Beloved Former Bishop Dies at 79
Dudley Spent 17 Years at Helm of Sioux Falls Diocese
By Jill Callison
November 22, 2006
Roman Catholics and Protestants are mourning the loss of a church leader described by those who knew him as a true pastor, a holy man and a shepherd.
Bishop Paul Dudley, who led the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls from 1978 to 1995 as its sixth bishop, died Monday in St. Paul, nine days before his 80th birthday.
Dudley's family said he died of lung disease.
"He was one of the most authentic people I've ever known," said the Rev. Greg Tschakert of St. Mary Parish in Aberdeen. "I would characterize Bishop Dudley as a holy man."
Kitty Wilka, a member of St. Lambert Parish in Sioux Falls, called Dudley "a true shepherd."
"He was not the kind of person who was impressed by money," Wilka said. "He treated everyone, I thought, very, very equally in that respect."
Bishop Norman Eitrheim, retired head of the South Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said Dudley reached out to people of all faiths.
"He was really a leader as far as ecumenical relations were concerned," Eitrheim said. "He was a true pastor in every way. He was always himself, always caring."
Dudley had been ill for much of the spring and summer and was unable to attend the Oct. 26 ordination and installation of the current bishop of the Sioux Falls diocese, Paul Swain.
"In my short time as bishop here, I can attest to the great love the people of this diocese have for Bishop Dudley," Swain said.
Dudley, a Minnesota native, was ordained into the priesthood in 1951. He spent the first 25 years of his priesthood in pastoral work at Twin Cities-area churches, even though he had hoped to serve a rural parish, where he thought he would feel most comfortable.
He became an auxiliary bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 1976 and was ordained as a bishop in 1977. His appointment to the Sioux Falls diocese was one of the first by Pope John Paul II.
When he retired, Dudley returned to the family farm near Northfield but continued to say Mass daily, conduct retreats, fill in for vacationing priests and preside at confirmation Masses.
The day after Dudley's death, Sister Colman Coakley recalled Dudley's love for the elderly as he helped build Prince of Peace retirement community in Sioux Falls.
"He was a very prayerful man," said the Presentation sister, who lives in Sioux Falls. "He always thought of others before himself."
Mike Bannwarth of Sioux Falls met Dudley in the late 1980s, when Bannwarth and his wife became involved in the Worldwide Marriage Encounter program.
"Everybody just warmed up when they saw him," Bannwarth said. "It was amazing at how he remembered people and knew you from the first time he met you."
Dudley's concern for social justice still can be seen in Sioux Falls. As bishop, he helped develop several ecumenical ministries that serve the poor such as The Banquet feeding ministry and the Good Shepherd Center for the homeless.
"He was one of the moving forces," said Tschakert, who was ordained a priest by Dudley. "He was a real visionary that way."
Others echoed that sentiment.
"I was thinking about how he influenced my life," Jerry Klein, chancellor of the Sioux Falls diocese, said Tuesday. "I don't think that was uncommon; he influenced so many lives."
Bishop Robert Carlson, Dudley's successor in the Sioux Falls diocese and now leader of the Saginaw, Mich., diocese, said he had known Dudley for almost 50 years, first as a parish priest.
"I wish to express my deep appreciation for the gift of his life and my thankfulness for the wonderful way he lived out his priesthood," Carlson said.
Dudley's retirement was marred in 2002 when a former altar boy and two women accused him of sexual abuse years earlier in Minnesota. Dudley denied the charges, and a six-month investigation by the Church - which was independently reviewed by a retired judge - cleared him.
"I will continue to pray for the comfort and healing of the accusers," he said at the time.
One of 10 children, Dudley is survived by one brother, John Dudley, Northfield, and nieces and nephews.
His funeral will be Nov. 29 at St. Paul Cathedral in St. Paul, on what would have been his 80th birthday. A memorial Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral in Sioux Falls will be 5:30 p.m. Nov. 30.
Reach reporter Jill Callison at 331-2307.
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