Roman Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids

Coordinates: 42°57′28.8″N 85°40′02″W / 42.958000°N 85.66722°W / 42.958000; -85.66722
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Diocese of Grand Rapids

Dioecesis Grandcataractensis
Cathedral of St. Andrew
Coat of arms
Country United States
TerritoryCounties of Ottawa, Kent, Ionia, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana, Montcalm, Mecosta, Lake, Mason, and Osceola
Ecclesiastical provinceDetroit
Area6,795 sq mi (17,600 km2)
- Total
- Catholics
(as of 2021)
193,415 [1] (13.6%)
Sui iuris churchLatin Church
RiteRoman Rite
EstablishedMay 19, 1882 (141 years ago)
CathedralCathedral of Saint Andrew
Patron saintAndrew the Apostle
Secular priests104
Current leadership
BishopDavid J. Walkowiak
Metropolitan ArchbishopAllen Henry Vigneron
Vicar GeneralWilliam H. Duncan
Bishops emeritusWalter A. Hurley

The Diocese of Grand Rapids (Latin: Dioecesis Grandcataractensis) is a Latin Church diocese of the Catholic Church in western Michigan in the United States. It comprises 80 parishes in 11 counties It is a suffragan see to the Archdiocese of Detroit. The mother church of the diocese is the Cathedral of Saint Andrew in Grand Rapids. On April 18, 2013, Pope Francis appointed David J. Walkowiak to be the twelfth bishop of Grand Rapids.


1700 to 1882[edit]

During the 17th century, present-day Michigan was part of the French colony of New France. The Diocese of Quebec had jurisdiction over the region. In 1763, the Michigan area became part of the British Province of Quebec, forbidden from settlement by American colonists. After the American Revolution, the Michigan region became part of the new United States. For Catholics, Michigan was now under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which then comprised the entire country.

In 1808, Pope Pius VII erected the Diocese of Bardstown in Kentucky, with jurisdiction over the new Michigan Territory. In 1821, the pope erected the Diocese of Cincinnati, taking the Michigan Territory from the Diocese of Bardstown.[2]Pope Gregory XVI formed the Diocese of Detroit in 1833, covering the entire Michigan Territory.

In 1833, missionary Frederick Baraga established the first permanent Catholic mission in Grand Rapids. The first resident priest in the area was Andrew Viszosky. Mission stations were later established at Beaver Island, Grand Traverse, Cheboygan, Manistee, Muskegon, Grand Haven and Ionia.

1882 to 1969[edit]

Pope Leo XIII erected the Diocese of Grand Rapids on May 19, 1882, taking its territory in central and western Michigan from the Diocese of Detroit. The pope named Henry Richter of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati as the first bishop of Grand Rapids. Pope Benedict XV named Michael Gallagher as coadjutor bishop of the diocese in 1915 to assist Richter. When Richter became bishop, the diocese had 36 priests, 33 churches, 17 parochial schools, and 50,000 Catholics; by the time of his death in 1916, there were 75 priests, 56 churches, 38 parochial schools, and over 150,000 Catholics.[3] After Richter's death, Gallagher automatically succeeded him as bishop of Grand Rapids.

Gallagher served in Grand Rapids less than two years before being appointed bishop of the Diocese of Detroit by Benedict XV in 1918. The pope appointed Auxiliary Bishop Edward D. Kelly from the Diocese of Detroit to replace Gallagher in Grand Rapids. Kelly died in 1926. That same year, Pope Pius XI appointed Bishop Joseph G. Pinten of the Diocese of Superior as the fourth bishop of Grand Rapids.[4][5][6] In 1938, the Diocese of Grand Rapids lost territory when Pope Pius XII established the Diocese of Saginaw.[1][7]

After Pinten retired in 1940, Pius XII named Bishop Joseph C. Plagens of the Diocese of Sault Sainte Marie-Marquette as bishop of Grand Rapids that same year.[8] Plagens died after less than three years in office. Francis J. Haas of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee was the next bishop in Grand Rapids, appointed by Pius XII in 1943. Haas served the diocese for ten years until his death in 1953. In 1954, Pius XII appointed Auxiliary Bishop Allen James Babcock of Detroit as bishop of Grand Rapids.[9] Babcock died in 1969.

1969 to 1989[edit]

In 1969, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph M. Breitenbeck of Detroit was appointed the eighth bishop of Grand Rapids by Pope Paul VI.[10] In 1970, Paul VI created both the Diocese of Gaylord and the Diocese of Kalamazoo, taking territory from the Diocese of Grand Rapids. Breitenbeck played a major role in preparing the two new dioceses[1][7]

During his tenure in Grand Rapids, Breitenbeck vigorously implemented the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.[11][12] He also encouraged the practice of communal confessions, and allowed divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments.[11] Some parishes strongly resisted changing the language of the mass from Latin to English; St. Isidore's Church even took Breitenbeck and the diocese to court over the issue.[11]

In his 19 years as bishop, Breitenbeck oversaw the establishment of seven new parishes. St. Adalbert Church in Grand Rapids was raised to the rank of minor basilica by Pope John Paul II in 1979.[13] In the 1980s, Breitenbeck created policies and procedures for handling allegations of clerical sexual abuse; these rules remained in force until major revisions in the early 21st century.[11] Having a sister with developmental disabilities led him to establish a ministry to help people with disabilities.[11] He also helped establish the Deposit & Loan Cooperative Investment Program, which allowed parishes to borrow money from diocesan funds at a lower interest rate, and supported the Michigan Catholic Conference's efforts to provide retirement benefits for priests and laity. He instituted regular changes and appointments of pastors and oversaw one of the renovations of the Cathedral of St. Andrew.[11] Instead of living at the episcopal residence, Breitenbeck sold it and moved into a modest home in Grattan Township.[11] He retired as bishop in 1989.

1989 to present[edit]

In 1989, John Paul II appointed Bishop Robert Rose of Gaylord as the ninth bishop of Grand Rapids.[14] Rose created lay leadership programs, revamped the Hispanic ministry and presented forums and events focused on racism in the diocese.[15] He established the Catholic Foundation of West Michigan among other institutions.[15] In 2002, John Paul II appointed Auxiliary Bishop Kevin Britt of Detroit as coadjutor bishop of the diocese to assist Rose.

After Rose retired in 2003, Britt automatically succeeded him as bishop. Seven months later, Britt died. In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI named Auxiliary Bishop Walter A. Hurley of Detroit as the 11th bishop of Grand Rapids.[16] He retired in 2012 and Benedict XVI appointed David Walkowiak of Detroit to replace Hurley, Walkowiak is the current bishop of Grand Rapids.

Walkowiak released a statement on November 27, 2019, supporting the decision of Reverend Scott Nolan, pastor of St. Stephen Parish in East Grand Rapids, to withhold the eucharist from Sara Smolenski. A town judge, Smolenski told the local media that Nolan notified her before mass that she could not receive communion because of her same-sex marriage. She also said that Nolan had given her communion the week before.[17][18]

Sex abuse[edit]

In 2002, the Diocese of Grand Rapids acknowledged that it had paid a $500,000 settlement in 1994 to three sisters who were sexually abused as minors by Reverend John Sullivan during the late 1950s. The women did not report the crimes to the diocese until 1993. Records showed that Bishop Babcock had accepted Sullivan into the diocese, even though Sullivan had previously fathered a child while serving in the Diocese of Manchester. Bishop Rose in 2002 said that the diocese should have never accepted Sullivan.[19]

In 2014 Abigail Simon, a tutor at a Catholic high school in Grand Rapids, was convicted of three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and one misdemeanor count of accosting a minor for immoral purposes. Simon claimed that the student sexually assaulted her. She was sentenced to eight to 25 years in prison.[20] The victim's family sued the diocese in 2015, but the lawsuit was dismissed. It was later rejected on two appeals.[21]

In May 2021, Reverend William Langlois from Grand Haven was laicized after sexual abuse allegations against him were deemed as "credible."[22][23] The diocese had received allegations in 2018 that Langlois, who retired in 2016, had sexually abused a minor between 1999 and 2006. The diocese immediately suspended Langlois from ministry, notified local authorities, and started an internal investigation.[24]



Bishops of Grand Rapids[edit]

  1. Henry J. Richter (1883–1916)
  2. Michael J. Gallagher (1916–1918, coadjutor bishop 1915–1916), appointed Bishop of Detroit
  3. Edward D. Kelly (1919–1926)
  4. Joseph G. Pinten (1926–1940)
  5. Joseph C. Plagens (1941–1943)
  6. Francis J. Haas (1943–1953)
  7. Allen J. Babcock (1954–1969)
  8. Joseph M. Breitenbeck (1969–1989)
  9. Robert J. Rose (1989–2003)
  10. Kevin M. Britt (2003–2004; coadjutor bishop 2002–2003)
  11. Walter A. Hurley (2005–2013)
  12. David J. Walkowiak (2013–present)

Auxiliary bishops[edit]

High schools[edit]

See also[edit]

Coat of arms of Roman Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids
Arms was designed and adopted when the diocese was erected
The arms contain a silver (argent) field with wavy blue (azure) bars that proceed from the upper right to the lower left (bendy sinister). Emblazoned over the background is a red (gules) Cross moline.
The wavy blue bars represent the rapids in the Grand River and Lake Michigan.


  1. ^ a b c "Diocese of Grand Rapids". Catholic-Hierarchy. Retrieved 2013-06-06.
  2. ^ Shearer, Donald (June 1933). "Pontificia Americana: A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN THE UNITED STATES 1784 -1884". Franciscan Studies. 11 (11): 343. JSTOR 41974134 – via JSTOR.
  3. ^ Moore, Charles (1915). History of Michigan. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company.
  4. ^ "Bishop Joseph Gabriel Pinten [Catholic-Hierarchy]". Retrieved 2022-07-04.
  5. ^ Diocese of Superior. Bishop Pinten (1922-1926). Retrieved October 14, 2014.
  6. ^ "Install Bishop of Grand Rapids". The New York Times. 1926-10-29. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-07-04.
  7. ^ a b "Diocese of Grand Rapids". Giga Catholic. Retrieved 2013-06-06.
  8. ^ "Bishop Joseph Casimir Plagens".
  9. ^ "BABCOCK, Allen James" (PDF). Diocese of Grand Rapids.
  10. ^ "Bishop Joseph Matthew Breitenbeck".
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Honey, Charles (2005-03-14). "Recalling 'a loving shepherd' – Local Catholics say bishop Breitenbeck was progressive thinker, humble man". The Grand Rapids Press.
  12. ^ Honey, Charles (2005-03-17). "Bishop remembered as 'nice man' – Hundreds to gather today for funeral of former leader of Grand Rapids Catholic Diocese". The Grand Rapids Press.
  13. ^ "Basilica of St. Adalbert". GCatholic. Retrieved 2014-05-28.
  14. ^ "Bishop Robert John Rose".[self-published source]
  15. ^ a b "Bishop Robert J. Rose, who led Grand Rapids, Gaylord dioceses, dies at 92". Detroit Catholic. Retrieved 2022-07-05.
  16. ^ "Bishop Walter Allison Hurley".
  17. ^ "Library : Full Statement of Bishop Walkowiak Concerning Priest Refusing Communion". Retrieved 2022-01-03.
  18. ^ "Grand Rapids-area pastor denies Holy Communion to gay judge". Retrieved 2022-01-03.
  19. ^ "Gr Diocese Reveals $500,000 Payment in Decades-Old Sexual Abuse Claims The Money - Paid out in 1994 - Went to 3 Women Who Said a Priest Abused Them When They Were Girls, Grand Rapid Press (Michigan), April 6, 2002". Retrieved 2022-07-05.
  20. ^ (2022-11-22). "Former West Michigan tutor convicted of sexually assaulting student released from prison". FOX 17 West Michigan News (WXMI). Retrieved 2023-07-12. {{cite web}}: External link in |last= (help)CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  21. ^ Frick, Melissa (2020-04-19). "Michigan Supreme Court rejects appeal in lawsuit against Diocese in tutor's sexual abuse of teen". mlive. Retrieved 2023-07-12.
  22. ^ Harmon, Zac (May 7, 2021). "Catholic priest in West Michigan removed over credible allegations of sexual abuse". Fox 17. Retrieved May 8, 2021.
  23. ^ "Pope Francis dismisses retired Grand Haven priest from the Clerical State due to sexual abuse allegations". WZZM. May 7, 2021. Retrieved May 8, 2021.
  24. ^ "Catholic priest in West Michigan removed over credible allegations of sexual abuse". WXMI. 2021-05-07. Retrieved 2022-01-03.

External links[edit]

42°57′28.8″N 85°40′02″W / 42.958000°N 85.66722°W / 42.958000; -85.66722