Bishop Norbert M. Dorsey, who served as an auxiliary bishop in Miami where fellow priests kiddingly called him “the monk from Rome,” died Thursday night in Orlando of cancer. He was 83.
On Friday, Archbishop Thomas Wenski remembered Dorsey fondly from his years in Miami — 1986 to 1990.
“Having known him was a great grace for me,” Wenski said in a statement. In Miami, “he made a special effort to reach out to priests to affirm them in their ministry and was very close to them. He is still well regarded and remembered by the Miami clergy for this.”
Dorsey was a New Englander, born Leonard James Dorsey on Dec. 14, 1929 in Springfield, Mass., and known to school-hood friends as “Lenny.”
When he joined the Passionist congregation, he was given the name Norbert — not one of the three names of his choosing, but one his superiors chose for him.
His religious studies and devotion made him a worldwide traveler, accomplished linguist and composer of music. He spoke Spanish, Italian, French and Creole, visited dozens of countries, notably as a missionary in Papua, New Guinea, and studied in Munich, London and Rome, where he was ordained a priest in 1956.
On Jan. 10, 1986, Pope John Paul II nominated Father Dorsey Titular Bishop of Mactaris and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Miami — a promotion, Dorsey told The Miami Herald at the time, that took him by surprise.
He described going through a sleepless night of crying and nausea upon learning of the unexpected elevation before embracing the assignment as an opportunity to “help God’s people” in diverse South Florida.
“I had never thought of being a bishop,” he told The Herald. “I had no yearning to be a bishop. I was afraid to be a bishop.”
Nonetheless, he was consecrated by Archbishop Edward J. McCarthy at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Miami on March 19, 1986, and was known at the archdiocese for his work with Rome’s Passionist community, who had adopted the episcopal motto, “Love is ingenious.”
He served as vicar general and executive director of the diocese “ministry of persons,” as well as on the boards of St. Thomas and Barry universities.
But perhaps Dorsey’s greatest contribution to the church came in his next assignment — bishop of Orlando.
He was installed in 1990 and under his stewardship, the diocese nearly doubled to 400,000 Catholics. He added more than 16 new parishes, missions and schools. He also expanded the diocese’s ministry to the Hispanic community through Radio Paz, and health clinics for migrant and farm workers, according to an obituary posted on the website of the Archdiocese of Miami.
Dorsey retired in 2004 soon after establishing Bishop Grady Villas, a 10-acre residential community in St. Cloud for adults with disabilities. He submitted his letter of retirement to Pope John Paul II on Nov. 13, 2004, and the pope accepted it.
At his death, he had battled cancer for many years.
Bishop John Noonan of Orlando recalled him Friday as “our shepherd and precious friend.”
In lieu of flowers, Bishop Dorsey asked that contributions be made to the Passionist Community Support Fund, Passionist Pastoral Center 111 S. Ridge St., Suite 300, Rye Brook, NY 10573 or Bishop Dorsey Colloquium on Priestly Life and Ministry, for clergy education and care, Diocese of Orlando, P.O. Box 4905, Orlando, FL 32802-4905.