In a funeral Mass Wednesday evening, Bishop Albert H. Ottenweller, 96, was honored as a man who cared passionately about the poor and devoted much of his life and ministry to helping the underprivileged.
The Mass was celebrated at Rosary Cathedral, with Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo serving as celebrant. Retired Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit and retired Bishop A. James Quinn of Cleveland, both longtime friends of the late bishop, also participated in the Mass along with approximately 70 priests and deacons from the Toledo diocese.
Ottenweller lay in state in a simple casket, made by Catholic monks, before the altar during the ceremony.
Rev. John Blaser, a retired Toledo diocesan priest and close friend of the late bishop, said in his homily that he would forsake church etiquette and simply call the bishop “Albert,” as many people knew him.
He said Ottenweller "was interested in those people at the edges of life" and "cared about the spiritual needs of migrants."
Blaser recalled a time, before Ottenweller was a bishop, that he felt so strongly the diocese should have Spanish-speaking priests in order to minister to Ohio’s migrant farm workers that he refused to accept a "no" answer from then-bishop George Rehring.
Ottenweller took the bishop on a drive through farm areas where migrants were working and pointed out numerous storefront Protestant churches to Rehring.
The pastors in those churches spoke Spanish, he told the bishop. Rehring got the message and began sending diocesan priests to Spanish classes, Blaser said.
The son of a blacksmith, Ottenweller was born April 5, 1916, and ordained a priest on June 19, 1943. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of Toledo in 1974, and bishop of Steubenville, Ohio, in 1977, where he served until retiring in 1992.
Ottenweller believed in a “collaborative, collegial style of pasturing,” Blaser said.
“He was a Vatican II priest before Vatican II,” he said.
While Ottenweller was 6-foot-5, “he never used that height to be over people. He was always down to earth,” Blaser said.
Along with his dedication to ministry, Ottenweller was known for a sense of humor, a quick smile and a love of golf.
“Albert was 96-plus years and very proud of his age. He never quite, you might say, acted his age,” Blaser said.
Countless numbers of people were “touched by his optimistic, hopeful spirit,” he said.
Ottenweller chose the readings for his funeral Mass, Blaser said -- Isaiah 42:1-17, on servanthood; Philippians 2:1-11 on Christ humbling himself, and John 13:1-15, which describes Jesus washing the feet of his disciples,
In the Prayer of the Faithful, Sister Nancy Westmeyer, with whom Ottenweller founded the Servant Leadership Center of Toledo, mentioned that Ottenweller once was jailed for protesting at an abortion clinic.
Cardinal Maida said in brief comments that he looked up to Ottenweller as a mentor and learned from him the importance of caring for the poor and the marginalized. “He was unwavering in his love for them,” the cardinal said.
Blair said he felt privileged to have spent a number of years sharing a residence with Ottenweller, whom, he pointed out, lived 81 of his 96 years in the Toledo diocese.
In an earlier statement, Blair said that he “always enjoyed his warm and engaging personality, his humor, and his wise counsel based on long experience as a priest and bishop."
Vespers will be held in Steubenville at 7 p.m. tonight (Thursday). A funeral liturgy will be held in Steubenville on Friday and burial in Leipsic, Ohio, the late bishop’s hometown, on Saturday.