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Catholic Life

Bishop Donald Trautman, Buffalo-born bishop of Erie, passes away


Most Rev. Donald W. Trautman, STD, SSL, the Buffalo-born priest who would serve as bishop for Erie, Pennsylvania for 22 years, passed away Feb. 26, at the age of 85.

Bishop Donald W. Trautman (Photo by Mark Fainstein)

“The Diocese of Buffalo mourns the loss of Bishop Emeritus Donald W. Trautman of Erie who passed away this evening,” Bishop Michael Fisher said in a prepared statement. “Bishop Trautman had a long history of service in the Buffalo Diocese as well and we wish for the peaceful repose of his soul as he has come to meet Christ this evening.”

Born June 24, 1936, to Edward J. and Martha Trautman, the future bishop attended St. Mark School in Buffalo, before he began studies for the priesthood at the Diocesan Preparatory Seminary in Buffalo and Our Lady of the Angels Seminary at Niagara University. He completed his theological studies with the Jesuits at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, studying under noted theologian Karl Rahner and renowned liturgist Josef Jungmann.
Bishop Trautman was ordained a priest in Innsbruck on April 7, 1962, and received his licentiate degree in sacred theology the same year. His first assignment was administrator of St. Frances Cabrini Parish in Collins Center. 

Later, he pursued higher studies at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. Before returning to Europe, he was an associate pastor of Holy Family Parish in Buffalo. Bishop Trautman continued his post-graduate studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, where he received his licentiate degree in scripture in 1965. He was awarded his doctorate in sacred theology with honors from St. Thomas Aquinas University in Rome in 1966. While working toward his doctorate, he did advanced studies in Scripture. He wrote his doctoral thesis on the biblical understanding of celibacy.

During his time in Rome, Bishop Trautman assisted at the Second Vatican Council.
From 1966 to 1973, he served as professor of Scripture and Theology at St. John Vianney Seminary (later Christ the King Seminary), East Aurora. He also served as dean of students and retreat master for religious communities. During that time, he was elected to the priests’ senate and served as vice president and president of the Diocesan Pastoral Council in Buffalo.

Before his appointment as diocesan chancellor in 1973, Bishop Trautman served as secretary to Bishop Edward D. Head. In 1974, he was named vicar general of the diocese. Pope Paul VI named him a prelate of honor with the title of Reverend Monsignor in 1975.

On Feb. 27, 1985, Pope John Paul II named auxiliary bishop of Buffalo. He was consecrated bishop April 16, 1985, at St. Joseph Cathedral in Buffalo by Bishop Head.
On May 15, 1985, he was appointed pastor of SS. Peter & Paul Parish in Williamsville. He became rector of Christ the King Seminary in June 1990.

Bishop Trautman was named the ninth bishop of the Diocese of Erie by Pope John Paul II on June 12, 1990, and was installed July 16, at St. Peter Cathedral. He retired July 31, 2012.

Reflecting on his ministry as he celebrated his 25th anniversary as a bishop, he gave a comprehensive interview to FaithLife newspaper.

“Being a bishop is a joy, but it is also a burden in many ways,” he said. “You want to make sure that all your decisions, actions and statements are proper and in accord with the Church and will lead people to the Lord. You can’t please everyone. I do always try to practice collegiality and that is why we have consultative bodies. I try to use them faithfully and I can honestly say I have never made a major decision in the diocese without going to those consultative bodies.”