Archdiocese of Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Kevin Birmingham, 51, died unexpectedly Oct. 2. He was recently appointed episcopal vicar of Vicariate VI, after having served as episcopal vicar of Vicariate IV since shortly after being ordained a bishop on Nov. 13, 2020. “The church has lost a wonderful priest and bishop today and I lost a dear friend and valued colleague,” Cardinal Cupich said in a statement. “From the start of his ministry, Bishop Kevin Birmingham was a devoted and joyful priest. He felt called to serve Latino Catholics especially, and he learned Spanish in order to do so. He served in my office for six years as priest-secretary, always with dedication and attention to every detail, a role in which his reputation for kindness only grew. May we honor his memory by continuing to do as he did, and model the love God has for his children in all we do.” Bishop Birmingham participated in the distribution of the archdiocese’s Christifidelis awards for laypeople on Oct. 1, and later offered a blessing at the St. Francis Dinner hosted by the Diaconate Council of the archdiocese, and news of his passing the next morning came as a shock. Auxiliary Bishop Jeffrey Grob, who was ordained a bishop with Bishop Birmingham and Auxiliary Bishop Robert Lombardo, said he knew Bishop Birmingham for almost all of his priestly ministry, and considered Bishop Birmingham a friend long before they both became bishops. “He was who he was. He was the real deal,” Bishop Grob said. “He was pastoral. He was genuine. Funny. His laughter was infectious. Whatever he did, there was a sensitivity. You could tell he genuinely cared. It wasn’t a facade. It can sound kind of trite to say that he had a pastor’s heart, or a shepherd’s heart, but he did. And he brought the best of that to being an auxiliary bishop. … He’s going to leave an incredible hole. You don’t find people like Kevin all the time. It’s the church’s loss tremendously. “You can’t help but think of him and smile.” When news came that of his appointment as a bishop in 2020, Bishop Birmingham was maybe more surprised than anyone else. “I had no idea, no desire for it, no need for it,” Bishop Birmingham said. “Then, talking to my brother priests, they were the ones who said they were not surprised. They said, ‘It’s because of your desire to be a pastor, and now you will be one.’” Bishop Birmingham grew up in Chicago Ridge, the seventh of 10 children in his family, and attended public elementary and middle school. The summer between seventh and eighth grade, he was invited to a summer camp for boys at Quigley South, and decided to go, since the camp advertised use of the school’s computer room, he told Chicago Catholic in 2020. While the computer classes did not live up to his expectations, he discovered a call to priesthood and attended Quigley South, taking a paper route and working odd jobs to pay the $625 he needed to ride public transit to the school each year. After high school, he studied math and computer science at Loyola University Chicago for two years while he further discerned his vocation. It wasn’t that he had doubts, he told Chicago Catholic; it was that he was so sure about his desire to become a priest that he feared the thought was coming from him, not God. He transferred to Niles College Seminary as a junior and then attended the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary before being ordained a priest in 1997 at age 25. While a seminarian, he developed a devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and an affinity for serving Latino Catholics when he spent time in Morelia, Mexico, learning Spanish and ministering in predominantly Latino parishes in Chicago. The families he met reminded him of his large Irish family, he said. When he spent time teaching RCIA at St. Agnes of Bohemia Parish, 2651 S. Central Park Ave., he would go to a local shop for a torta afterwards, and he felt out of place because everyone else was speaking Spanish. “I wanted to know what they were saying,” he said. “I wanted to hear the ‘chisme,’ the gossip.” After ordination, he traveled to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico to give thanks. The Oblate Sisters of Jesus the Priest from Mexico City who served at Mundelein and at Niles College arranged for him to celebrate his second Mass as a priest there. “I thought they were going to have me at one of the side altars, but no,” he said in 2020. He celebrated Mass at the main altar for a congregation of almost 15,000 pilgrims. He served as associate pastor of the former St. Benedict Parish, Blue Island, now part of St. Mary Magdalene Parish, and St. Peter Claver Mission from 1997 to 2001; and of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Orland Park, from 2001-2005. He was pastor of the former St. Anne Parish, Hazel Crest, now part of St. John Neumann Parish, from 2005 to 2011, and pastor of the former Maternity BVM Parish, 3647 W. North Ave., now part of San José Luis Sánchez del Río Parish, from 2011 to 2014. Parishioners at the parishes where Bishop Birmingham served remembered him as a pastoral presence. Yolanda Guzmán, a member of the former Maternity BVM Parish, 3647 W. North Ave., said parishioners there enjoyed his Spanish Masses and homilies. “My kids always loved his homilies,” Guzmán said in 2020. “Especially when they were in school. He always brought props, he always gave examples to explain the Gospel. He’s very respectful and kind and funny. He makes us all laugh. My kids, too, they enjoy talking to Father Kevin.” In 2014, Cardinal Cupich tapped Bishop Birmingham to serve as his priest-secretary, a position he held until shortly being named a bishop on Sept. 11, 2020. When he finished that assignment, Cardinal Cupich put him in charge of the Department of Parish Vitality and Mission, a post he kept until becoming episcopal vicar of Vicariate IV. Survivors include his mother Jeanette A. Birmingham and his siblings: Gary (Sandy) Birmingham, Jeanne (Dave) Williams, Joleen (David) Fields, Donna (the late Mike) Green, Matt (Debbie) Birmingham, Theresa Gill, Mark Birmingham and Brandon (Elizabeth) Birmingham. He was uncle of 23 nephews and nieces, and great-uncle of many. He was preceded in death by his father, Joseph James, and brother, Lawrence J. Birmingham. Funeral arrangements are as follows: Friday, Oct. 6: Visitation From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Church of Our Lady of the Ridge, 10811 Ridgeland Ave., Chicago Ridge. From 4 to 10 p.m. at Holy Name Cathedral, 735 N. State St. Vigil Service for the Deceased 7:30 p.m. at Holy Name Cathedral, 735 N. State St.. Cardinal Cupich will preside and Bishop Grob will preach. Saturday, Oct. 7: Visitation from 9 to 11 a.m. at Holy Name Cathedral. Funeral Mass at 11 a.m. at Holy Name Cathedral. Cardinal Cupich will preside over the Mass and Bishop Lombardo will be the homilist. Interment will be private at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Alsip.