Five Bishops of Baton RougeThe Bishops of Baton Rouge
The First Bishop of Baton Rouge was Robert Emmet Tracy, a native of New Orleans, Louisiana, born there on September 14, 1909. He was educated in the Catholic schools and seminaries of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and was ordained a priest on June 12, 1932. His ministry as a priest focused especially on the young: he served as Chaplain to Catholic students at Tulane University from 1941 to 1946, as Archdiocesan Director of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine from 1938 to 1946, and as Chaplain at the Catholic Student Center at Louisiana State University from 1946 until his ordination as Auxiliary Bishop of Lafayette in 1958. On July 20, 1961, the new Diocese of Baton Rouge was established by Blessed Pope John XXIII, and Bishop Tracy was installed as its first Bishop on November 8 of that year. From 1962 to 1965, he participated in the Second Vatican Council in Rome; on October 24, 1963, he addressed the Council in the name of the American episcopacy on the subject of racial equality.
His leadership during the first years of the Diocese was inspired by the Conciliar vision of the Church as the People of God, with clergy, religious, and laity striving together to do the work of the Lord. He established a full consultative process as an integral part of the diocesan administration, and encouraged laity and religious to join with the priests in sharing responsibility for the mission of the Church. To facilitate this, he oversaw the construction of the "Catholic Life Center" as a model administrative, educational, and service-oriented building. Bishop Tracy also supervised the complete renovation of St. Joseph Cathedral in harmony with the spirit of the renewed liturgy.
Bishop Tracy resigned his See and retired in 1974. He died on April 4, 1980. Archbishop Philip Matthew Hannan of New Orleans served as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Baton Rouge following Bishop Tracy's resignation, until the appointment of the Second Bishop of Baton Rouge, Joseph Vincent Sullivan.
Bishop Sullivan was born on August 15, 1919, in Kansas City, Missouri. After Catholic schooling and seminary formation in both Missouri and Washington, DC, he was ordained a priest on June 1, 1946. He was awarded a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from The Catholic University of America in 1949. As a priest of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, he held various pastoral and administrative positions, including Superintendent of Schools and Chancellor. He was ordained to the episcopacy on April 3, 1967, serving as Auxiliary Bishop and Vicar General of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
Appointed Bishop of Baton Rouge by Pope Paul VI, he took possession of the See on September 4, 1974. His principal concern as Bishop was to foster traditional ecclesiology and doctrine, and he vigorously promoted Catholic schools within the Diocese. He was a vocal leader in the "Pro-Life Movement," and worked with special zeal in opposition to legalized abortion and euthanasia.
Bishop Sullivan died on September 4, 1982. The Vicar General of the Diocese, the late Monsignor Cage Gordon, then served as temporary Administrator for almost seven months.
On March 25, 1983, Bishop Stanley Joseph Ott was installed as the Third Bishop of Baton Rouge. Born in Gretna, Louisiana, on June 29, 1927, he was educated in Catholic elementary and high schools in the New Orleans area until he entered the seminary. His priestly formation was obtained at St. Joseph Seminary in St. Benedict, Louisiana, Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, and the North American College in Rome. He was ordained to the priesthood in Rome on December 8, 1951, and in 1954 was awarded a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Gregorian University there. As a young priest Bishop Ott was assigned as assistant Chaplain at the Catholic Student Center at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge from 1957 to 1961, where he served with Bishop Tracy. Later, after the establishment of the Diocese of Baton Rouge in 1961, Bishop Tracy appointed him as Officialis (Judicial Vicar) of the Diocese, with residence at St. Joseph Cathedral. He became Chancellor of the Diocese in 1966, and Rector of the Cathedral two years later. During his many years as a priest in Baton Rouge he served in a variety of other capacities.
Pope Paul VI promoted him to the episcopacy as Auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans, and he was ordained a Bishop on June 29, 1976 in St. Louis Cathedral there. He then served for more than six years as archdiocesan Vicar General.
Bishop Ott was named third Bishop of Baton Rouge on January 18, 1983 by Pope John Paul II, and was "welcomed back to Baton Rouge" with great enthusiasm by clergy, religious, and laity alike. He immediately called for each Parish in the Diocese to make an effort at spiritual renewal, urged greater opportunities for lay ministry within the diocese, and oversaw the reorganization of the Presbyteral Council and other diocesan structures in line with the revised Code of Canon Law, insisting that they respond more effectively to the needs of the people of God. Bishop Ott maintained a highly visible personal ministry in the Diocese, tirelessly speaking about but also demonstrating by his actions the Good News of Christ. He was elected by the bishops of the United States as one of the delegates to the world Synod of Bishops in Rome in 1987, which had as its topic "The Role of the Laity in the Church and in the World." His zealous participation in various ecumenical activities also proved to be a ministry which enabled him to reach across denominational boundaries.
Diagnosed with inoperable cancer in the spring of 1991, Bishop Ott gave unique personal witness to the Faith by his manner of dying as well. Thousands were inspired by his good cheer and ongoing ministry as he grew physically weaker. He was recognized by persons of all religious backgrounds as both shepherd and friend. He succumbed on November 28, 1992.
Father John Carville, who as Vicar General had gradually shouldered more and more of the diocesan administrative burden as Bishop Ott's health failed, then was elected to serve as diocesan Administrator. He held this post for just under a year.
On September 7, 1993, the appointment of Bishop Alfred Clifton Hughes as Fourth Bishop of Baton Rouge was announced. Born on December 2, 1932, Bishop Hughes was educated in public schools in his native Boston, Massachusetts, until he entered the seminary, attending St. John Seminary College in Brighton, Massachusetts, and the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Boston on December 15, 1957. Bishop Hughes went on to earn a Doctorate in Sacred Theology, with a special emphasis in spiritual theology, from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 1961. He then returned to begin a long career at St. John Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts, where he served for almost 24 years first as a professor of philosophy and spirituality, and later as Spiritual Director and eventually Rector. He was ordained Auxiliary Bishop of Boston on September 14, 1981. After his term as seminary Rector ended, he served for four years as Regional Bishop of the Merrimack Region of the Archdiocese of Boston. In 1990 he was appointed Vicar General and Vicar of Administration there.
Bishop Hughes was installed as Baton Rouge's fourth bishop on November 4, 1993. He immediately became a highly visible and respected witness to the Catholic Faith in south central Louisiana. Under his episcopal leadership special emphasis was given to promoting the new Catechism of the Catholic Church in parishes and schools; the diocesan Vocations Office was reorganized to increase efforts at promoting priestly and religious life; and renewed efforts at combating racism and the roots of despair among the very poor were advanced. Bishop Hughes personally and on television offered a number of on-going series of adult education classes on various topics, seeking to make the richness of the Catholic Faith accessible to and appreciated by more and more of the faithful. He initiated a comprehensive Strategic Planning Process out of which long-range planning to meet the challenges of the future might be effectively made.
On February 16, 2001, Pope John Paul II transferred Bishop Hughes to be the Coadjutor Archbishop of New Orleans, which post he assumed on May 2, 2001. He became Metropolitan Archbishop of New Orleans on January 3, 2002, and retired from that post on June 12, 2009.
Again Father John Carville, who continued to serve as Vicar General under Bishop Hughes, was elected to serve as diocesan Administrator during the vacancy of the See.
On December 15, 2001, the transfer of Bishop Robert W. Muench of Covington to the See of Baton Rouge was announced. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, on December 28, 1942, Bishop Muench was raised in New Orleans, and originally was incardinated in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, where he served for 28 years in many different capacities, including Rector of the high school seminary there, Vocations Director, Co-Pastor, Moderator of the Curia, Vicar General, and Auxiliary Bishop. He is a graduate of St. Joseph Seminary College in St. Benedict, Louisiana, and also attended Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans; he finished his theological seminary studies and received a Master’s degree in Education (guidance and counseling) from The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. He was ordained to the priesthood on June 18, 1968, and to the episcopacy on June 29, 1990. He served as Bishop of Covington, in Kentucky just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, from March 19, 1996, until his installation as the Fifth bishop of Baton Rouge on March 14, 2002.
Bishop Muench's first action as bishop was to re-appoint Father John Carville as Vicar General. From his first homily at his installation Mass to (it can safely be said) his most recent words at whatever diocesan or parochial event he has appeared, he has spread the message of Christ's redeeming love with his characteristic good humor and enthusiasm.
Since the day he was installed, Bishop Muench has paid special attention to the Church's ministry to young people. In addition to his presiding over the parish celebrations of the sacrament of confirmation whenever possible, he has appointed chaplains at all eight Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Baton Rouge. He regularly visits each high school, spending the day in conversation - invariably with his infectious laughter! - with the students and faculty on campus. He has insisted that the Diocese of Baton Rouge remain a leader in the effort to end the evil of child abuse and provide a safe environment for all children and young people, especially within the structures of the Church. He serves on the Board of Trustees of both Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans and St. Joseph Seminary College in St. Benedict, Louisiana. He meets monthly with the diocesan Presbyteral Council and Finance Council, and five times each year with diocesan department heads. He visits parishes and schools whenever possible for various functions. He has continued the gradual implementation of the diocesan Strategic Plan for increased evangelization and ministry. He completed the "parochial visitation" program established by his predecessor, Archbishop Hughes, and has taken special interest in promoting vocations to the diocesan priesthood. A particular concern of his has been the provision of regular opportunities for sacramental reconciliation on the campuses of the eight diocesan Catholic high schools.
In 2007 he accepted Father John Carville's retirement as Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, and appointed Father Than Ngoc Vu to succeed him in these posts.
As Bishop Muench and the people of God of the Diocese of Baton Rouge move into the future together, he is the first to say he is dependent upon the grace of God Himself for guidance and strength in the awesome task of bishop in the challenging times of the 21st century. Yet his prayers for his flock are more than matched by the prayerful and generous love of the Christian faithful for their shepherd, and so the building up of Christ's Kingdom here continues under his leadership. Ad multos annos!