As word spread about the death of Cleveland Bishop emeritus Anthony M. Pilla, tributes were shared from within the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland and beyond. Bishop Pilla, the much-loved ninth bishop of the diocese and the first native son to lead it, died on Sept. 21 at age 88.
Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, shared these thoughts: “His Excellency, Anthony M. Pilla, bishop emeritus of Cleveland, passed away Sept. 21 at the age of 88. 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. I offer my prayers and sympathy to Bishop Pilla’s family, friends and the many people whose lives he touched through his ministry over the years as a priest, and then bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland. May the Lord grant him eternal rest.”
In a message sent to Bishop Edward M. Malesic, the American Jewish Committee Cleveland said: “On behalf of AJC Cleveland, we offer our deepest condolences to you and the Cleveland Diocese on the passing of Bishop Pilla. May you find great comfort in a life well lived and strength in both faith and community.
As you know, Bishop Pilla had a very deep and strong relationship with Cleveland’s Jewish community – and to AJC Cleveland. Over many years, he encouraged interfaith dialogue, understanding and joint action. We worked together on issues of great concern to our community, working to better the lives of all of our neighbors. Always thoughtful, the bishop was both humble and inspirational quietly guiding us to make this the community he knew we could and should be. With a wonderful sense of humor and grace, he was a cherished friend and partner.
Like you, we will miss him greatly. May his memory be for a blessing and a guide for us all.”
With deepest condolences, Lee C. Shapiro, regional director; Jill Zimon, president; Debbie Hoffmann, chair, community outreach, AJC Cleveland office.
Cleveland Bishop Edward M. Malesic: “It is with deep sadness that I share with the Catholic community of the Diocese of Cleveland the news of the passing this morning (Sept. 21) of Bishop Anthony M. Pilla. Bishop Pilla died peacefully at his personal residence. In my short time as the bishop of Cleveland I 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. As a leader in the national Church, Bishop Pilla was an inspiration and example to me throughout my priesthood and in my years as a bishop. I felt so welcomed by him when I came to the Diocese of Cleveland, a Church that he loved so much. As a leader in the community and a friend to so many, he will be greatly missed.
Please join me in offering prayers for Bishop Pilla and his family. May Bishop Pilla rest in the peace of Christ.”
Umberto P. Fedeli, founder and president of the Fedeli Group, one of the largest privately held risk management and insurance firms in the state and a close friend of Bishop Pilla: “It is with heavy hearts that we mourn the loss of our dear friend, Bishop Anthony Pilla. He was a bridge builder, working closely not only with the Catholic community, but with the entire community.
The bishop focused on what bound us, not what divided us. He loved the Cleveland community; and although very much loved his Italian heritage, he embraced, admired and respected all cultures and religions. Bishop Pilla truly understood the meaning of love.
He was the first bishop born and raised in Cleveland, that served as bishop of Cleveland for over a quarter-century.
We have lost a true legend. My personal relationship goes back decades. The bishop was a close ally, friend and spiritual advisor. We worked on many common goals and celebrated many special occasions. Bishop Pilla was a kind, compassionate, caring and loving man. He was a true man for others.
He served as the head of the National Conference of Bishops, which in effect, represented the 10s of millions of Catholics across America. The bishop enjoyed his meetings with the late great St. John Paul II. In fact, he also brought his dear mother along to celebrate Mass and dinner with the Holy Father. Bishop Pilla would often share many memories and his incredible words of wisdom with all.
Although we will miss him immensely, we take comfort in knowing where he is at.”
Father Mikhail E. Mikhail of St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church of Cleveland, Seven Hills, a personal friend of Bishop Pilla: “We received the news of Bishop Pilla’s passing today as if we had lost our own shepherd and father.
His loving care and friendship to us as a church community and as a family will always be cherished. His presence with us throughout the years will forever be part of our history. We recall his visits to St. Mark, the celebrations for Pope Shenouda and his visits to our home.
On behalf of St. Mark Church and our family, we all send our thanks to the Lord for the life of Bishop Pilla along with our condolences to the Diocese of Cleveland and all his family.”
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine: “Fran and I were saddened to learn of the death of Bishop Anthony Pilla. Bishop Pilla was a devoted servant of the Lord who cared deeply for the people of Northeast Ohio. He was one of them. And as bishop, his relationship with the people of the diocese was as personal and meaningful as the relationship between a parish priest and his congregation. He grew up in Cleveland and led the diocese for a quarter of a century. In addition, Bishop Pilla was president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 1995-1998 and was the second Ohioan and second non-cardinal/archbishop to lead the group. Bishop Pilla was a personal friend of Fran’s and mine, and we will miss him very much.”
Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson Perez, who served as the 11th bishop of Cleveland from September 2017 until January 2020: “Today, I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Most Rev. Anthony M. Pilla, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Cleveland, and reflect on the gift of his life with gratitude and admiration.
Bishop Pilla warmly welcomed me to Cleveland in 2017 when Pope Francis appointed me to serve as the 11th bishop of that diocese. During my time in Ohio, he became a close friend, wise advisor and constant model of what a bishop is called to be.
Although he retired in 2006, he continued to faithfully serve the Church and her people in his hometown. His love and passion for the priesthood and for Cleveland was evident in all that he did to serve others.
Together with the bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated religious and lay faithful of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, I extend the prayerful sympathy and condolences to Bishop Pilla’s family and many friends as well as the priests, religious, and lay faithful of the Diocese of Cleveland. May God grant him the gift of eternal life and give peace and consolation to all those who loved, admired, and respected him.”
Father Luigi Miola, a longtime friend of Bishop Pilla and pastor of St. Martin of Tours Parish in Maple Heights, often accompanied the bishop emeritus to events. Recently, they were at the feast of the Assumption at Holy Rosary Church in Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood, where they both grew up. He shared this: “We were walking through the crowd after Mass and people asked him to pray or asked for a blessing for their baby or themselves. He stopped for each one. He was a very kind man. In his homily that day, he told the story about being worried when he needed additional surgery after his 1997 heart operation. He said his mother came to the hospital to visit him and told him not to worry. ‘I talked to your (late) father last night and you’ll be OK,’ she said. After that, the bishop said he slept like a baby and everything was fine.
He was an important man for a lot of people and he did much for the schools.”
Hundreds of others shared thoughts, prayers and tributes on social media.
One woman recalled a time when she was a student at Saint Joseph Academy in Cleveland and had to do a group project about the sacrament of holy orders. “What better source of information than the bishop, she said. The woman, who has a daughter at SJA now, said her theology teacher encouraged her to contact Bishop Pilla, but was pessimistic about the outcome. “When I called the bishop’s office and explained the project, he consented to an interview without hesitation. He carved out time from his day for three students from SJA to come down and ask him a lot of questions. I was always very impressed by that experience. No pompous attitude about him. No one really wants to talk to teenagers and he didn’t hesitate.”
Bishop Pilla’s wake begins with vespers at 3 p.m. Sept. 27 in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in downtown Cleveland. The wake continues until 7 p.m.
Bishop Malesic will be the main celebrant of the funeral Mass at 11 a.m. Sept. 27 in the cathedral. Interment will be in Resurrection Chapel in the cathedral.
Both vespers and the funeral Mass will be livestreamed on the diocesan website.