Longtime Boise bishop, champion of social justice, dies at 78

The Most Rev. Michael P. Driscoll.
The Most Rev. Michael P. Driscoll.

The Most Rev. Michael P. Driscoll served as the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise for 15 years. He died Tuesday of natural causes at the age of 78, the diocese announced in a statement.

Driscoll was born in Long Beach, Calif., and was ordained as a priest in 1965. He was later ordained a bishop in 1990. Pope John Paul II appointed him the seventh bishop of Boise on Jan. 19, 1999. He held that position until he retired in 2014.

The bishop oversaw several shifts in the landscape of Idaho’s Catholic churches. His outreach to the growing Hispanic community brought an influx of priests from Mexico and Colombia to Idaho, and he was closely associated with Catholic Charities, the church’s social justice arm. Driscoll founded the Idaho branch of the charity in 2000, and it now operates in both Boise and Idaho Falls.

Driscoll also emphasized the roles of youth and young adults in the church and brought to Idaho a program that provides ongoing education for priests.

As the Catholic church’s sex abuse scandal reached Idaho in the early 2000s, Driscoll stripped several Idaho priests of their ministry duties and restricted the roles of others as he offered apologies and outreach to victims. His actions were met with mixed praise and criticism, particularly from victims.

“Upon my first visit to the diocese, I soon realized that Bishop Driscoll was a pastoral and compassionate shepherd to the people and his priests by the manner in which he passed the leadership of the diocese on to me,” said Peter Christensen, who took over as bishop after Driscoll left. “His love for this diocese was evident not only in his words, but also by his pastoral care for all. He was truly a gentle and kind man.”

A Vigil with Rite of Reception of the Body is scheduled for Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. The funeral mass will take place Nov. 2 at 10 a.m. at the Cathedral, followed by A Rite of Committal at the Morris Hill Cemetery.