Detroit Mourns Loss of Iconic Peace Advocate and Spiritual Leader Bishop Gumbleton


In the early morning hours of April 5, 2024, the city of Detroit lost a beloved figure, an iconic voice for peace and justice – Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a relentless advocate against war, racism and a champion for labor and social justice. At 94, the internationally renowned spiritual leader left behind a legacy of over five decades in the clergy, leaving an indelible mark on both the local and global communities.

The Archdiocese of Detroit, his spiritual home for over half a century, announced his passing but did not reveal the cause of his death. In tribute to his lifetime’s dedication, Archbishop Allen Vigneron said, “Bishop Gumbleton was a faithful son of the Archdiocese of Detroit, loved and respected by his brother priests and the laity for his integrity and devotion to the people he served.”

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Rising to national prominence during the tumult of the 1960s, Gumbleton, propelled by a band of activist priests, became a vocal and unwavering critic of the American involvement in the Vietnam War. As a founding figure of Pax Christi USA, a Catholic peace movement, he sought to channel his faith into creating a more peaceful world. Recalling an op-ed he penned for the New York Times, he invoked the teachings of Christ, expressing that America’s participation in the Vietnam War was “gravely immoral”.

His brave stance against warfare was met with a fierce backlash, with detractors accusing him of nurturing cowardice. Despite the critics, his stance never wavered. If he were a young man drafted into the military, Gumbleton stated he would have chosen jail or exile over service.

His humanitarian spirit extended profoundly and globally. Throughout his life, he met with victims of violence from strife-riddled nations such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia, Haiti, Peru, and others. Known for his ardent activism, Gumbleton’s demonstrations of solidarity often resulted in his arrest—at one point even supporting striking newspaper workers in Detroit.

“Bishop Gumbleton took the gospel to heart and lived it day in and day out. He preferred to speak the truth and to be on the side of the marginalized than to toe any party line and climb the ecclesiastical ladder”, shared Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky.

After 50 years of active ministry service, he retired in 2006 but remained a pivotal figure well into his retirement. Ordained a priest in 1956 and later promoted to auxiliary bishop in 1968, Gumbleton’s sermons were regularly published in a column by the National Catholic Reporter, aptly named “The Peace Pulpit.”

In 2006, he came forward with a personal revelation – he himself had fallen victim to inappropriate actions by a priest many years ago. This revelation was paralleled with his advocacy for legislation giving sexual abuse victims more time to seek justice through the courts.

Gumbleton persevered to extend Catholic spirit towards the marginalized, expressing support in 2021 for LGBTQ+ youth alongside several other bishops and a Catholic cardinal, speaking out against the disproportionate bullying often experienced by them.

In his lifetime, Gumbleton stood not just as a man of faith, but a man of action and courage, urging his followers to be active and engaged, to stand for democracy, and to support the rights of the marginalized. He bravely championed the idea that even a small contribution could make a significant cumulative impact.

In Gumbleton’s words, “the important thing is to recognize that each of us has a small part to play in the whole picture”. He passionately illustrated that sentiment in his lifelong dedication to peace, justice, and equality.