Robert L. DeWitt
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Robert L. DeWitt
The Right Reverend

Robert Lionne DeWitt

Bishop of Pennsylvania
Delegatie van Amerikaanse Raad van Kerken spreekt met Nederlandse Kerken over bo, Bestanddeelnr 926-1455.jpg
Robert L. DeWitt (3rd from right, 1973)
ChurchEpiscopal Church
In office1964-1973
PredecessorJ. Gillespie Armstrong
SuccessorLyman Ogilby
OrdinationOctober 1, 1941
by Frank W. Creighton
ConsecrationOctober 1, 1960
by Arthur C. Lichtenberger
Personal details
Born(1866-10-25)October 25, 1866
Boston, Massachusetts, United States
DiedMarch 1, 1931(1931-03-01) (aged 64)
Saratoga Springs, New York, United States
ParentsWilliam Judson DeWitt & Ethel Furniss
SpouseBarbara Ann DeYoe
Previous postSuffragan Bishop of Michigan (1960-1963)
Coadjutor Bishop of Pennsylvania (1963-1964)

Robert Lionne DeWitt (March 12, 1916 - November 21, 2003) was bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, serving as diocesan from 1964 to 1973. He became known for fighting against the Vietnam War and racism, as well as working for social justice and the ordination of women as priests.[1][2]

Early life and education

DeWitt was born and raised in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. Amherst College awarded him a bachelor's degree in 1937, and he graduated from Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, in 1940.[3] He later received honorary degrees from the Episcopal Divinity School, Haverford College, LaSalle University, Lincoln University, Philadelphia Divinity School, Temple University and the Virginia Theological Seminary, The City of Philadelphia awarded him its Human Rights award in 1973.[2]


He was ordained a priest in Massachusetts and served in the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan before moving to Pennsylvania. Presiding Bishop Arthur C. Lichtenberger, Bishop Angus Dun of Washington, D.C., and Norman Nash of Massachusetts participated in his consecration as suffragan bishop of Michigan. In 1964, Bishop DeWitt transferred to the Diocese of Pennsylvania, after the diocesan convention elected him. He would become the youngest man to serve as bishop in that diocese. He began as coadjutor to Bishop J. Gillespie Armstrong, who unexpectedly died within a month.

Thus DeWitt became Pennsylvania's 12th bishop. Race riots enveloped Chester, Pennsylvania soon after his arrival, and the bishop drove overnight with the dean of the University of Pennsylvania's law school to Harrisburg to urge governor William Scranton to intervene. The following year Bishop DeWitt supported efforts to integrate Girard College, which at the time only admitted white boys. In 1969, he supported a reparations program under which the Episcopal Church paid $500,000, but which caused much divisiveness within the denomination.[4] His opposition to the Vietnam War and hiring of Rev. Daniel Gracie to counsel young men who wanted to avoid the draft also caused controversy.

Bishop DeWitt retired from the Philadelphia episcopate back in 1973, and began as editor of Witness magazine and president of the Episcopal Church Publishing Company. However, on July 29, 1974, he, together with retired bishop Edward Welles of west Missouri and retired bishop Daniel Corrigan of Colorado and Bishop Antonio Ramos of Costa Rica ordained 11 women (the Philadelphia 11) at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia, despite considerable controversy and threats of violence. The denomination had in 1970 agreed to ordain women as deacons, but was still debating whether to ordain them as priests.[1] Bishop DeWitt and his colleagues were later censured.[5] However, DeWitt continued his activism and attended the ordination of four women in the Diocese of Washington on September 7, 1975. In 1989, his friend the Rev. Barbara Harris was consecrated the first female bishop of the Episcopal Church (in Massachusetts), and by the time of Bishop DeWitt's death, his denomination had ordained over 3,000 women.[6]

Final years, death and legacy

In 1981 DeWitt retired to Isle au Haut, Maine to care for his wife, Barbara Anne DeYoe DeWitt, who had developed Alzheimer's disease. He wrote a book, Ebb Tide, about those experiences, and also arranged for a lobsterman's cooperative and participated in various church and community activities. He died on November 21, 2003, survived by his wife, two daughters, three sons, 14 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren. The Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts established a scholarship fund in his name.


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