“He encountered Jesus Christ in such a way that was so powerful that he entrusted his life to the service of the world,” Bishop Nelson Perez said of the late Bishop Richard Lennon, his predecessor as bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland.
Bishop Perez presided at the Nov. 4 vespers that began Bishop Lennon’s wake in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. Bishop Lennon, who died Oct. 29 at age 72, retired on Dec. 28, 2016 due to ongoing health issues.
“I didn’t know him well,” Bishop Perez said, “but he was a true servant of the Church.” When he would visit Bishop Lennon, Bishop Perez said he “offered glimpses of what was in his soul. He told me, ‘I only really wanted to be a priest,’” Bishop Perez said, adding, “That’s something my brother priests and I can relate to.”
The bishop said during their visits, Bishop Lennon displayed “an incredible love for the Church. He had profound obedience and submission to the will of God. And sometimes that obedience came at a great cost to him personally. A young man who only wanted to be a priest had to take the helm of a Church in great crisis, in difficult, heart-wrenching circumstances,” Bishop Perez said.
“He helped the Church of Boston at a difficult time and he told me he was never the same. Only the Lord knew what that meant,” he added.
“In Cleveland, he had joys and challenges, but he was courageous and steadfast, submitting his heart and will to the Lord. He was courageous, obedient and submissive to the will of God and devoted to his call,” the bishop said.
Bishop Lennon did was he was asked “because it was for the good of the Church,” Bishop Perez said. “He loved the Church with passion, dedication and humility.
During his illness, Bishop Perez said he never heard Bishop Lennon complain. “He knew where he was in the journey and he accepted what God called him to.”
“Today, we gather in gratitude and we ask him to pray for us,” Bishop Perez said, adding that those we love who are no longer with us on earth, “are with us forever.”
Vespers -- evening prayer for the dead -- included prayers, psalms, songs a reading, intercessions and a homily. Bishop emeritus Anthony Pilla, who preceded Bishop Lennon as shepherd of the diocese, Auxiliary Bishop emeritus Roger Gries, dozens of priests and deacons from the eight-county diocese, as well as some members of the Lennon family, friends, religious sisters, diocesan employees and other members of the community attended vespers and paid their respects to the late bishop.
Bishop Lennon’s wake continued until 7 p.m. Nov. 4. He will lie in state from 8:30-10:45 a.m. Nov. 5. Bishop Perez will celebrate his funeral Mass at 11 a.m. and Bishop Christopher Coyne of the Diocese of Burlington, Vermont, a friend of Bishop Lennon, will be the homilist. The late bishop will be interred in Resurrection Chapel in the cathedral, with other deceased bishops of the diocese.
Bishop Lennon served as the 10th bishop of Cleveland from May 2006 until Pope Francis granted him early retirement in December 2016.
A native of Arlington, Massachusetts, Bishop Lennon was ordained a priest in May 1973 for service to the Archdiocese of Boston. He served in several capacities in the archdiocese before being named an auxiliary bishop by Pope Benedict XVI in 2001. The late bishop was dedicated to first responders, especially firefighters, and was a fire department chaplain prior to his ordination as a bishop.
He served as apostolic administrator of the archdiocese from December 2002 until July 2003, when a new archbishop was named, and then served as vicar general and moderator of the curia until his appointment as bishop of Cleveland.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Catholic Community Foundation, 1404 E. Ninth St., Cleveland, 44114, or to the Daughters of St. Paul, 50 St. Paul’s Ave., Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, 02130. Bishop Lennon was very close to the congregation of nuns and previously served as their chaplain.