Bishop Joseph Cistone, 69, passed away in his home Monday night.
Saginaw Township Police Chief Don Pussehl told TV5 a 911 call was placed at 10:20 a.m. on Oct. 16 from Cistone's home, and when officials arrived he had already passed away.
Cistone, the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, announced in February that he was diagnosed with lung cancer. The diocese has since said his cancer had spread to other areas of his body.
The diocese has released the following statement on Oct. 16:
"The Most Rev. Joseph R. Cistone, Bishop of Saginaw, died in his home during the night. He had been scheduled for a medical procedure today to relieve the symptoms of lung cancer."
The diocese said Cistone died of natural causes.
A funeral mass will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 23 at 11 a.m. at the Cathedral of Mary of the Assumption, 615 Hoyt Ave. in Saginaw.
Visitation will take place at the cathedral on Sunday, Oct. 21 from 2 p.m. until 8 p.m. and Monday, Oct. 22 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Jimmy Greene was both a friend of the bishop's and his cancer coach.
The two had a close friendship that started when they met at a Saginaw Spirit game years ago. In more recent times, Cistone was a guide for Greene's faith and Greene - as a cancer survivor - guided the bishop through the hardships of his lung cancer.
Greene said Cistone was known for his honesty.
"Incredibly honest, maybe to a point where some people think you're too honest. But he really was an incredibly, deeply caring man. I don't think there was ever a time where his faith was shaken by the church or any of the things affecting it. But he was strong, incredibly strong willed. Just a great man of faith," Greene said.
Greene said he will continue to honor his friend and keep Cistone's teachings in his heart.
Cistone had a strong passion for Catholic education. He was involved with youth programs and would attend plays. His faith was inspiring for students and staff at Nouvel Catholic Schools.
They held a mass at the high school in Cistone's honor on Tuesday.
Superintendent Cormac Lynn said Cistone meant a lot.
"Very humble guy, very open. Would always walk down the hallways, always say hello. Wanted to know what was going on. Treated everyone normal. It wasn't 'the bishop is walking down the hall.' He was just here doing his job trying to be a role model and help guide us in our faith. So we appreciate that," Lynn said.
Cistone was supposed to host a holy hour at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Midland on Tuesday. That service was still held in his honor.
"Very sorrowful. It's a shock. We lost a wonderful shepherd for our flock here," said Sarah Hoking, parishioner.
Parishioners said even though Cistone was not at the mass, the memories of him were.
"His smile. He just knew how to connect with everybody in the room. When we would have events here he would go back into the kitchen and thanks the workers there. Those are people normally forgotten. He just knew how to touch every member of our family," Hoking said.
Cistone's teachings will live on.
"He may be gone, but the message is still here. His love for us as a flock is still here. We can take his memory and his messages and just be better servants of the lord and better servants to this community," Greene said.
During his time in Mid-Michigan, Cistone formed quite the relationship with several pastors throughout the diocese.
"Deep sadness in the people of Saginaw saying goodbye to our shepherd," said Father Jose Cabrera, pastor of All Saints Parish in Bay City.
Cabrera said Cistone has left behind a legacy that will live on.
"Bishop Cistone was a very strong man in the faith and in his leadership. And he did a lot of things for our diocese - planning parishes, renewal of the cathedral, and the holy hours he did in many of our churches. He was always there with the people. So we are going to greatly miss him," Cabrera said.
Despite Cistone's battle with cancer, Cabrera said he seemed to be in good spirits this past Sunday.
"I think we're all in shock because on Sunday we were with him at the cathedral and the ministry commission mass. And we knew he was struggling with his cancer, but we never thought he was going to leave that fast," Cabrera said.
Looking back, Cabrera said Cistone's sermon on Sunday was one that was strangely fitting and will stick with him forever.
"The last homily that he gave on Sunday was about the question of the rich young man, what must I do to inherit eternal life. It was very powerful to hear him on Sunday," Cabrera said.
Cabrera spent his day on Tuesday praying and reflecting on the fond memories he will always have of the bishop.
"When I was doing my biblical studies in Rome he came to visit me. And we went out for dinner. It's something I will forever remember," Cabrera said.
Archbishop of Detroit Allen H. Vigneron responded to Cistone's death with the following statement:
"Since his first days in Saginaw, Bishop Cistone was committed to being a loving and zealous pastor for his priests and his people. I offer them, and the bishop’s family, my heartfelt condolences. For myself, I’ve lost a friend and a brother. In a year of many challenges, and particularly in these last months of his struggle with cancer, I was edified by the confident hope with which he faced his illness. May the Lord welcome him home this day."
Michigan Catholic Conference President and CEO Paul Long released the following statement:
“Michigan Catholic Conference shares its profound sorrow with the parishioners, clergy and family of Bishop Joseph Cistone, who passed away unexpectedly last night. We remember the joy in which he approached his ministry as bishop and his service to this organization as a member of the Board of Directors. Bishop Cistone was an incredibly fine and good man. He dedicated his life to serving the Lord as a priest and bishop and he did so with kindness, compassion, and with a tremendous sense of the pastoral. He strongly believed in MCC’s mission to advocate for the common good of society and to provide administrative services for the needs of the Church. He will be deeply missed.”
Cistone was appointed Bishop of Saginaw on May 20, 2009. Before that he was an Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Read his biography here.
He lately had been dealing with sexual abuse allegations against priests in the Saginaw area. In April, he hired a retired judge to handle inquiries by victims and law enforcement, saying the 11-county diocese needed a "fresh start" during a "very distressing" time.
The Rev. Robert DeLand recently pleaded no contest to criminal sexual conduct, but the plea was rejected by a judge and a trial is planned.
The diocese said in time a new bishop will be appointed, but it is unclear when that will be.
In the meantime, Pope Francis has appointed the Most Rev. Walter A. Hurley - Bishop Emeritus of Grand Rapids - as Apostolic Administrator for the diocese.
Hurley will serve as the caretaker for the diocese during this transition.
“My first concern is to assist with the funeral of Bishop Cistone and to assist with the sense of loss that priests and people feel at the passing of this wonderful man,” Hurley said.
Hurley is excited about his role to lead the diocese of Saginaw forward.
"So much of out attention needs to be focused on the funeral for Bishop Cistone who has served with distinction over these many years," Hurley said.
Hurley said he realizes there are a lot of people still mourning the loss of Cistone and he has a message for them.
"You need to cherish the memories that you have. When people die we need to reflect on what they have been for us. But in the midst of that mourning, we - as a Catholic people - always find hope. And the hope doesn't rest in ourselves, it rests on God's grace and God's blessings. And then to value if you will, the things that were important to him. I mean, I think he brought a certain joy to things. I think it's a powerful thing for us to cherish and remember that too and try to live out those things in our own lives," Hurley said.
He said it could be up to a year before a permanent bishop is named. While Hurley said he is honored to be here, he has no desire to stay for the long run.
"I'm 81-years-old. So that's not going to happen. I mean, my next move is probably to the nursing home," Hurley said.