Alden John Bell

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The Most Reverend

Alden J. Bell, DD
Bishop of Sacramento
Alden Bell.jpg
ChurchCatholic Church
In officeMarch 30, 1962—July 11, 1979
PredecessorJoseph Thomas McGucken
SuccessorFrancis Anthony Quinn
OrdinationMay 14, 1932
ConsecrationJune 4, 1956
Personal details
Born(1904-07-11)July 11, 1904
Peterborough, Ontario, Canada
DiedAugust 28, 1982(1982-08-28) (aged 78)
Sacramento, California, U.S.
Previous postAuxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles (1956-1962)
Ordination history of
Alden John Bell
Episcopal consecration
Consecrated byJames Francis McIntyre
DateJune 4, 1956
Episcopal succession
Bishops consecrated by Alden John Bell as principal consecrator
John Stephen CumminsMay 16, 1974

Alden John Bell (July 11, 1904 – August 28, 1982) was a 20th-century bishop of the Catholic Church in the United States. He served as bishop of the Diocese of Sacramento in the state of California from 1962-1979.[1][2][3]

Early life and pastoral assignments[edit]

Alden John Bell was born in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. He completed his undergraduate education at Saint Patrick's Seminary[4] in Menlo Park, California, and his graduate studies at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.[1]

While at the seminary in 1927, Bell was one of three pastoral interns who were assigned to St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Altadena, California.[4] He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest for the Diocese of Los Angeles-San Diego on May 14, 1932.[5] In 1935, Father Bell persuaded the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus to teach at the Sacred Heart Mission.[4]


Diocese of Los Angeles[edit]

On April 11, 1956, Bell was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles and Titular Bishop of Rhodopolis by Pope Pius XII. He received his episcopal consecration on the following June 4 in St. Vibiana's Cathedral from Cardinal James Francis McIntyre,[6] with Bishops Joseph Thomas McGucken and Timothy Manning serving as co-consecrators.

On November 10, 1956, Bell blessed La Salle High School two months after it opened.[7] On March 9, 1957 Bell consecrated the high altar at St. Kevin's Church, Los Angeles.[8] On October 26, 1957, Bell presided over the gymnasium dedication at Junípero Serra High School in Gardena, California.[9]

Diocese of Sacramento[edit]

On March 30, 1962, Bell was appointed the sixth Bishop of Sacramento by Pope John XXIII.[5] He was installed on the following May 15 in the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Sacramento.

Diocesan activities[edit]

During the 1960s, Bell learned that a brass locomotive bell, donated by a retired Southern Pacific Railroad parishioner, was going to be installed in All Hallows Church in Sacramento. The church had been built without a bell in 1960 with a large campanile. Bell instructed Pastor Cornelius O'Connor not to place the bell in the tower, but to buy a proper church bell instead. O'Connor declined to buy a new bell, and declared that his parish would have no bells.[10]

On September 17, 1963, Bell dedicated Jesuit High School, Sacramento, to the Jesuit North American Martyrs. In May 1982, he returned to this school to dedicate its library in memory of the Rev. Joseph J. King, S.J..[11]

On April 2, 1965, Bell dedicated the fourth rebuilding of St. Joseph Church in Redding, California. The original church had been constructed near railroad tracks and later moved to the site of the second church. Both the second and third St. Joseph's churches had burnt down in fires.[12]

On June 7, 1965, Bell dedicated Holy Family Parish's new church, which replaced the Camp Kohler chapel that had been purchased from the Army.[13] In 1970 he approved Monsignor Vito Mistretta's request to employ a lay staff at Holy Family.[citation needed]

In 1969, as the ordinary, Bell approved within the see of Sacramento Our Lady of Guadalupe Church as a "national shrine".[14] This shrine is known as the Sanctuary of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe or as Santuario Nacional de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.[15] This was accomplished after the construction of its new church, because at that time it had become the largest "Spanish speaking" Mexican parish.[14]

In 1973, Bell dedicated St. Joseph Parish's new church in Elk Grove, California. The old church had been sold in December 1972.[16]

On May 6, 1974, Bell was the principal consecrator of Bishop John Stephen Cummins. Cummins had been appointed as the diocesan auxiliary bishop on February 26, 1974.[17]

In 1977, Bell supervised the purchase and installation of a Schlicker organ from Buffalo, New York, for the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. While it had nine ranks of pipes, the organ proved to be inadequate for the music of the cathedral's liturgy.[18]

In May 1977, Bell gave $20,000, which had been a World War II relief fund for Slovaks, to the Byzantine Eparch of Parma, Emil Mihalik. The eparch said the money would be used to build a church in Sacramento.[19]

Ecumenical Councils[edit]

From 1962-1965 Bishop Bell attended all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council. He was responsible for implementing the reforms that resulted from the Council in the diocese. Many parishes began parish councils at this time, and he encouraged the emergence of lay ministry in the diocese. At the same time, he needed to respond to the needs of a growing diocese. Solano County was added to the diocese. He focused on the development of high schools throughout the diocese. He initiated a fund drive to ease costs, build new schools, expand religious education programs, and build a home for the aged.[20]

The 17 years he spent as bishop of the diocese, which grew to nearly 250,000 members during his tenure,[2] was a period of turbulence. Issues from outside the diocese also affected day-to-day life: the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and legislative matters on abortion. Within the diocese, his positive actions to aid Catholic education, improve interaction with the Latino community, and renovate the interior of the cathedral were undermined by divisions, school closures, and world tensions.[20]

Pope John Paul II accepted Bell's resignation on July 11, 1979, at the age of 75, making him the Bishop Emeritus of Sacramento.

Assassination attempt[edit]

In October 1979, after his resignation, a knife-wielding assailant attacked and cut Bell several times while he was off-duty in the cathedral's chancery, which was then located two blocks north of the state capitol.[1][2][3][21] He was stabbed twice before his secretary, Jean Tamaki, found William Luthin attacking the bishop with a "dagger-like" knife.[2] Tamaki was able to pull Luthin away by his shirt because the attacker was of "medium or small build." Bell had been in his office preparing for a trip to see Pope John Paul II in Chicago, Illinois.[2] Luthin surrendered himself at a hospital and was found not guilty by reason of insanity.[1] Police arrested Luthin as a suspect because he told nurses, "Call somebody. I stabbed a priest."[2] A knife was found on the office couch together with the sales receipt from a nearby store.[2] Bell was held overnight at Mercy General Hospital[2] with hand and rib wounds.[3][21] Luthin had seen the bishop earlier that day and reportedly complained about being excommunicated.[21] The bishop's trip to meet the pope was canceled.[3]


Bell died of esophageal cancer on August 28, 1982, aged 78.[2]


Then Governor Ronald Reagan's 1970 letter to Bell answering his request on "the tragic situation of Catholic school finances in California."[22]

The educational services to the 10 percent of the elementary and secondary school population of our state enjoying the benefits of such schools have done so much to enrich California heritage over the years. I feel it absolutely essential that we start placing the resources of the state behind the student, not the educational establishment.

From a May 1976 letter written by Bell that was read at all diocesan Masses concerning the deaths of 27 high school choir members and their champerone.[23]

Here we stand on the edge of a chasm of sorrow and tragedy. Some have been left behind and others hopefully await the outcome in a struggle for life. Our faith gives us a bridge to lead us safely through grief to a better understanding of God's way for us.

Bishop Francis Quinn on the subject of Bell's 1982 death.[1]

(Bishop Alden Bell) is one of those exceptional bishops called upon to lead the Church during the most demanding years following the Vatican II Council. He met the challenge with wisdom, patience and compassion.

The Reverend James C. Kidder, the bishop's secretary for 12 years, on the subject of Bell's 1982 death.[1]

He was terribly aware of the growing population of our diocese and was also terribly aware of the lack of priests at the same time.


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Retired Bishop Alden Bell is dead at 78". Lodi News-Sentinel. Google News. August 30, 1982. Retrieved 2010-05-17.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Sacto. Bishop stabbed". Lodi News-Sentinel. Google News. October 4, 1979. Retrieved 2010-05-17.
  3. ^ a b c d "Bishop stabbed". Milwaukee Journal. Google News. October 4, 1979. Retrieved 2010-05-17.
  4. ^ a b c "St. Elizabeth Catholic Church". August 30, 1982. Archived from the original on March 25, 2005. Retrieved 2010-05-17.
  5. ^ a b Bishop Alden John Bell
  6. ^ "Consecration of Bishop Bell Set". LA Times. June 2, 1956. Retrieved 2010-05-18.
  7. ^ "School History". La Salle High School (Pasadena, California). Retrieved 2010-05-17.
  8. ^ "About us". 2009. Archived from the original on 2010-08-26. Retrieved 2010-05-17.
  9. ^ Brother Charles Boglitz, SM (1989). "Some Serra History". Junípero Serra High School (Gardena, California). Retrieved 2010-05-18.
  10. ^ "Chimes and Bells". allhallowssacramento. 2012. Retrieved 2012-08-08.
  11. ^ "History of Jesuit High School (section)". Jesuit High School (Sacramento). Archived from the original on 2009-06-03. Retrieved 2010-05-17.
  12. ^ "St Joseph's History". Archived from the original on 2010-11-29. Retrieved 2010-05-17.
  13. ^ "A Brief History of Holy Family Parish". May 18, 2010. Archived from the original on December 3, 2010.
  14. ^ a b John Oldfield, O.A.R. (January 2007). Bishop of the Barrio: The Life of Bishop Alphonse Gallegos, O AR. Paulist Press. Retrieved 2010-05-18.
  15. ^ National Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe ~ Santuario Nacional de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe; retrieved 2010-05-18.
  16. ^ "Elk Grove: St. Joseph Parish website". Archived from the original on 2010-08-27. Retrieved 2010-05-17.
  17. ^ "Bishop John Stephen Cummins". February 10, 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-18.
  18. ^ Msgr. James Murphy. "Restoration of the Cathedral of the Blessed Cathedral" (PDF). Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-25. Retrieved 2010-05-17.
  19. ^ "Byzantine Catholic Rite Showing Rapid Growth". Toledo Blade. Google News. April 30, 1977. Retrieved 2010-05-18.
  20. ^ a b The Diocese of Sacramento enjoys a rich history... Archived 2008-01-31 at the Wayback Machine,; accessed August 28, 2014.
  21. ^ a b c "Intruder stabs retired bishop". Lakeland Ledger. Google News. October 4, 1979. Retrieved 2010-05-18.
  22. ^ "Bishop: Reagan Hopes To Find School Aid". Modesto Bee. Google News. September 3, 1970. Retrieved 2010-05-19.
  23. ^ "Services held in Yuba City for bus victims". The Beaver County Times. Google News. May 24, 1976. Retrieved 2010-05-18.
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Joseph Thomas McGucken
Bishop of Sacramento
Succeeded by
Francis Quinn