Bishop McRaith dies; served Diocese of Owensboro, Kentucky, for 26 years

| April 4, 2017 | 0 Comments

Retired Bishop John McRaith of Owensboro, Ky., pictured in a 2009 photo, died March 19 at age 82. Bishop McRaith headed the Diocese of Owensboro from 1982 to 2009. CNS photo/courtesy of Western Kentucky Catholic

Retired Bishop John McRaith of Owensboro, a strong advocate of the Catholic Church’s rural life ministries, died March 19 at age 82.

A native of Hutchinson, Bishop McRaith was ordained as the third bishop of Owensboro, located in western Kentucky, in 1982 and served the diocese for 26 years until he announced his retirement for health reasons in early 2009.

Bishop McRaith was ordained to the priesthood Feb. 21, 1960, in the Diocese of New Ulm. He served as a parish priest and chancellor and vicar general of the diocese before joining the National Catholic Rural Life Conference Jan. 1, 1972. He served as co-director until 1975 and then as executive director for three years until 1978.

He believed the role of the organization, today called Catholic Rural Life, should be that of a “people changer” and not a “problem solver” and focused on bringing the Christian Gospel to rural communities. He took on the work of building the organization by encouraging diocesan rural life directors to be more active in the communities they served and increasing membership.

The conference website said that during his years with the organization he urged people not to give up on the rural church and insisted that food, land and other natural resources must be understood and treated as gifts from a loving God to meet the needs of all.

He worked with the conference headquarters, which were in Des Moines, Iowa, at the time, for six years until returning to the New Ulm Diocese as vicar general. Catholic Rural Life is now based in St. Paul.

In 1994, during a teleconference on connections between environmental justice and justice for poor people, Bishop McRaith said he he learned about “the sacredness of the land” while he was growing up.

“I grew to love the land and to know that there’s life there, and if you abuse it, you’ll eventually pay the price,”  he said to a national audience.

Bishop McRaith also served on the boards of Brescia University, the Daniel Pitino Shelter and McAuley Free Clinic, all in Owensboro, and Lourdes Hospital Foundation in Paducah.

A lodge on the grounds of the Gasper River Catholic Youth Camp and Retreat Center, near Bowling Green, was named for Bishop McRaith. He earlier had been instrumental in buying the land for the camp.

He was a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Stewardship, which wrote the bishops’ pastoral letter, “Stewardship: A Disciples’ Response.” He occasionally spoke around the country about the importance of stewardship in church life.

He was one of four Kentucky bishops in 2005 who issued a pastoral letter on economic justice calling for a “new commitment” to the state’s “poor and vulnerable.” The pastoral — titled “Economic Justice in 21st Century Kentucky: Holding Ourselves Accountable” — focused on the seven principles of Catholic social teaching and how they applied to a range of specific issues in the state.

Bishop McRaith was born Dec. 6, 1934, in a farming family and was one of four children. He graduated from St. Bernard Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa.

He is survived by one sister, Margaret Mary Madden, and several nieces and nephews.

As part of the memorial to Bishop McRaith, a tractor-pulled wagon was to process with his body from Glenn Funeral Home to St. Stephen Cathedral in Owensboro March 23.

A funeral Mass was to be celebrated March 24 by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, followed by burial at Mount St. Joseph in Maple Mount.

Category: Obituaries