Retired Kansas Bishop Forst, 96, dies; was oldest living U.S. bishop

By Catholic News Service

OLATHE, Kan. (CNS) — Retired Bishop Marion F. Forst of Dodge City, the oldest U.S. bishop, died June 2 at Olathe Medical Center. At age 96, he was the oldest U.S. bishop, and one of the world’s 12 oldest bishops at the time of his death.

The funeral Mass was scheduled for June 7 in the chapel of Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, with Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City as the main celebrant and Bishop Ronald M. Gilmore of Dodge City as the homilist. Interment was to be in Gate of Heaven Cemetery there.

Bishop Forst had been one of five remaining U.S. bishops, all now retired, to have attended all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council. The others are Archbishop Philip M. Hannan of New Orleans, Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen of Seattle, Archbishop Francis M. Zayek of the Maronite Eparch of St. Maron of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Bishop Charles A. Buswell of Pueblo, Colo.

Born in St. Louis in 1910, Bishop Forst was ordained to the priesthood in 1934 in St. Louis. He served in parish assignments in Denver, St. Louis and Glendale, Mo., before a three-year stint as a Navy chaplain during World War II. In 1949 he was named to the staff of St. Mary Cathedral in Cape Girardeau, Mo. In 1956, when the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau was erected, he was named vicar general.

Bishop Forst was installed as the bishop of Dodge City in 1960.

During his tenure as bishop, many new ministries were initiated. Among them were: Catholic Social Service, the Office of Religious Education, Family Life Office, Religious Education for the Handicapped, the Southwest Kansas Register diocesan paper, Office of Mexican-American Affairs, and the Youth/Young Adults Office. Through his efforts Our Lady of Guadalupe was named patroness of the diocese.

In 1963 he said the argument that federal aid to private schools was unconstitutional was “a smoke screen.” In a column in the Advance Register, at the time the newspaper of the Dodge City and Wichita dioceses, he said: “I am more convinced than ever that depriving religious and private schools of federal aid has only one purpose behind it — to get rid of these schools.”

In a 1960 interview with NCWC News Service, predecessor to Catholic News Service, Bishop Forst’s mother said her son appeared destined for holy orders when just a first grader. He learned to serve Mass at that young age and by the time he was in fourth grade he was teaching other boys how to serve.

During the summer months, his uncle, also a priest, hosted young Marion — known as “Dutch” as a kid — at his rectory when the boy was enrolled in a preparatory seminary. Two of Bishop Forst’s brothers also became priests.

Bishop Forst resigned in 1976 at age 66 for health reasons. After resigning, he became an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, serving there for 10 years.

In 1983 he returned to the Dodge City Diocese to attend the installation of Bishop Stanley G. Schlarman. In 1991 he presided at a hillside Mass marking the 450th anniversary of Franciscan Father Juan de Padilla’s first Mass in present-day Kansas.

During other notable visits to the diocese, he attended the installation of Bishop Gilmore in 1998 and attended the dedication of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 2001.

In an article compiled from quotes gleaned from an oral history and his own writings, including the epilogue of his 2000 book, “Daily Journal of Vatican II,” Bishop Forst said his years in Dodge City “were blessed years.”

“It was a wonderful place to live and work. We had fine priests and people, and the smallness of the Catholic population posed no problem in a personal way,” he said. “I liked it, but after the more than 16 years in such a close relationship with priests and people, I felt that for me, as well as for the diocese, the time had come to resign.”

He called Vatican II “the paramount event of all my episcopal years.”

“As far as I am concerned, the privilege of attending and being part of Vatican Council was, and is, the most significant facet of my priestly and episcopal life,” he said.

He said he felt fortunate to attend all four sessions. “I think any of us who were there would all agree that it’s the best thing that happened to the church in the 20th century. It was an invaluable experience,” he said.

Bishop Forst’s survivors include: brothers Msgr. Charles J. Forst, Father William L. Forst and Frank A. Forst Jr., and his wife, Virginia; two sisters, Mary Zinselmeyer and Arlene Wittick and her husband, Don; 28 nieces and nephews; and numerous grandnieces and nephews.

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