In Memoriam: Bishop James Montgomery, 1921-2019

October 23, 2019

The Eucharist for the Burial of the Dead for Bishop James W. Montgomery was held November 4 at St. James Cathedral. The service bulletin, audio, and sermon are available online. Bishop Montgomery was buried at Old Chapel Cemetery in Boyce, Virginia.

October 23, 2019

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ: 

I write today with sad news. Bishop James Montgomery, ninth bishop of Chicago, died today at home after a short illness. He was 98 years old. I will preside at a solemn celebration of the Eucharist for the Burial of the Dead at St. James Cathedral in November. We will share more information as soon as it is available.

Jim was a true son of Chicago. He was born here on May 29, 1921 to James Edward Montgomery and Evelyn Winchester Montgomery, the daughter of the Rt. Rev. James Winchester, bishop of Arkansas from 1911-1931. He grew up in Rogers Park and attended Sullivan High School and Northwestern University. After service as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he entered General Theological Seminary and was graduated and ordained priest and deacon by Bishop Wallace E. Conkling, seventh bishop of Chicago, in 1949.

Jim served his entire ordained ministry in the Diocese of Chicago. After two years as curate at St. Luke’s in Evanston, he served eleven years as rector of St. John the Evangelist in Flossmoor, during which time he was dean of the Chicago-South deanery and served at various times on Diocesan Council, the Cathedral Chapter, and the Standing Committee. In 1962, he was elected bishop suffragan, and in 1965, was elected bishop coadjutor. He became the ninth bishop of Chicago on October 2, 1971.

Both as a priest and a bishop, Jim’s service to the wider church was exemplary. He was a deputy to two General Conventions, a trustee of the General Theological Seminary, Nashotah House, Seabury-Western Seminary—all of which awarded him honorary doctorates—as well as, the Church Pension Fund, Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Hospital and many other community institutions and organizations.

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. Bishop Frank Griswold, his successor, told the Chicago Tribune in 1987 that Jim had led our diocese through “probably its most difficult period in the history of the Episcopal Church—the ordination of women and the drastic revision in the liturgy … He was able by the sheer force of his personality to keep the diocese very much together.” He did so not by evading difficult issues, but by facing them with generosity and a deep pastoral heart. “Never be so concerned with institutional success or economic security that you lose sight of the world in which we live,” he once wrote.

It is a great honor to occupy the same seat as such a gracious man, and I will miss him and his kindness to me a great deal. From the time of my nomination and before my election as bishop, I received regular notes from Jim, full of encouragement and the assurance of his prayers for me and my family. Those notes and his prayers have continued to uphold me through these past years. His example of faithful prayerfulness is a model for all of us who are called to serve God’s people.

Just before his retirement in 1987, Jim wrote, “On the day of my election, in 1962, I promised that I would do my best, with God’s help, to be faithful to the task He gave me to do, and I asked for your prayers. I hope that I have tried to do my best, but I know that you have held me in your prayers. These have not been easy years. Often we have had disagreements in the household of God over various issues. But I always knew that our love for the Lord Jesus Christ was the bond that united us, and in the end would transcend our differences.”

It gives me joy that Jim lived to see the Diocese of Chicago thriving and unified through the love of Christ that sustained him throughout his entire life. Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon him.

In Christ, 

The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee
Bishop of Chicago

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