Prayers are asked for the repose of the soul of the Rt. Rev. Russell Edward Jacobus who died October 24, 2023. He was 79. He is survived by his wife Jerrie, and adult children Penny, Beth and David.
A funeral service will be held on Thursday, November 2nd at 11:00 a.m. at the Cathedral of St. Paul, 51 W. Division St., Fond du Lac, the Rt. Rev. Matt Gunter presiding. A visitation will precede the service from 9:00 - 10:30 a.m. Clergy are asked to vest (white stole) in Gulick/Trakel Hall by 10:30 a.m. and process.
Singers are invited to join a Diocesan Choir to remember Bishop Jacobus. Please be ready to rehearse at 9:00 am. Bring choral attire you normally wear in your congregation.
Clergy and laity may participate in the Bishop’s Psalm Vigil, a gathering to read from the Psalter in shifts while the bishop lies in repose at the Cathedral on Wednesday evening, November 1st, from 6:00 - 11:00 pm. Please reach out to Dean Patrick Perkins if interested or if you have questions, email@example.com.
While the Cathedral does not currently have the capacity to livestream the service, the Rev. David Simmons, Rector of Bishop Russ’ previous parish (St. Matthias, Waukesha) will livestream the service for us through the diocesan Facebook page at facebook.com/diofdl.
A reception will be held following the service at the Hotel Retlaw, One N. Main, Fond du Lac, since we anticipate attendance may exceed the parking near the Cathedral, please consider parking in the public ramp behind the hotel on levels 4-7, prior to the funeral and walk over to the Cathedral.
In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made to the Diocese of Fond du Lac for the Jacobus Continuing Education Fund or the Cathedral of St. Paul for the livestream upgrade project.
Jacobus was born in Milwaukee on September 27, 1944. He was the youngest of three sons of Lester and Sarah Jacobus. He received a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1967 and M.Div. from Nashotah House in 1970. Russ was ordained by Bishop Donald Hallock of Milwaukee to the diaconate on February 21, 1970 and to the priesthood August 22, 1970.
Jacobus was called to be curate at Trinity, Wauwatosa (1970-73). He then accepted the call to become vicar of Grace/Holy Innocents Mission in Hartland which one year later became parish with the name St. Anskar’s with Jacobus as the first rector. In 1980 he was called to be rector of St. Matthias, Waukesha where he served until his election as the Seventh Bishop of the Diocese Fond du Lac. During his ordained ministry in the Diocese of Milwaukee, Russ served as member of many committees and commissions, and was deputy to four consecutive General Conventions starting in 1982.
During “walkabouts” preceding his election, Jacobus was clear about the style he would adopt as a Bishop. He stated his nature was pastoral, not administrative, and if the diocese was looking for an administrator, it should look elsewhere. After being consecrated Bishop of the Diocese of Fond du Lac on May 24, 1994, he was true to his word. His steady approach was to counsel those who needed help. As a primarily pastoral Bishop, it was difficult to deal with the few instances where there was clerical misconduct, but he did so courageously.
When Jacobus began his Episcopate, he wrote a Clarion article that said for the first year he would “just dust,” not make any major change. In the process of dusting, he found the diocese was in a perilous financial condition. As a smaller diocese with a significant town and county contingent, the budget was saddled with support for many missions, leaving few resources for diocesan programs, and without a large endowment. Over his episcopate, the bishop led missions to experiment with alternative styles of ministry, away from a historical model of a priest on a full-time basis for each congregation. He changed the investment philosophy of the Diocesan Common Trust, which at the end of his Episcopate more than doubled while generating increasing income to the diocesan budget and participants. Expense was reduced, endowment income increased, asking from congregations was reduced, leaving more funds at the local level to strengthen their financial positions in their communities. The diocese was more able to support congregations through a variety of ministries, support for common work, and programs including an annual vestry school.
One area Jacobus truly enjoyed was hosting gatherings for clergy and spouses. Along with Jerrie, a variety of venues and themes were seen. A “Mad Regals” dinner saw this group return to the renaissance. A paddle-boat cruise was supplemented by games, both on paper and announced over the loud-speaker. The bishop’s residence hosted both Christmas parties and summer picnics. He also enjoyed hosting dinners for his staff, both paid and volunteer.
The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church held a meeting in the diocese in 1999. As a part of the meeting, Bishop Jacobus presented to Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold the famous “Fond du Lac Circus” photo of the consecration of Reginald Weller in 1900. Pictured is Tikhon who had been invited by Bishop Grafton and would become the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. Griswold presented this picture to Patriarch Alexy II when he met with him in Moscow later that year.
Issues of sexuality tended to dominate conversations in churches during Jacobus’ episcopate. A particular lightning strike was General Convention 2003 approving an openly gay priest as Bishop of New Hampshire. This led several congregations to leave the Episcopal Church and align with other jurisdictions. One of the great dividends of Jacobus’ pastoral approach was the trust placed in him throughout the diocese and his well-expressed wish to maintain unity of focus on proclaiming the Gospel. In 2004, he made a pastoral visit to every cleric of the diocese during the season of Lent. There was no set agenda, just the opportunity to sit down and chat over a cup of coffee. Although there were substantial segments in the diocese who disagreed with this General Convention action, the bishop was able to accommodate many concerns and hold the Diocese of Fond du Lac together.
There were disappointments. One was the closing of Christ Church, Green Bay. The facility was magnificent, but its physical size combined with a need for much maintenance along with a diminishing membership, put extreme strain on remaining operational. Towards its end it existed with diocesan financial support and many initiatives for growth were tried. None could overcome the shifting demographics of a downtown church and the congregation voted to close. The silver lining was the premises were sold to another denomination providing significant funding to build a new building for the growing congregation of St. Paul’s, Suamico, funding support for ministry initiatives in the Green Bay area and adding principal to the diocesan endowment.
Over a number of decades, the three Wisconsin dioceses had held discussions about joining with no action. Toward the end of Jacobus’ Episcopate a feasibility study of forming a new diocese by junction with the Diocese of Eau Claire was made. Several teams outlined what a new diocese would look like in ministry and program and developing pros and cons. The proposition was voted on in 2011. The split was so close, that Bishop Jacobus felt it unwise to proceed and withheld his consent as allowed in the diocesan constitution.
Having been a youth leader and recognizing the importance of young people’s involvement in the Church, Jacobus supported youth work on a broad level. He hosted several dinners with young people considering ordination as well as participating in many diocesan youth events. A paid youth ministry position was added to the diocesan staff in 1999, even though it was a strain on the diocesan budget. He spent much time at the diocesan summer camp, and twice served as a chaperone for the triennial national Episcopal Youth Event.
When Jacobus retired in 2013, there were a number of areas of diocesan life that were improved from when he started. The financial condition of the diocese was solid with more program support to its congregations. Many committees and commissions were organized into a more efficient structure and able to act on their own initiative. One example is the Commission on Ministry holding a “Day of Discernment” for those considering entering the ordination process. The quality of the priesthood was enhanced and more effectively deployed, and wardens and vestry had a better understanding of their stewardship roles. Volunteers abounded throughout the diocese, performing functions that are done by paid professionals in a larger diocese. It is, as former Presiding Bishop Griswold said, “a small but active diocese”.
Following retirement, Russ and Jerrie spent much of their time travelling, often with friends, including a trip to Italy earlier this month. They also spent time with family, lavishing love on their twin granddaughters. Time spent at their home “up north” in Townsend often saw them as worshippers at St. Paul’s, Marinette and St. Augustine’s, Rhinelander. Bishop Jacobus never wanted to take supply ministry opportunities away from others, so was often called on to supply when others were not able to. With a heart for pastoral care, Russ served in two extended positions including St. Michael’s, Orlando, Florida and St. Francis in Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky.