Fr. Edmond Bliven
Fr. Edmond Bliven

UPDATED SEPT. 27, 12:32 P.M.

Father Edmond Bliven, an intellectual giant of the Archdiocese of Portland, died Sept. 22 at age 93.

After a quick onset of pneumonia, he died at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, surrounded by family.

The funeral is set for Monday, Oct. 7, 1 p.m. at St. Mary Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

An apostle of Catholic common sense with an uproarious laugh, Father Bliven served in western Oregon parishes and was longtime editorial page editor of the Catholic Sentinel. He attended a session of the Second Vatican Council and was active in the ecumenical movement.

He was raised in blue collar north Salem near the Oregon State Fairgrounds. Mark, his younger brother, recalls being bullied by a neighborhood thug, only to be saved by his big brother, then a student at Mount Angel Prep. The future priest threw no punches in the extrication but won the day anyhow and got a bloody gash over his eye for his efforts. The scar would remain. “What a wonderful thing to know he was so tough and would stand up for me,” Mark said.

“I was not picked by the sisters,” Father Bliven said of his vocation during a 2015 Sentinel interview.

On the contrary, the Sisters of the Holy Names at Sacred Heart School in Salem were at wits’ end. It was clear young Edmond was whip-smart but needed a little male discipline — so he was sent to Mount Angel. He recalled that the monks at times tossed chalkboard erasers at malcontents. “Some of them were real marksmen,” he said.

As a teen during World War II, he made a move to join the Marines. But a recruiter told him that an awful lot of Marines did not make it home and that he would do better for humanity by remaining in seminary.

After completing high school and college at Mount Angel, he was accepted at St. Edward Seminary in Washington state, a place he jokingly likened to a minimum security prison.

Ordained in 1950 in St. Mary Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception by Archbishop Edward Howard, he served as assistant at St. John the Baptist in Milwaukie, Holy Cross in North Portland, St. John the Apostle in Oregon City and All Saints in Northeast Portland. He recalled one wise pastor who explained that a priest should avoid public fights, which can split a parish, but should have frank discussions in private.

In 1959, Father Bliven was assigned as pastor of St. Patrick in Canby. He then served at St. Anne in Gresham 1966-72 and at St. Mary in Corvallis 1972-83. He was pastor for more than a decade at St. Michael the Archangel in Southwest Portland before retiring. As a pastor, Father Bliven made changes only after much dialogue and reflection, he told the Sentinel in 2015.

Longtime friend Geri Ethen was organist at St. Michael when it was announced that Father Bliven would be the new pastor, the first who was not Italian. The parish had worked hard to maintain its Italian identity, and members circulated a petition to block Father Bliven’s appointment. “He entered under great duress, and left much beloved,” said Ethen.

He had studied at the University of Geneva, focusing on ecumenism, and had lived in Israel for five months, studying Hebrew so he could better embrace Scripture.

Father Bliven was editorial page editor for the Catholic Sentinel from the 1950s into the 1980s. Signing his professorial opinion pieces simply E.B., he took on the political and theological issues of the day, always showing the richness and logic of the Catholic tradition he loved — even after it was updated during Vatican II.

“Personally, I think it is unfortunate that those who refuse to follow the Council and the Pope are called ‘traditionalists,’” he wrote in a 1976 editorial. “The tradition of the Church has always allowed for changes and adaptations which do not affect the essential teaching handed down from the Apostles.”

Though a pioneer in the vernacular liturgy, Father Bliven retained a love for the Mass in Latin. He sang high Masses regularly in his later years.

Father Bliven sent dispatches to the Sentinel from Rome during the council. In 1975 he was prescient about climate change, editorializing about the need to ban aerosols that were wreaking havoc with the ozone layer.

“He has always been on the cutting edge of things,” said his brother Mark.

Father Bliven was a member of the board of Oregon Catholic Press and edited missals for the company, which is publisher of this newspaper. He wrote a book of Catholic prayer.

Father Bliven was renowned for historical and academic knowledge and he led the first Oregon Catholic Press pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

 “When you sat down with him you knew it was going to be learning experience,” his brother Mark said.

“His homilies showed a deep understanding of the sweep of history and cultures, and also a great understanding of the Jewish nature of Jesus,” said Steve Moss, parishioner at St. Michael the Archangel. Moss said Masses at which Father Bliven was celebrant would include five or more languages: Latin, English, Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew.

“Father Bliven promoted understanding in his homilies,” said Moss. “And for all his knowledge, he always brought it back to earth with human life and feelings.”

After he retired, Father Bliven boarded a cargo ship and traveled for months with the mostly Croatian crew, adventuring in ports in South America and elsewhere. He explained to the crew and fellow passengers in detail just how much sense Catholicism made. He continued his natural evangelization when he moved into a retirement center.

“He did for me the favor he did for many other people,” said Ethen. “He helped me get back to where I agreed intellectually with the church.”

Father Bliven’s sense of humor was famous. Upon meeting a Russian émigré who found it distasteful that the body of Vladimir Lenin still lay on display in Red Square, Father Bliven explained that people go to see the birthplace of Christ and the birthplace of the Buddha out of honor and awe, but they go to see Lenin’s tomb “because they want to make sure that the @#$%^&! is still dead.”

— Ed Langlois and Kristen Hannum