The oldest bishop in the United States, The Most Reverend Martin N. Lohmuller, DD, JCD, passed away last week at the age of ninety-seven. A retired Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia, he may not be well known to some readers, but Philadelphia may wait another ninety-seven years before it finds someone who did as much for the archdiocese as he did.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Martin Lohmuller attended St. Charles Borromeo Seminary until his ordination in June, 1944. He continued studying, receiving his Doctorate in Canon Law from Catholic University of America. He spent most of his career as a priest in the Diocese of Harrisburg. His transformational spirit, organizational skills, and leadership revealed themselves there: he assisted in the reorganization of the Diocese of Harrisburg’s tribunal, founded a parish as pastor (Our Lady of Good Counsel), led the effort to bring a Catholic hospital to the area, and assisted in creating the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, which communicates Catholic values to lawmakers.
Returning to Philadelphia, upon consecration as a bishop, he selected the episcopal motto, “Love, Fidelity, Peace.” His career as a bishop overlapped and nearly paralleled John Cardinal Krol’s time as Archbishop (Cardinal Krol served from 1961 to 1988, Bishop Lohmuller from 1970 to 1994). When Bishop Lohmuller retired, the archdiocese had to hire over thirty new employees to cover the duties for which he was responsible.
Bishop Lohmuller was Vicar General for the Archdiocese for nineteen years. He accomplished much, including overseeing the consolidation and construction of the current diocesan headquarters. He also founded and chaired Nutritional Development Services, through which the archdiocese works to fight hunger. He was heavily involved in the Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia in 1976 and the visit of St. John Paul II to Philadelphia in 1979. He spearheaded the founding of the first Catholic nursing home in Chester County, Pennsylvania. While serving as Auxiliary Bishop and Vicar General, for fourteen of those years he also served as pastor of two parishes, Old Saint Mary’s and Holy Trinity Church.
The most common occasion for Catholics to interact with a bishop remains the sacrament of confirmation. This applied to Bishop Lohmuller as well. His Excellency touched the lives of no fewer than 200,000 confirmandi in his career (Amazingly, as of his last confirmation, this averaged out to approximately fourteen confirmandi for every day he was a bishop). Confirmation remained important to him long after he retired. My family can testify to this. Bishop Lohmuller confirmed my brother in the 1970’s and confirmed me in the 1980’s. A generation later, he confirmed my nephew in the 2000’s, and my niece in the current decade (interestingly, the respective godchildren of my brother and I).
In the last twelve years of retirement, he resided at a parish (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in Jamison, Bucks County). This was his wish; he did not want to fade into obscurity, but desired to continue serving God and the faithful as long as he was able. He did: continuing to hear confessions, confirm the faithful, celebrate Mass, even researching and writing homilies, from scratch by hand every week. Sometimes, this took six hours per week. “But,” he said when asked not long ago, “in my day, I could write one in an hour.” His “day,” spent in service of God, lasted over ninety-seven years, and the Church in Philadelphia would do well to thank God for each of the 35,586 days with which this world was blessed by his presence.
A funeral Mass will be held 2 p.m. on Wednesday, February 1 at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. A live stream from the cathedral will begin at 1:30 p.m. at archphila.org. Eternal rest grant unto Bishop Lohmuller, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.