By Kirk Petersen

The Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, the retired VI Bishop of Los Angeles, died suddenly of natural causes on April 23, the Diocese of Los Angeles announced. He was 74.

“Let us give abundant thanks for a legacy that will live long in our diocese,” his successor, the Rt. Rev. John H. Taylor, wrote in the announcement. He gave thanks for “Bishop Bruno’s commitment to multicultural and polylingual ministry, his advocacy for inclusion and equity for all people regardless of orientation and identification, and the visionary Seeds of Hope ministry he co-founded, which has helped bear tens of thousands of our neighbors through the pandemic with its food and education programs.”

Bruno served nearly two decades as a bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles, beginning as coadjutor in 1999 and as diocesan in 2002. It is the fourth-largest diocese in the Church, with more than 120 congregations in a six-county area.

Despite his many accomplishments, no description of Bruno’s episcopacy could be complete without acknowledging that it ended under a cloud of disciplinary action.

In July 2017, a church Hearing Panel ruled that Bruno should be suspended from ordained ministry for three years, for misrepresenting facts and for “conduct unbecoming of a member of the clergy,” after two years of conflict between Bruno and a congregation in the diocese. Bruno appealed the ruling, and the appeal enabled him to remain in office until he retired in November 2017. The Court of Review for Bishops upheld the suspension in late January 2019.

The dispute involved a mission station then known as St. James the Great of Newport Beach. Despite its mission status, the congregation occupied a massive, 40,000-square-foot complex on prime real estate overlooking an island of affluence 40 miles south of Los Angeles.

St. James Church | Google Earth

Built in the 1940s, the church spent a few years in Anglican hands during the schism of the early 2000s. After winning back the property through litigation, Bruno allowed a priest and a small group of worshippers in 2013 to try to rebuild an Episcopal congregation there.

But even as the Rev. Cindy Voorhees and her parishioners were investing time and money in the effort, Bruno was secretly planning to sell the property.

In May 2015 he told the stunned congregation that the church had been sold for $15 million to a developer who was going to bulldoze it and build luxury housing. As tensions rose, he ordered the locks changed in June, thus beginning a three-year nomadic period for Voorhees and her flock, who continued to worship in rented spaces.

Voorhees did not mention Bruno’s death during the church’s Sunday service on April 25, which can be viewed online. [Update: Voorhees subsequently told TLC that she notified the congregation about Bruno’s passing by email the evening before.] The congregation, now known as St. James, has grown to a pre-pandemic weekly attendance of 140, and is applying this month for full parish status.

Joseph Jon Bruno was born in Los Angeles on November 17, 1946, and was raised as a Roman Catholic. After graduating from California State University, Los Angeles, where he was a standout football player, he served as a police officer in Burbank, California.

The Los Angeles Times reported that while he was on the police force in 1969, he shot and killed a man who had fired a pistol at him and other police.

“Although the shooting was ruled justifiable — the Magnolia Park Optimist club even honored Bruno for meritorious service — he was profoundly troubled by it. For a year, he relived the shooting in recurring dreams. Finally an Episcopal priest led him through a penance exercise and gave him absolution, and the dreams stopped.”

He attended Virginia Theological Seminary, and in 1978 was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Robert C. Rusack in the Diocese of Los Angeles. He served churches in California and Oregon before becoming rector of St. Athanasius Church in the Echo Park section of Los Angeles in 1986. On that site, Bruno was the driving force behind the development of the Cathedral Center of St. Paul. In 1996, Bishop Frederick H. Borsch named Bruno the first provost of the Cathedral Center. In 2002, Bruno succeeded Borsch as Bishop of Los Angeles, having been elected bishop coadjutor in 1999.

Bruno faced serious health challenges during his episcopacy. In 2005, his left foot and ankle were amputated to stop a staph infection, and he underwent extensive chemotherapy in 2012 for leukemia, which he later announced was in remission.

He is survived by Mary, his wife of 35 years; two adult children and a step-son; and nine grandchildren. Mary Bruno was at her husband’s side when he died, and she released a statement:

“Our family and the many others who knew and loved Jon have been blessed with his magnificent life. We are gladdened to know that he has been greeted by St. Peter and is in the loving hands of God. We ask that our family is included in your prayers and our privacy respected in this time of grief.”

Funeral arrangements are pending.