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Chicago Bishop Kevin Birmingham dies in sleep at age 51

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© Archdiocese of Chicago

John Burger - published on 10/04/23

Auxiliary had just been ordained three years ago.

Days short of his 52nd birthday, an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Chicago and former secretary to Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, died unexpectedly.

Bishop Kevin Birmingham passed away in his sleep Monday, October 2.

The Chicago Sun-Times said that the cause of Birmingham’s death was unclear, and an archdiocesan spokeswoman said foul play was not suspected.

“The Church has lost a wonderful priest and bishop today,” Cardinal Cupich said on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “I have lost a dear friend and valued colleague. Please keep Bishop Kevin Birmingham in your prayers as the Lord receives our brother priest into his Kingdom.”

“From the start of his ministry, Bishop Kevin Birmingham was a devoted and joyful priest,” said Cardinal Cupich. “He felt called to serve Latino Catholics especially, and he learned Spanish in order to do so. He served in my office for six years as priest-secretary, always with dedication and attention to every detail, a role in which his reputation for kindness only grew. May we honor his memory by continuing to do as he did, and model the love God has for his children in all we do.”

“Genuine, personable, funny, and pastoral”

Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Jeffrey Grob, who was consecrated as a bishop alongside Bishop Birmingham, had known him his whole priesthood and worked together when Bishop Grob was in the chancery. “He was genuine, personable, funny and pastoral. He had a pastor’s heart. Even after he became a bishop he did not put on airs; you saw the true man. His laughter was contagious, but in the moment, he could be genuinely concerned about an issue. Sincere and genuine: That is what drew people to him.”

Birmingham was appointed director of the Department of Parish Vitality and Mission in July 2020 for a year. On Sept. 11, 2020, he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Chicago and Titular Bishop of Dolia. He was ordained a bishop on Nov. 13, 2020 by Cardinal Cupich at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago.

Another auxiliary bishop who was consecrated alongside Bishop Birmingham, Robert J. Lombardo, said that he always found “Bishop Kevin” a joy to be with. “He was dedicated to God and the Church and always had a very joyful spirit. He will be greatly missed.”

Sarah Machaj, senior administrative assistant in the Archbishop’s Office, had worked with Birmingham from 2015 until 2020. “Bishop Kevin lit up every room he walked into and brought with him his dry wit and just a little bit of mischief,” Machaj said affectionately. “He was an incredibly hard worker, but never asked for recognition. He was humble, truly kind and had a laugh that was contagious. He was the most genuine person I’ve ever known, and he will be greatly missed.” 

Ordained by Cardinal George

Kevin Birmingham was born on Oct. 7, 1971, in Oak Lawn, Illinois, to Jeanette Ann Larsen and Joseph James Birmingham. His mother survives him. He was the seventh of 10 children and attended Quigley Preparatory Seminary in Chicago, Niles College Seminary and the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein.

He was ordained to the priesthood on May 24, 1997, by then-Archbishop Francis George, and he celebrated his first solemn Mass on May 25 of the same year at Our Lady of the Ridge Parish in Chicago Ridge.

As Birmingham stated in a Chicago Catholic interview in 2020, the Oblate Sisters of Jesus the Priest from Mexico City, who ministered at Niles College and Mundelein Seminary, arranged for his second Mass as a priest to be celebrated from the main altar at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. 

“I thought they were going to have me at one of the side altars, but no,” he told The Chicago Catholic in 2020. He celebrated Mass at the main altar for a congregation of almost 15,000 pilgrims.

After ordination, he made the trip to Mexico in order to give thanks to Our Lady of Guadalupe, to whom he developed a devotion while he was in seminary, especially when he spent time in Morelia, Mexico, learning Spanish.

After ordination, Birmingham served as associate pastor at St. Peter Claver Mission in Robbins, St. Benedict Parish in Blue Island and St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Orland Park. He was pastor at St. Anne Parish in Hazel Crest (2005 – 2011) and Maternity BVM Parish on North Avenue in Chicago (2011 – 2014). He served as administrative secretary to Cardinal Cupich from 2014 to 2020.

Bishop Birmingham’s funeral will take place on Saturday, October 7, what would have been his 52nd birthday — and the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Cardinal Cupich will return from the Synod of Bishops Assembly in Rome to preside at the Mass, which will be in the Cathedral of the Holy Name. Bishop Lombardo will be the homilist.

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