ST. PAUL -- Archbishop John Roach, who led the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for 20 years, died Friday of heart failure. He was 81.
Roach, the first Minnesota native to lead the archdiocese, died shortly after noon at Little Sisters of the Poor, also known as the Holy Family Residence, in St. Paul. He had been having trouble breathing for months.
"I considered him to be a man of deep integrity, of a great sense of humor and a profound example of faith and I will miss him very, very deeply," said Vicar General Kevin McDonough.
Roach was appointed by Pope Paul VI in 1975 to lead the archdiocese, which now has 750,000 members. When he retired in 1995, Roach called his years in the post "a marvelous experience." He was succeeded by the current archbishop, Harry Flynn.
Roach also served as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from 1980-83, during which time the group spoke out strongly in favor of nuclear disarmament and economic justice.
"He was a national leader for our church in a time of profound change," McDonough said. "Archbishop Roach expected the Catholic church to be an active promoter of the common good."
But McDonough and others said Roach was most proud of his day-to-day work in the community where he spent 57 years as a priest and teacher.
"I have had a chance to work in a unique way with priests, deacons and the laity of this Catholic community, and I have had an opportunity to work extensively with the ecumenical and civic community," he said at the time.
A highlight of Roach's tenure as archbishop included his work in interfaith relations, including the development and signing of the Lutheran-Catholic Covenant. He also worked with various church factions, from conservatives who hated change to liberals who wanted the church to revamp all its rules.
And he helped draw more women into church leadership, including the first woman chancellor, director of communications and director of ministry of personnel.
"Archbishop Roach was an outstanding church leader," said Flynn, who was out of town Friday, visiting family and friends in New York. "He made major contributions to the lives of both Catholics and non-Catholics in this archdiocese."
He is also remembered for his mistakes, however.
Those included a drunken-driving arrest and a later admission that he was an alcoholic, and clergy sex-abuse cases in the 1980s that ended in lawsuits that exposed Roach's lenient treatment of priests accused of molestation.
Under his leadership, the archdiocese responded in 1988 by writing the country's first policy to deal with priests and the sexual abuse of children. In 1992, guidelines were expanded to include exploitation of adults and to cover any ministry employee in the archdiocese, ordained or not.
In the last year, he had expressed "disappointment" in how some church officials hadn't learned from past experience to be more open and cooperative in cases of sexual abuse, McDonough said.
Roach was born in Prior Lake and was ordained a priest in 1946.
During his first four years of ministry, he taught Latin and religion at St. Thomas Academy. He was later named headmaster of the high school where he served until 1968. That year, he founded the archdiocese's college seminary, St. John Vianney Seminary.
"The archbishop's dedication to the social mission of the church was an inspiration to all, especially those working on behalf of the church in the public policy arena," said Christopher Leifeld, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.
Roach, the son of the late Simon and Mary Regan Roach, was preceded in death by his sister Virginia Leach and is survived by his sister Mona Roach Strunk of the Twin Cities.
His funeral will be held Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the St. Paul Cathedral.
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Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis: http://www.archspm.org
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