By Mark Michael
The Rt. Rev. Russell Jacobus, a pastorally focused Anglo-Catholic who completed a lifetime of ministry in Wisconsin by serving for 19 years as Bishop of Fond du Lac, died October 24 at 79.
“Bishop Jacobus was a wonderful pastor and faithful bishop. He brought faithful change to the Diocese of Fond du Lac and (not least opening it to the ministry of female priests) and shepherded it through some challenging times with clarity, kindness, and good humor,” said Bishop Matt Gunter, his successor.
“I appreciated his counsel. He was a good steward of a healthy diocesan spirit, and I am grateful for his ministry.”
He was born in Milwaukee, and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee before preparing for the ministry at Nashotah House. Bishop Donald Hallock of the Diocese of Milwaukee ordained him in 1990, and he served three churches in greater Milwaukee.
Under his leadership, Grace/Holy Innocents Mission in Hartland was raised to parish status and renamed St. Anskar’s, and he served as rector of St. Matthias’ Church in Waukesha for 14 years. As a parish priest, he was active in ecumenical ministry, and served on the Waukesha’s Equal Opportunity Commission, as well as spiritual director of the Cursillo movement in the Diocese of Milwaukee.
Jacobus was elected as the seventh Bishop of Fond du Lac in 1994, and consecrated in Lawrence College Memorial Chapel in Appleton on May 24, the Feast of Jackson Kemper. During the walkabouts before his election, Jacobus had promised to be a pastoral bishop, and his gifts of pastoral counsel and generous hospitality were received gratefully by many of his clergy and helped to ensure stability in the diocese during the Episcopal Church’s most tumultuous years of conflict over human sexuality.
Under his leadership, Fond du Lac’s financial stability improved, with many diocesan-aided missions transitioning to self-support. He was deeply involved in the diocesan summer camp and pushed for the creation of a diocesan youth leader and new programs for vocational discernment and lay ministry training.
Jacobus took a principled conservative position in the conflicts that roiled the Episcopal Church in the aftermath of Gene Robinson’s consecration as Bishop of New Hampshire. He was a founding member of Communion Partners, a movement within the Episcopal Church that upholds traditional teaching and works for deeper unity within the Anglican Communion. In 2004, when tensions were especially high, he made a pastoral visit to each of his clergy for a chat over coffee during the season of Lent, a gesture that helped keep the diocese united despite significant theological differences.
The Rt. Rev. Edward Leidl, provisional Bishop of Eau Claire, and Jacobus led their neighboring dioceses through a multi-year process of discernment about juncture. The plan was eventually abandoned, after falling short of approval by two votes by the lay delegates of the Diocese of Fond du Lac in 2011. A similar plan, also including the Diocese of Milwaukee, which would create a single united diocese in Wisconsin, was approved October 21 by the conventions of the three dioceses. If approved in a second series of votes in the spring, it will be brought to General Convention for approval next summer.
In retirement, Bishop Jacobus and his wife of 55 years, Jerrie, made their home in Townsend, a village in the diocese, and he served in interim roles at St. Michael’s, Orlando, and St. Francis in the Fields, Harrods Creek, Kentucky. He is survived by his wife and three children, Penny, Elizabeth, and David.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. November 2 at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Fond du Lac, with Bishop Gunter presiding.