Catholic community mourns death of Bishop Robert Morlino, ‘a man who won’t be forgotten’

Admin. to be selected until new bishop appointed
Catholic community mourns death of Bishop Robert Morlino, ‘a man who won’t be forgotten’

The Catholic community is grieving after the death of Bishop Robert Morlino of the Diocese of Madison, who is dead at age 71 following heart complications during the past week.

After 15 years as bishop, Morlino is not without controversy. His stances on issues such as birth control and homosexuality have been questioned.

However, those with the church are remembering a warm, kind man who they say left the diocese in better shape than he found it.

“I’m devastated. I’m very heartbroken,” seminarian Bill Van Wagner said. “Bishop Morlino’s been like a father to me in so many ways.”

In a place where the devout can find direction, Sunday morning mass was one of mourning. The diocese is without a guiding light.

“I think there’s a bit of a hole,” Jim Wrich said after mass. “I feel sad.”

Parishioners spent the dark hours of Saturday night into Sunday at Holy Name Heights praying for Bishop Robert Morlino after his health took a turn for the worse. It was at that overnight vigil that Wrich found out Morlino died, and the prayers turned from pleading for recovery to asking for the repose of his soul.

“It was very solemn,” Wrich said. “You could sense that there was a loss.”

“Bishop Morlino has been with me in a very personal way every step of the way,” said Van Wagner, who will be ordained as a priest in the summer.

Now after Morlino’s death, Van Wagner will never forget how the bishop illuminated his life path.

“He has a kind heart (and a) joyful spirit,” he said. “I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am right now without him, and I’m heartbroken that he won’t be there to see the end of the road.”

It’s not just Van Wagner. Father Scott Emerson said in his time Morlino encouraged many to take the journey toward priesthood. What used to be just a handful of candidates is now in the dozens.

“The increase of vocations is certainly due to his leadership,” Emerson said.

In Madison, one doesn’t always hear glowing words about Morlino.

“I found myself getting upset with him on a fairly regular basis,” Wrich said.

However, Wrich, a political activist, said after writing Morlino a letter, he and the bishop became unlikely friends.

“I was very surprised,” he said. “He was warm, engaging, and the first thing he said to me was ‘Jim, I know I don’t always get it right.'”

It’s clear Morlino left his mark, on both the churches, and the people in the pews, who now look toward another guiding light.

“Bishop Morlino was a dear friend. Such a wise man, such a learned man, and a man who won’t be forgotten,” Emerson said. “Certainly our Lord provides a path forward.”

Emerson said the diocese will elect a temporary administrator in the coming weeks to take over until the Vatican appoints a new bishop, which usually takes between six months and a year.

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