Obituary for America's first black Catholic archbishop

The Rev Eugene A Marino, the first black Roman Catholic archbishop in the United States, died of a heart attack on 12 November aged 66.

He was living at a Salesian retreat house in Manhasset, New York. Archbishop Marino was also the first black vicar general of a Catholic religious order, the first black secretary of the national bishops' congress and the highest-ranking American black prelate. Archbishop Marino resigned from his post in 1990 after an affair with a younger woman. He retained his title after his resignation and was honoured by the church for his work with troubled priests.

Since 1995, he had served as spiritual director of an outpatient program for priests with mental illness, substance abuse or sexual behaviour problems at St Vincent's Westchester in Harrison, NY. The archbishop resigned in July 1990, saying he wanted "spiritual renewal, psychological therapy and medical supervision". About a month later, a television station reported that he had had a two-year relationship with a 27-year-old single mother, Vicki R Long. Archbishop Marino acknowledged the sexual relationship, expressed his anguish at the violation of his vow of chastity and then retreated from public view. Black Catholic leaders across the United States rallied people to send him 25,OOO letters of support in a campaign called 'To Archbishop Marino With Love'.

In August 1999, Archbishop Marino was honoured by Cardinal John O'Connor, in a small celebration in St Patrick's Cathedral to mark his 25th anniversary as a bishop.

The Cardinal said: "Today you have a new life, very different from being archbishop of Atlanta; you are the wounded healer affirming your brothers." Eugene Antonio Marino was born on May 29, 1934, in Biloxi, Mississippi. He was the sixth of eight children of Jesus Maria Marino, a native of Puerto Rico, and Lottie Irene Bradford of Biloxi. After attending church schools in Biloxi he graduated from St Joseph's Seminary College in Washington, DC. He then earned a master's degree in religious education at Fordham University.

He was ordained a priest of the Society of St Joseph in 1962. After six years teaching RE and science at Epiphany College in Newburgh, NY, he spent for four years as spiritual director of St Joseph's Seminary. He was elected vicar general of the Josephites in 1971. In 1974, at the age of 40, he became an auxiliary bishop in Washington - the third black person to achieve this rank in the American Catholic Church in the United.

There are currently 12 active and one retired black American bishops. The archbishop was a tireless campaigner for racial equality in the church playing a significant role in arranging Pope John Paul II's 1987 visit with black Catholic leaders in New Orleans. He co-wrote the black bishops' 1984 pastoral letter on evangelisation. In 1985, he was elected secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the United States Catholic Conference, becoming the first black to hold a major post in the organisation.

"I see it as a sign of hope and encouragement and an indication of a serious commitment to making black people leaders of the church at the highest levels," he said. He was appointed archbishop of Atlanta in 1988. The Rev Eugene McManus, spokesman for the Josephites, said the relationship with Ms Long began around this time. It ended around the time it became public. Father McManus said Archbishop Marino was "exceedingly caring and generous". Archbishop Marino is survived by six sisters. Speaking about him this week,

Fr Robert Kearns, Superior General of the Josephites, recalled conversation Archbishop Marino had with Pope John Paul II a few years ago: He said: "Father, I am Archbishop Eugene Marino." To which the Pope replied: "I know who you are. Archbishop, I have one question: Are you at peace?" The Archbishop answered: "I am, Holy Father." "Thanks be to God" said the Pope.

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