The Most Rev. Stephen E. Blaire, bishop emeritus of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Stockton, died early Tuesday after a prolonged illness, the diocese reported. He was 77.
Blaire had been under hospice care at his retirement residence at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Modesto.
Father Mark Wagner, pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Modesto, said a rosary at the bishop’s bedside Monday and said, “He just looked peaceful.”
Wagner called Blaire his “spiritual father” of many years. “I appreciated his zeal and hard work and his compassionate way. And also he was very sincere in his beliefs.”
The priest said it was unfortunate that Blaire didn’t get to enjoy his retirement years. He was the fifth bishop of the Stockton Diocese, appointed on Jan. 19, 1999. He retired Jan. 23, 2018, after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75
The diocese said Blaire’s death came after a prolonged illness. In March 2018, diocese Communications Director Joseph Dondero said Blaire suffered various infections since breaking his leg in October 2017 and eventually had to undergo amputation. Wagner said a combination of health issues resulted in the bishop’s death.
An obituary released by the diocese said Blaire was born in Los Angeles, the 12th of 14 children. He was ordained to the priesthood for the archdiocese of Los Angeles on April 29, 1967.
Blaire’s first assignment after ordination was as associate pastor at St. Luke’s Church in Temple City. His teaching abilities were quickly recognized, the obituary said, and in 1972 he began 14 years of ministry with Catholic secondary education, first as a teacher and administrator at Bishop Alemany High School in Mission Hills, then as vice principal at Bishop Amat High School in LaPuente.
From 1977 to 1986, Blaire returned to Bishop Alemany High School as principal. On Feb. 17, 1990, Pope John Paul II named Blaire the titular bishop of Lamzella and auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles. He was consecrated May 31, 1990, by Cardinal Roger Mahoney.
Bishop Blaire was appointed vicar general for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1990 and served as regional bishop of Our Lady of the Angels Pastoral Region from 1995 to 1999, when Pope John Paul II appointed him bishop of Stockton.
“Bishop Blaire had great zeal for helping those in need,” the obituary reads. “He was passionate in promoting the dignity of human life and ensuring social justice for all. He constantly assisted the church in speaking out for the rights of immigrants, those in need of health care, inner-city education and much more.”
Issues Blaire cared about are reflected by the committees on which he served, the diocese said. Within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, he served as chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, as well as the Pastoral Practices Committee, and was a member of the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
Within the California Catholic Conference, he was chairman of the Legislation and Public Policy Committee and of the Ad Hoc Committee on Environmental Stewardship. He was a member of the Religious Liberty Committee and he Ad Hoc Committee on Ecumenical affairs.
Funeral services are pending. Information will be posted on the diocese’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/StocktonDiocese.
In lieu of flowers, donations in memory of Bishop Emeritus Stephen E. Blaire can be made to the Priest Retirement Fund, The Diocese of Stockton, 212 N. San Joaquin St., Stockton, CA 95202. Make checks payable to Roman Catholic Bishop of Stockton Priest Retirement Fund.
To make a memorial gift online, go to stocktondiocese.org/priest-retirement-fund.