The Rev. Richard Lennon, who served the eight-county Catholic Diocese of Cleveland for more than a decade, died Tuesday, Oct. 29 at age 72.
Upon stepping down in December 2016, Lennon said he had been diagnosed with vascular dementia, a condition in which reduced blood flow to the brain interferes with reasoning and memory.
“In his service to the diocese, Bishop Lennon showed a deep dedication to the faithful governance of the diocese and a tremendous love of the Church and the people he shepherded,” said Nelson Perez, who succeeded Lennon as bishop. “May the Lord grant him eternal rest.”
His wake began with vespers Monday afternoon. A funeral Mass was held Tuesday at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Cleveland.
Lennon grew up in Massachusetts, where he was an altar boy, and graduated from St. John’s Seminary in 1969. He later earned master’s degrees in sacramental theology and church history.
In the late-1980s, he criticized Boston auxiliary bishop William Murphy for funding job placement for priests accused of sexually abusing children. When Bernard Law resigned as Archbishop of Boston in 2002 amid the continuing abuse scandal, Lennon served as administrator of the archdiocese until a successor was named.
Lennon was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in May 2006 to serve nearly 800,000 Catholics in Northeast Ohio.
At the time, the church faced a shortage of priests and declining church attendance.
As a result, in 2008, Lennon announced plans to close at least 30 parishes in Cleveland and Lorain, including Holy Cross and Sacred Heart of Jesus in Elyria, and SS. Cyril Methodius, St. Joseph, St. Ladislaus and St. Stanislaus in Lorain. Mergers were announced for Holy Trinity, St. John the Baptist, St. Mary, and St. Vitus, all in Lorain.
The sweeping closures drew criticism from Cleveland City Council members and others, and some Catholics sought review of Lennon’s decisions by the Congregation of Bishops.
After a rare investigation by the Vatican in 2011, the closings of 13 churches were reversed the following year.
It wasn’t until after Lennon’s tenure that other consolidation among Lorain County parishes happened, including the sharing of a priest at Sacred Heart in Oberlin and St. Patrick in Wellington; as well as at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in South Amherst and St. Joseph in Amherst.
Father Frank Kosem, retired priest of the St. Jude Church in Elyria, said Lennon is “in peace now.”
Kosem said Lennon was a man who loved the church, and worked very hard — maybe too hard.
“His heart was in the right place,” Kosem said. “He had to make some hard decisions; he did what he thought he had to.”
Jason Hawk, Vince Guerrieri and Laina Yost contributed to this story, which also includes details from wire reports.