ERIE – Buffalo native and retiree Bishop Emeritus Donald W. Trautman, who led the Catholic Diocese of Erie for 22 years, until October 2012, leading hundreds of thousands of Catholic worshipers in northwest Pennsylvania during a time of immense change and profound scandal, died Saturday evening, February 26.
At age 54, Trautman was named the ninth Catholic bishop of Erie, after Pope John Paul II appointed him to the position on June 2, 1990.
Trautman was 85 at the time of his death and had resided at Saint Mary’s Home at Asbury Ridge in Millcreek Township, serving the diocese as the sole bishop emeritus since the death of the previous bishop emeritus, Bishop Michael Murphy, in 2007. Trautman died at Saint Mary’s.
“When I visited Bishop Trautman for the past few years, I could see how he was gradually beginning to soften,” said current Erie Bishop Lawrence T. Persico, who succeeded Trautman on October 1, 2012. “In his Christmas card this year, he referred to his room as a cell. I thought of it as a monk’s cell. I could see that he took advantage of these last months and weeks to reflect and prepare more fully for eternal life.
Trautman served nearly 50 years as a priest and 22 years as a bishop.
“He wore many hats: pastor, administrator, professor, rector, auxiliary bishop and finally bishop. He had a life full of church service. He was deeply committed to the pastoral care of the priests of his diocese as well as the people,” Persico said.
One of the said priests whom Trautman ministered to was Bradford native Reverend and current Reverend of Warren’s Holy Redeemer Parish, Father Steve Schreiber.
“When I was studying theology as a seminarian at the North American College in Rome, I had the opportunity to travel to the Catholic Marian Shrine in Lourdes, France. Unfortunately, I did not have the means to make the trip. However, Bishop Trautman thought it was important for me to go, so he made sure I had the funds to travel. The trip turned out to be one of the most powerful “god moments” of my life. I am eternally grateful for the Bishop’s kindness,” Schreiber recalled.
Although at the end of his career Trautman was heavily criticized for his handling of the clergy sex abuse crisis in 2018, an examination of his entire record of 22 years as bishop showed that he was a caring reverend who did all he could to guide his flock.
“His later years brought many trials. There will be those who say he should have done more when it comes to clergy sex abuse. At the same time, there will be those who say he received too much blame,” Persico recalled. “As Pope Francis likes to say, ‘we are all sinners.’ It’s easy to look at life from today’s perspective rather than in its historical context. We all could have done better, myself included. Knowing Bishop Trautman, he did what he thought was the best he could. he could do for the good of the people and the church.
For example, even though Trautman was preoccupied with his own retirement from the Erie Diocese in 2010, he still took time out of his busy schedule to care for the Catholic community. “When my father died in 2010, my mother was heartbroken. But she received a personal note of condolence from Bishop Trautman which gave her great comfort. This note has also been a blessing for my brothers and sisters. In the midst of his busy schedule, Bishop Trautman took the time to write to a grieving widow. What a beautiful act of kindness,” recalls Schreiber.
In the wake of his passing, Trautman’s own words from an interview he gave to the FaithLife newspaper sum up how Trautman would feel if he paid too much attention to his life – “No one likes to be the center of attention. You know, when you have a birthday, you want to dive under the table.
For more information on the life and accomplishments of the late Bishop Emeritus Donald Trautman and for his finalized arrangements, visit www.eriercd.org/bishoptrautman.html.