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Robert M. Wolterstorff, first bishop of San Diego, dies at 92


Retired Bishop Robert M. Wolterstorff, who was elected in 1973 as the first bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, died peacefully in his sleep April 24.

Wolterstorff, 92, died 10 days after suffering a heart attack, San Diego Canon to the Ordinary Howard Smith told the Associated Press (AP).

Wolterstorff was elected December 7, 1973 while he was rector of St. James By-the-Sea Episcopal Church, La Jolla, California, which is part of the San Diego diocese. He was consecrated Bishop of San Diego on March 30, 1974 and served until 1982.

Wolterstorff made organizing the new diocese, carved out of the Diocese of Los Angeles, his top priority.

“My job is to be the pastor for the whole diocese and try to knit us into a family,” he told the San Diego Union newspaper in 1974. The new diocese had 39 congregations and 20,000 members.

Wolterstorff was known for his optimism, his steadfast faith and values.

“The combination of those made him an inspirational leader,” Susan Mallory, a local bank president who had known him since 1957, told the AP. “He was a unifier.”

When the Episcopal Church voted to ordain women as priests in 1976, Wolterstorff held fast to his belief that only men should be ordained.

In 1984, two years after his retirement, Patricia Bush became the first woman to be ordained as a priest in the San Diego diocese.

Wolterstorff was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on August 29, 1914. He earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Ambrose College in Davenport, Iowa, and graduated from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.

He was ordained a deacon in 1940 by Minnesota Suffragan Bishop Frank McElwain and priest in 1941 by Minnesota Bishop Stephen E. Keeler. Wolterstorff was rector of Messiah Episcopal Church in St. Paul, Minnesota from 1940 to 1955. During part of that time he was also a chaplain at Macalester College in St. Paul. He went to St. James by-the-Sea in La Jolla in 1955.

He also was a lifetime trustee of The Bishop’s School in La Jolla and had served on its board in the 1970s when the girls’ boarding school became co-educational and converted to a daytime school.

Wolterstorff’s wife, Helen, died in 1994. He is survived by daughters, Ann Love of El Cajon, California, and Mary Hunter of Encinitas, California; sons, Walter Wolterstorff of Lodi and Robert Wolterstorff Jr. of Cos Cob, Connecticut; 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

The diocesan funeral is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. May 3 at St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego.


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