By ROB HERBST
The Catholic Week
MOBILE — Archbishop Emeritus Oscar H. Lipscomb always strived for his priesthood to mirror that of Jesus Christ, said former Archdiocese of Mobile Vicar General Michael Farmer.
“I think he did that very well.”
Msgr. Farmer served as homilist at the Mass of Christian Burial for Archbishop Lipscomb on July 21 at the Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Archbishop Lipscomb died peacefully July 15 at the Little Sisters of the Poor Sacred Heart Residence at age 88 following a lengthy period of physical decline.
Archbishop Lipscomb served as the first Archbishop of Mobile after the Vatican established the Province of Mobile and raised the diocese to the Archdiocese of Mobile. He served in that role from 1980-2008.
Msgr. Farmer, now pastor at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Auburn, came to know Archbishop Lipscomb well after living with him for 10 years at the Chancery when Msgr. Farmer served as vicar general of the archdiocese.
According to Msgr. Farmer, Archbishop Lipscomb loved serving as archbishop in his native Mobile. He also loved the people of the archdiocese and served to the best of his God-given ability.
“He loved his priesthood. He loved being Archbishop of Mobile and could carry it out so wonderfully,” Msgr. Farmer said. “He did it with the people that he encountered throughout his priesthood and throughout his time as archbishop. He truly did his best, as God gave him, to fulfill his ministry as a priest and definitely as the archbishop of this archdiocese.”
It was the first funeral Mass for a bishop at the Cathedral since Dec. 9, 1976, when the funeral Mass for Archbishop Thomas J. Toolen was held. Archbishop Lipscomb was buried in the Cathedral’s crypt, adjacent to Archbishop Toolen.
While Archbishop Lipscomb was loved by so many, the funeral Mass was intimate and private due to COVID-19. Many throughout the archdiocese and beyond prayed while watching a livestream of the Mass online.
“He knew so many people, he knew so much about our family of God here in the Archdiocese of Mobile and he knew about it because he served us here in our family of the Archdiocese of Mobile. He touched so many lives. He brought the love of God to many and brought many to the love of God,” Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi said.
Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi, who succeeded Archbishop Lipscomb, served as celebrant and was joined by Bishop Steven Raica and retired Bishop Robert Baker, both of Birmingham, and about 20 archdiocesan priests.
‘I was amazed by that’
Archbishop Lipscomb was born on Sept. 21, 1931, in Mobile to Oscar H. Lipscomb Sr. and Margaret Antoinette Saunders Lipscomb. He attended St. Patrick Parochial School and McGill Institute in Mobile before studying at St. Bernard College in Cullman, Ala., and the Pontifical North American College and Gregorian University in Rome.
He was ordained to the priesthood on July 15, 1956, in Rome. Coincidence or not, Archbishop Lipscomb died on the 64th anniversary of his ordination.
“I really do believe knowing him he probably deliberately waited for his anniversary of ordination because that’d just be him,” Msgr. Farmer said. “And God let him do it.”
Archbishop Lipscomb served all of his priestly ministry in Mobile.
Upon returning home from Rome, Archbishop Lipscomb served at St. Mary Parish and taught at McGill Institute and Spring Hill College. He was appointed vice chancellor of the then Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham in 1963 and chancellor in 1966. He also served as pastor of his childhood parish, St. Patrick in Mobile from 1966-71, as well as assistant pastor at St. Matthew Parish in Mobile and Cathedral Parish.
“Born in Mobile, a lifelong citizen of Mobile except for the time of his formation and doing his doctorate work, he died in Mobile. For Mobilians, that is the perfect death. The perfect death,” Msgr. Farmer joked.
While he loved Mobile, Deacon Ernest Johnson said Archbishop Lipscomb loved ministering to those throughout the archdiocese.
Deacon Johnson served as Archbishop Lipscomb’s driver for about 20 years.
“I was surprised as I started traveling with him that I bet he could call by name 3,000 or 4,000 people,” Deacon Johnson said. “I was amazed by that. We would go to any parish and he would know a family.”
Until his health would not allow, Archbishop Lipscomb remained active in Mobile, attending Masses and Catholic events throughout the archdiocese. He also loved McGill-Toolen Catholic High School athletics and rarely missed a Friday night football game.
In 2008, the athletic complex at McGill-Toolen Catholic High School was dedicated as Lipscomb Field.
‘He was never afraid to invite them to his dinner table’
During his tenure as archbishop, Archbishop Lipscomb served on various committees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, numerous college and seminary boards, and the board of directors of the Alabama Department of Archives and History.
Archbishop Lipscomb especially loved history and served on the board of the state department of archives and history from 1978-2016 and was chairman from 1999-2011.
“History is very interesting to begin with and the archives are full of all kinds of humor, pathos, disappointment and sense of achievement, by in large because the hand of God, the figure of God, is on almost every page – what happens and how it happens,” Archbishop Lipscomb said in a 2008 interview with “The Catholic Week.”
He also served on Catholic committees, including the Catholic Health Association Committee on Ethics and Values, the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies, the Southeast Regional Office for Hispanic Affairs, the “Vox Clara” Committee of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and the Catholic Common Ground Initiative.
Msgr. Farmer said one of Archbishop Lipscomb’s strengths was dialogue when there were disagreements, which he attributed to his southern upbringing.
“Even though he understood that there were ongoing divisions and separation from the various ecclesial communities, he was never afraid to invite them to his dinner table or to go to theirs and eat, to know and to love each other deeply and more,” Msgr. Farmer said.
‘A special comfort’
The funeral Mass concluded after current Archdiocese of Mobile Vicar General Msgr. William Skoneki led the Rite of Final Commendation.
Archbishop Lipscomb’s casket, escorted by pallbearers Fr. Chris Boutin, Fr. Marcin Rudzik, Fr. Peyton Plessala, Fr. Andrew Jones, Fr. Patrick Arensberg and Fr. Victor Ingalls was then lowered into the Cathedral crypt. A few pews were temporarily moved which allowed the casket to be carefully lowered through a floor opening.
Archbishop Rodi closed by leading the Rite of Committal in the crypt.
“There’s a special comfort in being able to entrust a good man into the hands of God, and that’s what we do today,” Archbishop Rodi said. “Archbishop Lipscomb was a gentleman in both senses of the word. He was a gentleman in that he was gracious and he was a gentle man with a gentle spirit.”