The Rt. Rev. William Stevens, Sixth Bishop of Fond du Lac
Sixth Bishop of Fond du Lac (1980-94)
William Louis Stevens was born in Yuba City, California on January 12, 1932. After graduating from General Theological Seminary in 1956 he was ordained a Deacon, and in 1957 to the Priesthood. He was consecrated the sixth bishop of Fond du Lac on September 7, 1980. Although his ministry up to that time had been conducted in the more temperate climates of California, England and Florida, he was an Anglo Catholic who had long known the history of the diocese he was called to serve. He adapted to the climate of Northern Wisconsin, but stoically endured poor health during many of his 14 years in Fond du Lac
Though conservative himself, Bishop Stevens made it his mission to establish a climate open to diversity of opinion, one which would not lead to polarization among those of opposing views. A modest, unassuming man, he treated everyone with unfailing courtesy and was a sympathetic listener. He expected his clergy and people to handle differences with tolerance and good manners. Those who worked with him soon perceived just how much he hated loud arguments, or hectoring language. His sermons often proclaimed that the Church on earth was “a hospital for sinners,” lest people forget that there would always be disagreement, mistakes, human mess. His participation in numerous devotional societies expressed his conviction that prayer was vital to the life of any Christian body.
Bill was strongly interested in vocations to the religious life. Two years after his ordination, he spent some time as a novice at the Order of the Holy Cross. The Bishop of Fond du Lac normally becomes the Episcopal Visitor for the Sisters of the Holy Nativity. For Bishop Stevens, this wasn’t merely a pro forma relationship. He spent much time at the Mother House, and the Sisters became a second family to him. From 1986 to 1993, he was also visitor to the order of Saint Benedict. He enjoyed serving as chair of the House of Bishops Committee on Religious Communities. Ecumenism was another strong interest. He built up Fond du Lac’s relationship with Wisconsin LARCUM and with EDEO. He signed an expansive covenant with the local Roman Catholic Diocese and ELCA Synod. Those who associated him with his most conservative views were often surprised to hear him exhort Ecumenists to “just get on with it,” without splitting theological hairs. As a preacher, he was particularly skilled at bringing theological concepts to life. Complex ideas were rendered clear and accessible by his stories and examples. He took the teaching role of his office seriously, but not in a didactic manner. Always compassionate, he wanted to make sure his hearers understood that theology helped them live more Christian lives. He particularly sympathized with the situation of clergy in isolated communities, and with the problems of small parishes.
William Louis Stevens departed this life November 4, 1997, after a two year struggle with the results of a debilitating stroke. A funeral service was held at St. Benedict’s Church, Plantation, Florida, where he had served for many years as Rector. His cremated remains are buried in St. Benedict’s Memorial Garden. A Memorial Service was held at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Fond du Lac.
Russell E. Jacobus
Bishop of Fond du Lac
List of Bishops