Bishop James Montgomery dies at 98; headed Episcopal Diocese of Chicago; offered cathedral for meeting between Mayor Daley, MLK

Bishop James W. Montgomery served as ninth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. It is headquartered at St. James Cathedral, 65 E. Huron St., where President Abraham Lincoln once worshipped.

SHARE Bishop James Montgomery dies at 98; headed Episcopal Diocese of Chicago; offered cathedral for meeting between Mayor Daley, MLK
Bishop James W. Montgomery served as the ninth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago from 1971 to 1987.

Bishop James W. Montgomery served as the ninth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago from 1971 to 1987.

Vincent Johnson photo

Bishop James W. Montgomery, who headed the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago in an era filled with social debate and change, died Wednesday at his Chicago home, according to Rt. Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee, the current bishop. He was 98.

Ordained in 1949, he served as the ninth bishop of the diocese from 1971 to his retirement in 1987. It is headquartered at St. James Cathedral, 65 E. Huron St., where President Abraham Lincoln once worshipped.

“Both as a priest and a bishop, Jim’s service to the wider church was exemplary,” said Bishop Lee. “. . .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 1960s, he chaired the Chicago Conference on Religion and Race. He offered St. James as a neutral meeting place for Mayor Richard J. Daley and civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. And he pushed for equal housing and brokered talks between King and Chicago realtors.

In 1975, he permitted gay members of the church to use St. James Cathedral for a national gathering. In the late 1980s, as broadcast networks wrestled with whether to allow condom advertising as a way to prevent AIDS, Bishop Montgomery said he “would not be opposed to anything that would help in the fight against AIDS.”

After the Episcopal Church opened up the priesthood to women in 1976, some traditionalists balked. Bishop Montgomery navigated a compromise policy. He ordained women as deacons, but declined to make them priests. However, he allowed assistants to ordain women, and he didn’t oppose women priests working in the diocese.

After he retired in 1987, Bishop Montgomery said, “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.”

Upon retirement, Bishop Montgomery moved to Virginia. Later, he returned to Chicago, his birthplace.

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Bishop James W. Montgomery, former head of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago.

Episcopal Diocese of Chicago photo

His middle name was Winchester for his mother’s side of the family. His maternal grandfather, the Rt. Rev. James Winchester, was bishop of Arkansas from 1911 to 1931, according to Bishop Lee.

He grew up in Rogers Park. After Sullivan High School, he went to Northwestern University and served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy in World War II.

He studied at General Theological Seminary in New York City and went on to serve at St. Luke’s in Evanston and St. John the Evangelist in Flossmoor, according to the diocese.

Bishop Montgomery is survived by four nieces and a nephew. A viewing is scheduled 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 3 at the Church of the Atonement, 5749 N. Kenmore Ave.

Bishop Lee is to preside at the funeral service at 11 a.m. Nov. 4 at St. James Cathedral.

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