.- Bishop emeritus of Gallup, New Mexico Donald E. Pelotte died on Thursday morning at a Florida hospital after a period of illness. He was 64. Born in Waterville, Maine in 1945, Bishop Pelotte professed religious vows in the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament in August 1967, the Diocese of Gallup reports. He was ordained a priest in September, 1972 and received a doctorate in theology from Fordham University in 1975.
He became the provincial of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament at the age of 33. At the time he was the youngest major superior of a men’s religious community in the United States.
Then, in 1986, he was appointed third bishop of Gallup by Pope John Paul II.
He was the first Native American bishop in the United States. According to the Miami Herald, his father was a member of the Abenaki tribe. Bishop Pelotte had been a national board member of the Tekakwitha Conference, an organization for Native American Catholics, since 1981.
He also was a member of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the American Catholic Historical Society.
Bishop Pelotte ordained his twin brother, Fr. Dana Pelotte, SSS, on Sept. 4, 1999 at their hometown parish in Waterville, Maine. The Diocese of Gallup said this was the first time in known Catholic history a bishop ordained his twin brother.
During his 22 years in the Diocese of Gallup he developed training programs for Native American deacons and lay ministers. He also fought to keep open Casa San Martin, which served Gallup’s homeless population.
In 2007 Bishop Pelotte suffered severe injuries in what he said was a fall down a staircase during an illness. However, a deacon who found him locked in his bedroom room suspected he had been assaulted.
That December, Bishop Pelotte began a medical leave of absence and Bishop Thomas Olmstead of the Diocese of Phoenix was appointed to oversee the diocese.
In a Thursday statement, Bishop Olmstead said he was “saddened” to learn of Bishop Pelotte’s death.
“I join with Bishop James Wall, who now heads the Gallup Diocese, and the priests, religious and faithful in mourning the death of the first Native American bishop in the United States.”
“Because the Diocese of Gallup encompasses part of Northeastern Arizona, it was my good fortune to come to know Bishop Pelotte over the years,” he continued, assuring the Catholics of Gallup that he was united with them in prayer.
He also enjoined the people of Phoenix to pray for the deceased prelate and his family.
Bishop Wall also expressed sadness at the death of his predecessor, saying he “so faithfully served the Church throughout his life.”
“During this difficult time, we look to our Lord, Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life—and we pray for the repose of the soul of our brother, Donald, and for the comfort and consolation of his family members,” Bishop Wall said in a Thursday statement.
Bishop Pelotte’s funeral Mass will be held on Jan. 14 in Sacred Heart Cathedral in Gallup. In accordance with his wishes, he will be buried in the crypt of the cathedral at the end of the liturgy.