Bishop Robert C. Morlino dead at age 71 (Updated)

The fourth bishop of the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, died Saturday night November 24 after suffering a “cardiac event” the day before Thanksgiving.

Bishop Robert C. Morlino on August 1st, 2018, after celebrating Mass on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of his installation as bishop of the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo: Joseph Hanneman)

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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About Joseph M. Hanneman 101 Articles
Joseph M. Hanneman writes from Madison, Wisconsin.


    • This is just a shock! Bishop Morlino was a great bishop not afraid to speak of the problems of the Church in exactly the terms that they should be addressed! I will pray for him and to him that he intercede in rooting out the homo-heresy faction from the Church, God bless you, Bishop Morlino and I will never forget your courage.

  1. Bishop Morlino was a faithful and true shepherd. We had the privilege of attending The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass a few years ago, when he celebrated at our parish on a visit to Maryland. He celebrated the Mass with profound reverence.

    He was courageous in his confrontation of evil: which is the very definition of the good shepherd.

    Bishop Morlino – pray for us, and intercede for our Church, beset by false shepherds.

  2. How sad that one of the good Bishops died so young. Pray God that He send ten more like bp. Morlino to take his place. Amen.

  3. May the soul of Bishop Robert Morlino and the souls of all of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

    In Paradisum deducant te angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam, Jerusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiant, et cum Lazaro, quoniam pauperes, aeternam habeas requiem.

    And please pray for the Diocese of Madison, that Bishop Morlino’s successor is just as orthodox and orthoprax as he was, as good and faithful a servant as he was – and that neither Archbishop Listecki nor Cardinal Cupich gets their hooks into the choosing of said successor.

  4. Prayed for him every day. We will continue only now he will be prayed for with the Holy Souls. We hope he received Extreme Unction with the Apostolic Blessing. Please Lird, let him have received the last of Your Blessed Sacraments!

  5. Now that he’s gone from this world would that he were pontiff. God’s mind is beyond our reach rightly acknowledged by Job. Our best commanders, Bishop Morlino, Cardinal Caffarra, Cardinal Meisner are taken from us when we need them most. The battle for the faith rages. We stand fast in honor of the heroic few.
    Our Captain in wait till victory calls.

  6. This shocks and saddens me. I always looked at Bishop Morlino as one of my favorite Bishops of our country. I can’t believe he died. =(

  7. SO very sad…but now he can help the Church from eternity. WELL DONE< THOU GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT!….So VERY faithful you were. An amazing example of living the Truth. Would that my own MA bishops be so.

  8. The good Bishop was a shining example to me of how to truly shephard Christ’s church…I only wish he had been my bishop. Praying in PA that Jesus says “Well done my faithful servant, enter into my Father’s house”
    Love ya’ brother!

  9. Every Catholic funeral I have attended within the past several years has struck me as presuming the soul of the person is in Heaven which is a notable difference from the funerals of my youth.
    Here is an opportunity, in the good Bishop’s name, to set down binding Church teaching on the subjects of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory if someone knowledgeable in the subject could be so kind.
    Even a mere explanation of how to locate those bona fide Church teachings would be a positive result of his death.
    Thank you.

  10. Bishop Morlino was a great priest and bishop. I fear one the “Francis bishops” will be appointed and will destroy everything good, holy, and orthodox Bishop Morlino did for his dioceses. God help us. Jesus save us. Mary pray for us.

  11. My heart is sad. We have lost a truly great priest and representation of what a bishop should be in these days of distress.
    Rest in peace.

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