MILWAUKEE — A funeral Mass was scheduled for Oct. 1 at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Superior for Bishop Raphael M. Fliss, who headed the Diocese of Superior for nearly 26 years. He died Sept. 21 in Duluth, Minnesota. He was 84.
Born Oct. 25, 1930, the Milwaukee native was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee May 26, 1956. He earned a licentiate in sacred theology from The Catholic University of America in Washington in 1957 and a doctorate in canon law from Rome’s Lateran University in 1963.
When he returned to the archdiocese, he served in a number of archdiocesan capacities, including notary in the curia, defender of the bond, and as secretary and master of ceremonies for two archbishops.
In 1969, Bishop Fliss was appointed vice chancellor. Nine years later, he was named rector of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.
Despite Bishop Fliss’ academic accomplishments and his role in archdiocesan administration, he remained humble, according to Father Erwin Matt, a seminary classmate and senior priest in the archdiocese.
“He didn’t change,” the priest said. “As brilliant as he was, he could always reach the lowliest of people.”
Eleven people had another title for the bishop — “Uncle Father Ralph,” according to his priest-nephew, Father Paul Fliss, pastor of Immaculate Conception, St. Peter Claver and SS. Cyril and Methodius parishes in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
In an interview with the Superior Catholic Herald, Father Fliss described his uncle as “kind, gentle, and loving — so compassionate.”
Noting that Bishop Fliss studied in Rome during the Second Vatican Council, and that he attended some of the council’s sessions, Father Fliss said, “He was a Vatican II priest and bishop. He was fully supportive of Vatican II’s emphasis on caring for people.”
On Nov. 5, 1979, Pope John Paul II named Bishop Fliss coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Superior with the right of succession to Bishop George Hammes. When Bishop Hammes retired, Bishop Fliss became the ninth bishop of the diocese June 27, 1985. He retired June 28, 2007.
In the mission diocese that includes 16 counties in northern Wisconsin, Bishop Fliss established the permanent diaconate program, helped facilitate the clustering of parishes as the diocese addressed its shortage of priests, and was engaged in interreligious dialogue in Wisconsin and upper Michigan.
Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki remembered Bishop Fliss as “a kind and gentle man whose love for the church and the priests, religious, deacons and faithful of his diocese reflected the love and care that Christ calls from each and every one of us.”
“I will miss his reflections on the service rendered to our archdiocese, which introduced me to my predecessors and a number of our dedicated priests and people,” the archbishop said.