Joseph T. Heistand, retired bishop of Arizona, dies at 84

October 17, 2008

The Rt. Rev. Joseph Thomas Heistand, third bishop of the Diocese of Arizona (1979 to 1992), died at his home in Richmond, Virginia, on Oct. 14 after a long illness. He was 84.


"He will be remembered by many of you as a caring pastor during a difficult time in the history of the diocese, and an outspoken advocate of social justice in our community," wrote the Rt. Rev. Kirk Smith, who became the fifth bishop of Arizona in 2004.

Heistand was elected bishop coadjutor of Arizona in 1976, and was consecrated on Aug. 28 of that year. He succeeded Joseph M. Harte as bishop diocesan in 1979. During his tenure, in 1991, the diocese hosted the Episcopal Church's triennial General Convention. Some church members protested the fact that Arizona was one of only three states in the nation that did not observe the new Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, an irony in view of Heistand's long record of civil rights activism. He was also a strong supporter of women's ordination, and presided at the first ordination of a woman in his diocese.

Before his election as bishop coadjutor, Heistand served as rector of St. Philip's in-the-Hills Church, Tucson, beginning in 1969. He had previously served as rector of Trinity Church, Tyrone, Pennsylvania, and was later senior assistant, then rector of St. Paul's Church in Richmond, Virginia. During his tenure there, Heistand was active in the city's racial integration program and founded the Oral School for Deaf Children and the Adult Center for the Physically Handicapped, both based at St. Paul's.

Heistand was born March 3, 1924 in Danville, Pennsylvania, son of the Rev. John Thomas Heistand, who later became Bishop of Central Pennsylvania, and his wife, Alta. Heistand attended Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, but left in 1943 to join the U.S. Army. He served as a corporal in the 29th Field Artillery, Third Infantry Division, and was wounded in action during the Anzio Beachhead landing in Italy. For his military service, he was awarded the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Purple Heart and the Croix de Guerre.

After the war ended, he returned to Trinity College and earned a bachelor's degree in economics. After graduation in 1948, he was briefly employed by the International Harvester Company until he entered Virginia Theological Seminary in the fall of 1949. His father ordained him as a deacon in June 1952 and as a priest in December of that year. The elder Bishop Heistand was also a co-consecrator when Joseph Heistand was ordained a bishop.

Heistand married Roberta (Robbe) C. Lush in 1951. The couple had three children, including their younger daughter, the Rev. Virginia Heistand Jones, whom he ordained to the priesthood in 1991.

Heistand Jones is now rector of Westover Episcopal Church in Charles City, Virginia, where Heistand's funeral will be held on Monday, October 20 at 2 pm. Bishop Kirk Smith, who will represent the Diocese of Arizona at that service, has announced that a memorial will be held at Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix at a later date.

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