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Obituary | Bishop Paul A. Zipfel

Former priest and auxiliary bishop of St. Louis, retired bishop of Bismarck, dies at 83

Bp. Zipfel
A funeral Mass for retired Bishop Paul A. Zipfel will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Thursday, July 18, at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis in the Central West End of St. Louis.

Bishop Zipfel, 83, died July 14.

Bishop Zipfel served as auxiliary bishop of St. Louis from 1989 until his appointment as bishop of Bismarck, N.D., in 1996. He served there until 2011 and later returned to St. Louis.

In an article in the St. Louis Review in 2003, he said that his formation in St. Louis was beneficial to his work. “The best experience, period, was my years as a pastor,” he said. “I’ve tried to bring a pastoral style. Archbishops (John) May and (Justin) Rigali taught me a lot about administering a diocese. I’ve often remarked that I thought or said things the way Monsignor (Martin) Hellriegel would.”

Bishop Zipfel served several years at Holy Cross Parish in St. Louis as associate pastor to Msgr. Hellriegel, who was known as an expert on liturgical matters. “He emphasized the careful way the liturgy is celebrated,” Bishop Zipfel said. “I’ve encouraged my priests to do the same thing.”

Bishop Zipfel returned to St. Louis several times, including as a speaker at the Gateway Liturgical Conference in St. Louis in 2008. “The bread and wine are transformed in order to transform us so that we can transform the world,” he said in the talk. Using St. Francis as an example, he said: “He regularly received the Lord and was changed. Then, he was able to change the world by his life and love.”

At the time Bishop Zipfel was named an auxiliary bishop he was serving as pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in St. Charles. St. Louis Catholics knew him for his pastoral work and as an educator. He earlier served as pastor of Holy Family Parish in south St. Louis and head of the deanery there. Before that, he was associate pastor, administrator and then pastor of Holy Cross Parish in the Baden neighborhood of north St. Louis.

After his priesthood ordination by Cardinal Joseph Ritter in 1961 at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, he served as associate pastor at St. Simon Parish in south St. Louis County and, along with teaching, as associate pastor at Ascension in Normandy, North American Martyrs in Florissant and Our Lady of Good Counsel in Bellefontaine Neighbors. He taught one year at Laboure High School before joining the faculty of Aquinas High School in 1965. He served as administrator there from 1968-71.

He was an amateur magician and sometimes used that skill as an asset in his pastoral work. He once said that, in some circumstances, a magic trick helps ease tension and help establish rapport with people.

Bishop Zipfel, in correspondence with the Review upon his retirement in 2011, said of his service, “I have tried to make the words spoken by Pope Benedict XVI my own: ‘The richest gift you can give is to bring joy to others.’ Lord, make me ready to spend and be spent for the lives of others you have entrusted to my care.”

Msgr. Edward Sudekum, a retired parish pastor, educator and former editor of the St. Louis Review, was a member of Bishop Zipfel’s ordination class. He said Bishop Zipfel “was always sincere and generous in his work with people.”

Bishop Zipfel was a help to the Church’s mission in many ways, Msgr. Sudekum said, “willing to help out in many different situations.”

Bishop Edward M. Rice of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau will celebrate the funeral Mass.

Visitation will be from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, July 17 at Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. Evening Prayer will follow.

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