Roman Catholic Bishop John J. Ward of Los Angeles, who had been one of three surviving American bishops who participated in the groundbreaking Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, died Sunday in Culver City. He was 90.
Ward died of complications from old age, according to a statement from his family.
A Los Angeles native, Ward served the local archdiocese for just over 50 years as a priest and bishop, establishing several benchmarks along the way. He was the last priest ordained by the first archbishop of Los Angeles, John J. Cantwell, and the first graduate of St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo to become a bishop.
During his career, he served under four archbishops and, at the time of his retirement, had served longer — 33 years — than any other bishop in the United States.
“No other bishop achieved such a record of service for the church here in Los Angeles,” Cardinal Roger Mahony said in a statement from Rome, where he was attending meetings. Mahony called Ward “the definitive churchman,” adding, “His many years of ministry as a priest and bishop gave vibrant witness to his abiding love for the church and all who belonged to the body of Christ.”
Over the course of his career, Ward built a reputation as a cheerful, engaging man with a love for a good steak and a cigar. He was especially known for the care he took when presiding over the confirmations of young people.
Born on Sept. 28, 1920, to Irish immigrant parents, Ward grew up near USC and hawked newspapers as a child. He was ordained a priest in 1946 and served in a variety of administrative and pastoral positions before his ordination as bishop in 1963. As a trained canon lawyer, he was assistant presiding judge of the matrimonial tribunal, which determined whether marriages were eligible for annulment.
Not long after his ordination as an auxiliary bishop, he was called to Rome to participate in the Second Vatican Council, which had begun in 1962 and significantly reshaped and modernized Catholic liturgy and ritual.
“The Second Vatican Council has been a milestone for the church, and to know that John Ward was part of having signed the council into history…there was always that great connection,” said Bishop Alexander Salazar, who served as an altar boy under Ward and followed in his footsteps as an auxiliary bishop.
With Ward’s death, the only surviving American bishops who participated in Vatican II are retired archbishops Philip Hannan of New Orleans and Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle.
Ward went on to serve as pastor of St. Timothy’s Parish in West Los Angeles. After Mahony became archbishop in 1985, he asked Ward and then-Bishop William J. Levada to create a new structure for the archdiocese. That led to the division of the archdiocese into five pastoral regions, one of which — Our Lady of the Angels — was headed by Ward.
Levada went on to become archbishop of San Francisco and later succeeded Pope Benedict XVI as the Vatican’s top doctrinal official.
After his retirement in 1996, Ward lived in his family home in Los Angeles. He died at Marycrest Manor, a skilled nursing facility in Culver City run by Carmelite nuns.
Ward’s late brother, Hugh, was a Los Angeles police officer.
Ward is survived by two nephews, Patrick Ward and Dennis Ward, both of Monterey, and two nieces, Maureen Simmons of Sacramento and Janet Ward of Monterey, as well as numerous grandnephews and grandnieces.
A funeral Mass will be held Monday at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, with burial to follow in the cathedral mausoleum.