Transition and Turmoil: 1958-1971 Bishop Victor Joseph Reed

If the 1950s were a time of undisturbed and numerically upward growth for the Catholic Church in Oklahoma, the 1960s were the opposite. Institutional life in America discovered the decade of the '60s to be a wild,unprogrammed ride-- destination unknown. That was very true of the Church in Oklahoma. The Catholic Church, after a 400-year pause, shifted gears; and the old Church jerked and sputtered in the process. The Church in Oklahoma proved to be a kind of bellwether of the whole Catholic Church in the U.S. For whatever reasons the Church trends of the 1960s seem to be found in Oklahoma well ahead of the general experience of most other dioceses. The transition was a necessary one even if painful and often with ambiguous results.

Bishop Victor Joseph Reed was a man of the twentieth century and an 
Oklahoman. He was born in Indiana but reared amid the varying surroundings of the Oklahoma oilindustry. A stable home life, a superior philosophical and theological education in Europe, and a calm, open personality produced in him a truly wide-scoped view of reality. He was never a cramped man.

Victor J. Reed was ordained a priest on December 21, 1929. Father Reed's service to the Church included some Chancery office duties, parish assignments (one of those many assistants to Monsignor Gustave Depreitere at Saint. Joseph's Old Cathedral) and time out for an earned doctorate in philosophy.

In 1957, Monsignor Reed, then rector of Tulsa's Holy Family Cathedral, was named auxiliary bishop to Bishop Eugene J. McGuinness. Bishop McGuinness died before his newly named auxiliary could be consecrated. As a result, Victor Reed became the Bishop of Oklahoma City andTulsa, being ordained to the episcopate on March 5, 1958.

Bishop Reed, urbane and flexible, was well equipped to participate in the Second Vatican Council which extended through the central (1962-1965) period of his episcopacy. The council experience firmed the notion in Bishop Reed's mind that the Church, which he dearly loved, was undergoing a crisis of growth and must suffer a sweeping renewal.

Although not an ideological liberal. Bishop Reed was a liberal in the sense of being unfettered by prejudices himself and desiring to give others the freedom of initiative. Thus he opted for the free-spirited Oklahoma Courier newspaper, lay involvement through the diocesan "Little Council,"promotion of civil rights, and liturgical relevancy.

The combination of his openness to new ideas, the conviction that changes were needed in theChurch, and a difficulty in saying "no" made Bishop Reed's later years filled with tension and constant harassment. There was an alarming exodus of Oklahoma priests from the active ministry. If he felt that the situation was partly out of control or that the pressures were intolerable, he rarely if ever showed it. One close associate said of him, "Hell, he wasn't afraid of anything."

A man of deep personal faith in God and unswerving loyalty to the Church, Bishop Victor Reed lived out his final years in a swirl of controversy. He died suddenly of a heart attack, September 8, 1971.

(Taken from One Family: One Century)