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Retired Archbishop Pilarczyk Dies At Age 85

Pilarczyk in 2003.
Pilarczyk in 2003.

The retired Archbishop of the Cincinnati Archdiocese, Daniel E. Pilarczyk, who retired in 2009 as the longest tenured archbishop in the country, died Sunday morning at the age of 85.

A native of Dayton, Ohio, he was ordained a priest in Dec. 1959 after studying at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome, beginning a rise through the ranks of the Roman Catholic hierarchy which led him in Dec. 1982 to become the archbishop of a 19-county diocese that is the 44th largest in the county and includes his hometown of Dayton.

He retired as an archbishop on Dec. 21, 2009 – the day after the 50th anniversary of his ordination as a priest.

"Among his brother bishops, Archbishop Pilarczyk was recognized as one of the outstanding churchmen of his time,'' said his successor, Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr. "They elected him not only president of what was then the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, but also chair of every significant committee of the bishops' conference."

Pilarczyk's accomplishments as Archbishop of Cincinnati "were equally outstanding,'' Schnurr said.

"He unselfishly devoted his entire priesthood to the archdiocese, including 27 years as archbishop,'' Schnurr said. "I have known and admired Archbishop Pilarczyk for more than 30 years. I shall miss his friendship and his wise counsel."

Archbishop Pilarczyk wrote more than a dozen popular books and many pamphlets and articles. His best-selling book was Twelve Tough Issues: What the Church Teaches – and Why, subsequently revised as Twelve Tough Issues – And More. His most recent were When God Speaks and Live Letters. As he approached the end of his ministry as archbishop, he launched the "Grateful Believers" initiative to heighten awareness of God's blessings and the proper response in stewardship. 

In his retirement, he wrote and recorded a daily 90-second homily called "Sharing the Word,'' heard on the internet and broadcast over more than 100 radio stations. In 2011, it earned him the honor of being the Salesian Guild's Catholic Communicator of the Year.

He was also a strong supporter of Catholic radio in the archdiocese, making a substantial contribution from the Archdiocese toward the purchase of Sacred Heart Catholic Radio 740 AM and frequently appearing on the air. The station began with a broadcast blessing from Archbishop Pilarczyk on Jan. 1, 2001. He also encouraged Radio Maria. 

At a time when the church was reeling from the closing and merging of schools and parishes across the country, Pilarczyk dedicated 37 new churches and re-dedicated 25 more in his years as archbishop. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati may rank only 44th in size, but it has the six largest network of Catholic schools in the country.

The toughest period of his tenure came in 2003, when he appeared in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court as the Archdiocese was convicted on five counts of failure to report crimes – specifically, the sexual abuse of children by priests. The archdiocese entered a plea of no contest.

Pilarczyk made a public apology for what had happened. The court case covered a period from 1979 to 1982, before he became archbishop.

He had a strong interest in education. From 1963 to 1974 he was on the faculty of the former St. Gregory Seminary in Cincinnati, the last six years as Rector.  While auxiliary bishop of Cincinnati from 1974 to 1982, he was director of educational services for the Archdiocese.

Archdiocese officials have no information on the archbishop's funeral mass.

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