declining and ageing number of priests.

Pilot editor Antonio Enrique relishes telling of Bishop Lennon's "annual renewal of his Pilot subscription." The bishop would deliver the renewal notice and personal check by hand each year; until his death he read The Pilot weekly. He was especially interested in the priests and parishes of the archdiocese.

When diagnosed with dementia, Bishop Lennon submitted his request to resign as diocesan bishop and Pope Francis granted the request in late 2016. Since then, his condition had gradually deteriorated and he had moved from one Catholic health care facility to another in the Cleveland area.

He died in Cleveland on Oct. 29, 2019. At press time, funeral arrangements were pending.

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