Former Bishop of Long Island Robert Campbell Witcher dies at 94 – Episcopal News Service


Right Reverend Robert Witcher. Photo: Diocese of Long Island

[Diocese of Long Island] Right Reverend Robert Campbell Witcher, former bishop of Long Island, died on June 14 at the age of 94. Witcher became Diocesan Bishop of Long Island in 1977 after serving as Coadjutor Bishop since his consecration and ordination in 1975. He was 14-year-old bishop, retired in 1991.

His family held a private funeral on June 18 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“Bishop Witcher was a kind, gentle and holy man of God,” said Rt. Rev. Lawrence Provenzano, current
Bishop of Long Island. “He faced the challenges of his time with great dignity and grace. He provided an unwavering form of pastoral leadership and guided the diocese through some of the most difficult times in its history. We offer our prayers to his family and especially to his wife, Alice.

“We thank them for years of selfless service to the clergy and the people of Long Island. They will be remembered in our prayers and in the midst of our liturgies this coming week. “

The diocese will be hosting a memorial service for Witcher at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City in the coming weeks. Information will be sent as soon as the plans are finalized.

Witcher was elected coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Long Island on November 18, 1974. He was consecrated on April 7, 1976 and became the sixth bishop of Long Island in 1977, succeeding Bishop Jonathan Goodhue Sherman.

Witcher was particularly concerned about the Diocesan Commission on Ministry and the Need to Serve Retired Clergy. He expanded social reach through health care and affordable housing, led the Nehemiah Interfaith Housing Department in Brooklyn, and established a ministry office for the elderly. He was instrumental in founding parishes for West Indian, Latino and Asian immigrants.

In 1988, Witcher participated in efforts to free Western hostages in Lebanon. He contacted Iranian officials after five Kurds from Iran were sent to the diocese’s St. John’s Episcopal Hospital for treatment after Iraqi gas attacks.

Although personally opposed to the ordination of women, Witcher strategically entrusted the ordination process to Bishop Orris Walker, who was elected coadjutor in 1987. Reverend Noreen Mooney, one of the first three women ordained a priest to Long Island said she hoped Witcher will be remembered “… for the very gracious and dignified manner of a statesman in which he moved the diocese forward without giving up his own outlook.”

Witcher was a member of the Church Episcopal Council for Ministry Development and chaired its committee on canonical revisions in 1987 which focused on the ministry of all baptized people.

He has also served as a director of General Theological Seminary, Church Pension Fund and Seabury-Western Seminary.

In 1989, Witcher called a diocesan conference on “Economic Justice Through Investments” and spoke about the theology behind a call for an economic justice program. That same year, he was appointed by the presiding bishop to serve as interim bishop for the armed forces.

Witcher was from Louisiana. Born in 1926, he grew up in New Orleans, where his family was a member of Grace Church. At 16, he briefly entered Tulane University before enlisting in the Navy V-5 program, in which he served until the end of World War II. Sensing a call to ordained ministry, he returned to Tulane and, after graduating, spent three years at Seabury-Western Seminary in Illinois. He was ordained a deacon at Christ Church Cathedral, New Orleans, July 6, 1952, and ordained a priest in St. James, Baton Rouge, June 1, 1953.

As a priest in Louisiana he established three rural parishes and in New Orleans served the cathedral as a canon pastor. Then he was called to be rector of St. James, Baton Rouge, but was also able to devote time to the diocese and the church at large. He was chairman of the Standing Committee and a member of the General Convention from 1964 to 1974. He also continued his graduate studies at Louisiana State University, earning a master’s degree in 1960 and a doctorate in history in 1968.

Witcher is survived by his wife, Alice; children, Elisabeth and Robert; and several grandchildren.

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