Marino, Eugene Antonio 1934–2000
Eugene Antonio Marino 1934–2000
Eugene Antonio Marino rose through the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy to become the first African-American archbishop in 1988. His leadership focused on increasing black participation in the Church and ministering to the poor, two endeavors in which he excelled. Marino’s visibility and effectiveness helped to combat the stigma of the Catholic Church as a racist, white organization. However, Marino resigned his position only two years into his tenure as Archbishop of Atlanta after admitting to an affair with a single mother.
Eugene Marino was born in 1934, the sixth of Jesus Maria and Lottie Irene Bradford Marino’s eight children. His father was an immigrant from Puerto Rico, but Eugene had little ties to his Hispanic heritage growing up in the African-American community in Biloxi, Mississippi. He did, however, have a firm foundation in the Catholic Church; Eugene’s maternal grandfather helped build a church in Biloxi designed to serve black Catholics, and Eugene attended parochial school.
Marino decided on a career in the priesthood early on in life. Following his graduation from high school in 1952, he enrolled in the Epiphany Episcopal College in Newburgh, New York. The seminary was part of the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, a ministry started in 1871 specifically to serve the African-American population and train black priests. In 1955 he entered the novitiate and a year later went to St. Joseph’s Major Seminary in Washington, D.,C. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1962; two years later he was ordained as a priest. He continued his education at Loyola University in New Orleans and eventually earned a master’s from Fordham University in 1967.
The new priest began his career as a teacher at Epiphany Apostolic College, but he ascended rapidly through the ranks of the Catholic hierarchy. In 1968 he returned to his alma mater, St. Joseph’s Major Seminary, as the spiritual director. Three years later he became second-in-command of the Josephites as the first African-American vicar general. On September 12, 1974, Marino became the auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C, only the fourth African American to achieve such a high position in the Church. Marino commented on the significance of his appointment in a 1987 talk to black Catholic leaders: “Growing up as a young boy in Mississippi, with the double—I was going
Bom on May 29, 1934, in Biloxi, Mississippi; died of a heart attack on November 12, 2000, in Manhasset, New York; son of Jesus Maria Marino (a baker) and Lottie Irene Bradford Marino (a maid). Education: Epiphany Episcopal College, attended, 1952-1956; St. Joseph’s Seminary, B.A., 1962; Loyola University, attended; Fordham University, M.A., 1967.
Career: Ordained as a Catholic priest, 1962; Epiphany Apostolic College, teacher, 1962-68; St. Joseph’s Seminary, Washington, D.C., spiritual director, 1968-71; vicar general of the Josephites, 1971-1974; auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C., 1974-88; archbishop of Atlanta, 1988-1990; Sisters of Mercy, Alma, Michigan, chaplain, 1990-95; St. Vincent’s Hospital, outpatient counseling program, spiritual director, 1995-00.
Memberships: Secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
to say handicap, but I’ll say blessing—of being black and Catholic, I never thought I would see the day when I would be standing here preaching God’s holy word in this place, as a priest, indeed as a bishop. Generations of black Catholics never lived to see a black priest or sister, let alone ever dream that their son or daughter might become one.”
The visibility of Marino’s position provided him a platform on which he could advocate for programs to help the poor. Marino also focused on increasing the level of black participation in the Church, both in terms of new membership and the encouragement of black cultural expression in the mass. In 1984 he was among a group of black bishops who issued the pastoral “We Have Seen and We Have Heard” to address such issues as support for parochial schools, an authentically black liturgy, and the family, from an African-American perspective.
Marino’s importance in the Catholic Church solidified when he became the secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1985, the first African American to be so honored. He said of his election, “I see it as a sign of hope and encouragement and an indication of a serious commitment [on the part of the bishops] to making black people leaders of the church at the highest levels.” He presided over the first meeting of the National Black Catholic Congress since 1894 when it met in Washington, D.C., in 1987. That year he also arranged for a large group of black Catholics to meet Pope John Paul II in the New Orleans Superdome during the pope’s trip to America.
Given such accomplishments, Marino’s appointment as the first African-American archbishop in 1988 came as no surprise. He took control of the Atlanta diocese and earned the respect of those he served by immediately addressing the issue of the sexual misconduct of priests, brought to the forefront after the indictment of a priest on child molestation charges. He issued strict new guidelines in response to the controversy and built a reputation as an effective and popular religious leader.
Ironically, Marino’s efforts to quell the storm of controversy surrounding the highly-publicized cases of sexual misconduct within the Catholic priesthood came during a time when the archbishop himself was engaged in an affair with 27-year-old Vicki Long. His affair with the Catholic lay minister began shortly after his arrival in Atlanta and became public knowledge in 1990. Long had a history of involvement with Catholic priests and had filed an unsuccessful paternity suit against one priest in Columbus, Georgia, a year before becoming involved with Marino. She claimed to have been secretly married to Marino in December of 1988. She filed for divorce after the scandal broke and even attempted suicide.
Citing a need for “spiritual renewal, psychological therapy and medical supervision,” Marino resigned his position in July of 1990 and disappeared into counseling. James P. Lyke, another African-American bishop, assumed Marino’s position by order of the pope on July 10th. Marino emerged from an intensive six-week therapy program in mid-October.
Although he retained his title as archbishop, Marino did not return to the public spotlight in Atlanta. Rather, he quietly moved to Alma, Michigan, where he joined the Sisters of Mercy as a chaplain. In 1995 he became spiritual director of an outpatient program for clergy in St. Vincent’s Hospital in Harrison, New York. The program specifically focused on counseling clergy in the areas of substance abuse and sexual behavior. While at a retreat in Manhasset, New York, Marino experienced a heart attack during the early morning hours on November 12, 2000. A housekeeper found him dead in his bed later that day. He was 66.
The passing of the archbishop was an occasion for mourning in the Catholic Church as friends and colleagues remembered him as a dedicated and compassionate religious leader. Archbishop John F. Donoghue issued a statement the day after Marino’s death, stating: “Many in Atlanta… will continue to remember Archbishop Marino with sincere affection, for his gentle nature and his caring heart.” Gerard O’Connor, an associate and friend of Marino’s, referred to the impact of the scandal on Marino’s life in an interview with the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s Georgia bulletin: “He came with such woundedness and out of that came such healing. He was able to give that to guys who came to him.” O’Connor added, “He was always a priest. He never stopped his ministry as a priest. I think it was far stronger. He had nothing to hide anymore.” Marino was buried in his hometown of Biloxi, Mississippi.
Encyclopedia of African American Religions, Garland, 1993.
Ebony, October 1988.
Jet, August 20, 1990; August 27, 1990; September 3, 1990; December 4, 2000.
National Catholic Reporter, March 25, 1988; November 10, 1989; July 27, 1990; August 10, 1990; August 24, 1990; March 19, 1993; April 5, 1993.
U.S. News & World Report, March 28, 1988; August 13, 1990.
Archdiocese of Atlanta’s Georgia bulletin, http://www.archatl.com (August 2, 2001).
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