The Rev. Albert H. Ottenweller, who served as bishop of the Steubenville Catholic Diocese for 14 years, died Sunday in Toledo, Ohio. He was 96.
"The church has lost a devoted son and a gifted leader," said Bishop Roger Foys of the Diocese of Covington, Ky., who served as vicar general in Steubenville for 10 years. "Bishop Ottenweller was a real pastor to his people and was most at home when he was out in the parishes and in the schools with God's people caring for them."
The priest served 49 years in the Catholic church and is well-known for his ministry among migrant workers in northwestern Ohio, as well as his hard-line approach to a charismatic fellowship in Steubenville whose authoritarian leaders strayed from the diocese's teachings.
Bishop Ottenweller launched an investigation into the Servants of Christ the King in 1991 and suspended the "quasi parish" when he confirmed that community leaders had unchecked control over members' lives on issues from sex to child rearing to real estate transactions.
He later reinstated the community after its leader, the Rev. Michael Scanlan, stepped down and new leaders were elected.
Julia Duin was a recent graduate of Trinity School of Ministry in Ambridge in the midst of writing a book on covenant Christian communities during the investigation.
"He reined in Michael Scanlan, which no one else could do at the time, and he was really seen as a bishop on a white horse that came to the rescue of people under the thumb of this community network," said Ms. Duin, now a journalism professor in Jackson, Tenn.
The professor said the priest's actions were probably unpopular at the time but deemed wise after stories leaked about the harmful practices that parishioners were coerced into.
Born the son of a blacksmith, Bishop Ottenweller attended Catholic high schools in Leipsic, Ohio, and earned philosophy and theology degrees from Catholic University of America in Washington in 1943. He was ordained a priest June 19, 1943, and served at a number of northwestern Ohio parishes and churches.
From 1962 to 1968 he was pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Bono, and also directed the Spanish-speaking apostolate for the diocese.
As part of his migrant ministry, he made it possible for priests to be released from pastoral work during the summer to teach religion classes in the migrant labor camp. He also directed a program that gave priests an opportunity for study in Mexico to learn the language and customs of that country for their work in northwest Ohio.
In 1974 he became the first priest in the Toledo Catholic Diocese to be appointed auxiliary bishop, a role he held until 1977, when he was installed as bishop of the Steubenville Diocese. He retired in 1991 and moved back to Toledo.
"He really had a passion for seeing the church as the people of God and recognizing that in the circle we are all equal," said Sister Nancy Westmeyer of the Tiffin Franciscan order.
Visitation will be held at Rosary Cathedral in Toledo today from 3 p.m. until a Mass at 6:30 p.m. A Vespers service will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday in Holy Name Cathedral, Steubenville, where Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Friday.
Block News Alliance consists of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. Mark Reiter is a reporter for The Blade. Taryn Luna: email@example.com or 412-263-1985.