Bishop Walter Sullivan dead at 84 - NBC12 - Richmond, VA News

Bishop Walter Sullivan dead at 84

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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

Walter Sullivan, the former bishop of the Richmond Catholic Diocese, passed away after a battle with liver cancer.

Sullivan had just returned home from the hospital and died in peace surrounded by loved ones.

Sullivan was an outspoken and sometimes controversial bishop. Even after he retired, his impact on the sprawling Richmond Diocese remained.

It has been nearly 15 years since Messiah Amaram was confirmed as a Catholic in the Richmond Diocese, but he remembers it like it was yesterday.

"I remember that it was a big deal, because the Bishop was coming to your first confirmation, so it was pretty exciting stuff," he said.

Amaram is one of thousands of Virginia Catholics who were touched in some way by Walter Sullivan's leadership. Sullivan became Richmond's bishop in 1974 and quickly made his mark.

Over his close to 30 years as the Vatican's representative in Central and Eastern Virginia, Sullivan took the church in a more liberal direction. He opened churches to gays and lesbians, spoke out against the wars in Vietnam and the middle east and gave women more opportunity to contribute in worship services.

He also made an effort to reach out to minority groups, creating 24 different advisory committees, including one for African-Americans like Amaram.

As he grew up in the faith, Amaram had a positive impression of his church's leader.

"He was just really light hearted gentle voiced guy," he said. "I liked him, he was a nice guy."

Sullivan retired in 2003 at the age of 75. He served 29 years as bishop and another 21 years before that as a priest.

Funeral services for Bishop Sullivan have not been scheduled, but the mass will be held at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart downtown.

Senator-elect Tim Kaine, a Catholic, said Sullivan's "commitment to those whom society too often ignored was an inspiration to me and many others."

Governor Bob McDonnell, also Catholic, said he admired Sullivan's "love of life and passion to protect it, and his enthusiastic ministry to and advocacy for the poor," he went on to say that "Bishop Sullivan will be dearly missed."   

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