Retired Bishop Anthony M. Pilla

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Retired Bishop Anthony M. Pilla, who headed the Diocese of Cleveland for 25 years and also served as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, died Sept. 21. He was 88.

Bishop Edward C. Malesic of Cleveland announced Bishop Pilla’s death in a statement, saying the native Clevelander died at his home.

A Funeral Mass was celebrated by Bishop Malesic Sept. 28 at St. John the Evangelist Cathedral in Cleveland. Interment was in Resurrection Chapel at the cathedral.

After being installed as bishop of Cleveland in September 2020, Bishop Malesic said he came to know Bishop Pilla “as a very warm, kind-hearted and deeply faithful shepherd, always dedicated to the people of the diocese.”

“He was generous with his time and sharing his knowledge and concern for the diocese with me,” Bishop Malesic said.

Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, offered prayers and sympathy to Bishop Pilla’s family, friends and those touched by his years of ministry in the Cleveland Diocese.

“He led the bishops’ conference in the 1990s as president, and those who worked with him have expressed that his deep love for the Church was evident through his faithful commitment and desire for unity within the Church which he expressed through his pastoral leadership of the conference,” Archbishop Gomez said in a statement Sept. 22.

Bishop Pilla’s love of his hometown and desire to serve people of all faiths and backgrounds became a hallmark of his 25 years as the spiritual leader of the Cleveland Diocese.

He became one of Cleveland’s most powerful voices for peace and reconciliation through the partnerships he built with business, neighborhood groups and interreligious leaders. His Church in the City initiative sought to build ties among parishes in the inner cities and outlying areas of the diocese.

Bishop Pilla often expressed the belief that vibrant parish communities were vital parts of city neighborhoods and he devoted strong efforts to prevent parishes from closing.

He served on the bishops’ committees on Finance and Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and became chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Follow-up for the Pastoral on the Economy.

He became the conference’s treasurer in 1990, its vice president in 1992 and its president in 1995.

Born to Italian parents, he grew up in a working-class neighborhood of Cleveland. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1959. He served in parish ministry and joined the faculty of Borromeo Seminary in Cleveland in 1960. He was named rector of Borromeo in 1972 and appointed secretary for services and religious personnel of the diocese in 1975.

He became a bishop in 1979, when St. John Paul II named him an auxiliary bishop of Cleveland. He was named the ninth bishop of Cleveland in November 1980 and was installed Jan. 6, 1981. He retired in 2006, citing health concerns. —CNS