Bishop Emeritus Joseph Imesch died yesterday. He was 84 years old.
Joseph Imesch was born on June 21, 1931, in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan, the second son of immigrant Swiss parents, Dionys and Margaret (Margelisch) Imesch. He was baptized at St. Ambrose Church in Grosse Pointe, and later attended the parish elementary school as well as St. Paul Elementary School in Grosse Pointe Farms. He completed his high school and college education at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit.
He earned a Licentiate of Sacred Theology (STL) while studying in Rome at the North American College (1953 -1957). On December 16, 1956, he was ordained to the priesthood in Rome and completed further studies at the Gregorian University (1969 – 1970).
After ordination, Father Imesch was assigned to St. Charles Parish in Detroit (1957) where he served as associate pastor until becoming Secretary to John Cardinal Dearden from 1959 to 1971. He was named pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Farmington, Michigan, in 1971 and served in that capacity until 1977.
On April 3, 1973, while yet ministering as a pastor, Father Imesch was ordained as an Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit. Bishop Imesch served as Regional Bishop of the Northwest Region of Detroit from 1977 to 1979 until being named as Bishop of Joliet. On August 28, 1979, he was installed as Third Bishop of the Diocese of Joliet.
Shortly after arriving in Joliet in 1979, Bishop Imesch, together with the late Senator George Sangmeister and local business women and men, created the Housing Foundation of Will County, and established the Daybreak Shelter to provide emergency services to the homeless. On a monthly basis, throughout the years, the Bishop could be seen at Daybreak, helping to feed the poor and conversing with them.
In 1986, the Bishop began the first Diocesan Annual Appeal in order to raise funds to support the efforts of the diocesan agencies and offices as well as to provide support for the education of seminarians. In 1996, he established the Joliet Diocesan Catholic Education Foundation, dedicated to the advancement of Catholic education through providing long-term financial support to families of children who attend Catholic schools.
With the support of Bishop Imesch, the Diocesan Peace and Justice Office began its mission outreach program. A sister relationship with the Diocese of Sucre in Bolivia was established. In addition to being responsible for building a hospital in Sucre, the Bishop also ensured that the medical staff undergo sufficient training.
In addition to his service to the clergy, religious and laity of the diocese, Bishop Imesch served on various local, regional and national boards. Included among them are the following: Member, Catholic Relief Services (1982-1985; 1997-2002); Member, Board of Trustees of Mundelein Seminary (1984-2006); Chair, National Council of Catholic Bishops Committee on Women in Society and the Church (1982-1985); Chair, National Council of Catholic Bishops Writing Committee for the Pastoral on the Concerns of Women (1983-1992); Member, National Council of Catholic Bishops Marriage & Family Life Committee (1994-1997); Member, National Council of Catholic Bishops Committee for Stewardship (1995-2002); Chair, National Council of Catholic Bishops Committee for Pastoral Practices (1995-1998); Member, Retired Religious Grant Review Board (1997-2000); Member, Society of St. James Board (1994-2002); Member, United States Council of Catholic Bishops Administrative Board (2001-2003); Chair, Bishops of Region VII (2001-2003); Chair, St. Patrick Residence Advisory Board (1980 – 2015).
Bishop Imesch won the respect of his brother bishops of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for his tenacity. For nine years, he diligently attempted to have a pastoral letter on women approved by the Conference. Though he was unsuccessful, he exemplified perseverance and great courage.
Although his request for retirement as Bishop of the Diocese of Joliet was officially accepted on May 16, 2006, Bishop Imesch continued to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation, and serve wherever and whenever needed. A parish secretary told him that he was “the last resort,” meaning that whenever a parish or a religious community could not find anyone else for Mass or confessions, he was contacted.
Bishop Imesch will be fondly remembered as a good shepherd; as someone who loved being a priest; who had an open door policy regarding his priests; who cared about people; who always said “yes” to the requests he received; and who put his love for God’s people, especially the poor and disadvantaged, into concrete action.
The body of Bishop Imesch will lie in state at the Cathedral of St. Raymond Nonnatus in Joliet on December 28, 2015, from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., and on December 29, 2015, from 9 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. Solemn Vespers will be celebrated at 7 p.m. on December 28, 2015.
Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. on December 29, 2015, at the Cathedral. Following the Mass, the body of Bishop Imesch will be laid to rest in Resurrection Cemetery in Romeoville.