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James W. Montgomery, IX Bishop of Chicago, 1921-2019

By Kirk Petersen

The Rt. Rev. James W. Montgomery, who served as a bishop in the Diocese of Chicago during 25 often-tumultuous years, passed away October 23 at the age of 98 after a short illness, the diocese announced. He was the Episcopal Church’s second oldest bishop at the time of his death.

Montgomery spent his entire ordained ministry in the Diocese of Chicago. He was elected a suffragan bishop in 1962, bishop coadjutor in 1965, then served as bishop diocesan from 1971 to 1987. He was succeeded by Bishop Frank Griswold, who went on to become presiding bishop.

His episcopacy encompassed the wrenching social conflict of the 1960s, the Vietnam War, and the police riot of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. In church matters, he saw the diocese through the ordination of women and the introduction of the 1979 prayer book.

He opposed the ordination of women, but after General Convention voted in 1976 to approve it, he issued a statement saying that the ordination of women “has been given to the Episcopal Church, for good or ill, to test, to see whether it is of God or not.” He said Suffragan Bishop Quintin E. Primo would officiate at any such ordinations.

As for the 1979 prayer book, Bishop Montgomery served as chairman of the Drafting Committee and was a strong proponent of its introduction.

In announcing Bishop Montgomery’s death, current Bishop of Chicago Jeffrey D. Lee said: “His resume could rival that of any bishop of the church, but those of us who knew Jim will remember best his deep faith and commitment to the sacramental life, and his clear-eyed love for the people of our diocese in the face of sweeping social change.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported:

In the 1960s, he chaired the Chicago Conference on Religion and Race. He offered St. James as a neutral meeting place for Mayor Richard J. Daley and civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. And he pushed for equal housing and brokered talks between King and Chicago realtors.

In 1975, he permitted gay members of the church to use St. James Cathedral for a national gathering. In the late 1980s, as broadcast networks wrestled with whether to allow condom advertising as a way to prevent AIDS, Bishop Montgomery said he “would not be opposed to anything that would help in the fight against AIDS.”

Bishop Lee will preside at a solemn Eucharist for the Burial of the Dead at St. James Cathedral in November, on a date to be determined.


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