Most Rev. Robert C. Morlino, the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, died Saturday night November 24 after suffering a “cardiac event” the day before Thanksgiving. A priest for more than 44 years and a bishop for nearly 20, Morlino died at 9:15 p.m. Saturday at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison. He was 71.
Morlino’s funeral will be held Tuesday, Dec. 4 at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in Madison. Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki will be the principal celebrant. A prayer vigil with visitation is scheduled for 1-7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3 in the O’Donnell Chapel at Holy Name Heights in Madison. Solemn Vespers will be held starting at 7 p.m. Visitation will also be held from 9 a.m. to just prior to the Mass of Christian Burial, set for 11 a.m. Tuesday. Morlino will be buried at Madison’s Resurrection Cemetery immediately following the Mass.
News of Morlino’s death came only a few hours after Diocese of Madison Vicar General Msgr. James Bartylla put out an urgent call for prayers for the ailing bishop. Bartylla asked the faithful to invoke the intercession of Venerable Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, the great Dominican pioneer and explorer who established dozens of Catholic churches in Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. In addition to prayers for a miracle, Bartylla said the faithful should pray that Morlino “be given the grace of a happy death.” Bartylla will be the homilist at Morlino’s funeral.
The vicar general of the diocese is unanimously selected as diocesan administrator by the Diocese of Madison College of Consultors. Bartylla will serve in that role until a new bishop is named by the Holy Father.
Morlino was undergoing planned medical tests in Madison on Nov. 21 when he was stricken with cardiac trouble. Per Morlino’s preference, decision was made to delay announcement of his health crisis until after Thanksgiving. The diocese released a statement on Morlino’s health on Friday, Nov. 23.
The diocese was holding an all-night vigil for Morlino at Holy Name Heights in Madison. Father Richard Heilman, pastor of St. Mary of Pine Bluff Catholic Church, was praying before the Blessed Sacrament when he felt an urgent need to go to St. Mary’s Hospital. “…I rushed down to the hospital,” Heilman wrote on Facebook. “Just as I arrived, Bishop passed. I was there. Isn’t that always the way? When you are close to someone, you know. You just know.”
Heilman, one of the vicars forane in the Diocese of Madison, described Morlino as “a saint in our midst” and a “St. Athanasius against the rampant modernism in our times.” Heilman said Morlino was “a dad to me and countless others.”
Morlino was appointed bishop of the Diocese of Madison on May 23, 2003 and installed on Aug. 1, 2003. He succeeded retiring Bishop William H. Bullock. Morlino just celebrated the 15th anniversary of becoming Madison bishop on Aug. 1 at St. Mary of Pine Bluff Catholic Church near Madison. The 11-county diocese covers south-central and southwestern Wisconsin.
Morlino was previously the ninth bishop of Helena, Mont., named to that post by Pope St. John Paul II in July 1999. A native of Scranton, Pa., Morlino was ordained to the priesthood in the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus on June 1, 1974. He taught at Loyola College in Baltimore, St. Joseph University in Philadelphia, Boston College, the University of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s College. He held a variety of positions in the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Mich., and was rector of St. Augustine Cathedral before being named a bishop.
Morlino had a reputation for being staunchly pro-life and anti-modernist. He supported development of the Traditional Latin Mass in the Diocese of Madison, and often celebrated the Pontifical Mass at the Throne at the diocesan chapel and various churches around the diocese. He ordered that the tabernacles in all the churches of the diocese be moved to a central place of prominence. He encouraged the faithful to receive Holy Communion on the tongue while kneeling.
Morlino was steadily working toward restoring the sacred to Catholic worship, Heilman said, with a minimum of collateral damage. “Bishop knew that the rich treasury of our Catholic Church is what, ultimately, will lead people to a deep and strong faith,” Heilman said late Saturday. “In this sense, he was a true shepherd.”
Morlino did much to build up vocations to the priesthood, raising $44 million in pledges for the “Priests for Our Future” endowment fund. Morlino’s goal had been $30 million. “His great mission was vocations to the priesthood,” Heilman said. “He worked very hard at this. When he was named Bishop of Madison, there were six men studying for the priesthood. In the last half of his 15 years, the numbers have hovered around 30 men studying. It’s one of the highest per capita in the country.”
Morlino often drew the ire of progressives in the liberal city of Madison and across the United States for defending church teaching on abortion, marriage and sexuality. In the wake of the sexual abuse scandal surrounding former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Morlino condemned the “homosexual subculture within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church” in a letter to his flock in August 2018.
Morlino condemned the sexually predatory actions of priests and bishops as evil “that cries out for justice and sin that must be cast out from our Church.” He said the seeming acceptance of sin by some in the Church, and the cover-ups of scandal by others, must be met with just punishments and a clarion call to sanctity.
“We must be done with sin,” Morlino wrote. “It must be rooted out and again considered unacceptable. Love sinners? Yes. Accept true repentance? Yes. But do not say sin is okay. And do not pretend that grave violations of office and of trust come without grave, lasting consequences.”
Diocesan spokesman Brent King said funeral arrangements for Morlino are pending.
(This article was updated on Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, with information about Bishop Morlino’s funeral.)
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