Categotry Archives: Religious Leaders


John Pridonoff


Categories: Medicine, Religious Leaders

Based on his experiences as a grief and crisis counselor, John A. Pridonoff was convinced that people with terminal illnesses should have the right to end their own lives.
“I have been faced too many times with instances of people dying, stripped of their dignity, integrity and sense of self-respect. It’s not that I feel terminally ill people should do this but that terminally ill should be able to discuss this without the intrusion of organized religion or organized government beyond the appropriate safety structures within the law,” he once told the Los Angeles Times.
Pridonoff earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from California State University, Los Angeles, and received a doctorate in thanatology and a master’s in theology from the Colgate Rochester Divinity School in New York. After he was ordained as a minister in the Congregationalist Christian Church, he became a volunteer counselor and chaplain at Grossmont Hospital in San Diego.
For a quarter of a century, Pridonoff worked as the executive director of The Counseling Center in San Diego, a nonprofit organization that provides trauma, grief and crisis counseling to medical professionals. He also edited The Forum, the Association for Death Education and Counseling’s quarterly newsletter.
Then in 1992, Pridonoff was selected to be the new executive director of the Hemlock Society, an organization that lobbies for right-to-die laws for the terminally ill. During his three-year tenure, he pushed for a constitutional amendment permitting “death with dignity,” and fought for the passage of Oregon’s assisted suicide law. Oregon is the only state in America that allows physician-assisted suicide.
Pridonoff died on Nov. 24 from heart failure. He was 62.
[Update – Aug. 17, 2008 – Age has been corrected.]


Father Joe

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Categories: Heroes, Religious Leaders

Father Joseph F. Ognibene, a Roman Catholic priest who helped rescue students from a burning school in the 1950s, died on Dec. 27 from cancer. He was 77.
Ognibene was working as a parish priest in Chicago on Dec. 1, 1958 when fire broke out in a stairwell at Our Lady of the Angels Catholic School.
Ognibene saw the smoke and immediately ran into the school to help lead children to safety. He directed the students downstairs toward the exits and carried some of them out of the building. With the aid of Sam Tortorice, a man who lived near the school, Ognibene transferred students trapped in one classroom to an adjoining classroom where they could safely evacuate.
When the fire was extinguished, Ognibene visited the injured at the hospital and identified victims at the morgue. Three teachers and 92 students died in the incident.


Barry Long


Categories: Media, Religious Leaders, Writers/Editors

blong.jpgBarry Long, the Australian spiritual guru known as the “Tantric Master of the West,” died on Dec. 6 from prostate cancer. He was 77.

Although he worked as a journalist and editor in Sydney, Long abandoned his media career in his 30s to find spiritual enlightenment. He traveled to India where he experienced a “mystic death.” He moved to London where his spiritual quest culminated in a “transcendental realization.”

Long started teaching in 1968, and for 35 years, gave seminars and recorded videos and tapes offering his own brand of meditation and cosmic consciousness. He was particularly noted for his tantric teachings, and offered lessons on how to distinguish love from sex.

The spiritual guide moved back to Australia in 1986 and published a series of books advocating the search for God through self-discovery. Several topped the best-seller list, including “Origins of Man and the Universe,” which described the Big Bang in spiritual terms and contained Long’s description of consciousness — the basis of his teaching.

Article Long Wrote About His Death


Joseph A. Ferrario

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Categories: Religious Leaders

Joseph A. Ferrario, the first U.S. bishop publicly accused of molesting a young boy, died on Dec. 12. Cause of death was not released. He was 77.
The Pennsylvania native was ordained in 1951, then moved to Hawaii to teach at the St. Stephen Seminary in Kane’ohe. For the next two decades, Ferrario focused on implementing the reforms handed down by the Second Vatican Council, including having priests speak in the language of the congregation, instead of Latin.
Ferrario was promoted to bishop of the Catholic diocese of Honolulu in 1982. Seven years later, however, one of his parishioners held a press conference and accused the religious leader of sexual molestation. The alleged victim filed suit, but it was dismissed because the statute of limitations had already passed.
Ferrario denied the charges, and retired early. Before he left the church, he excommunicated six of his critics; the Vatican eventually overruled him. His final years were spent raising money for Catholic scholarships as vice president and chief executive of the Augustine Educational Foundation.


Edward Schempp

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Categories: Education, Law, Religious Leaders

Edward Lewis Schempp, a Unitarian whose lawsuit led to the landmark Supreme Court decision that “kicked God and prayer out of the schools,” died on Nov. 8 from heart failure. He was 95.
Schempp was working as an electronics engineer in Roslyn, Penn., when his son, Ellery, decided to conduct a protest at Abington High School. The teen, who was a junior at the school, didn’t think it was right for students to be required by law to read at least 10 verses from the Bible and then recite the Lord’s Prayer during homeroom every day.
On Nov. 26, 1956, Ellery went to class and read passages from the Koran; he was sent to the principal’s office. He then penned a letter to the American Civil Liberties Union and asked the organization for help.
After three years of lawsuits and lobbying, the Pennsylvania legislature added a provision to its law that allowed students to excuse themselves from the mandatory Scripture study, if they obtained parental consent. Because Ellery had already graduated from the high school, Edward Schempp took up his son’s cause in order to protect his younger children. In the midst of the Red Scare, students who objected to studying the Christian text where labeled Communists and atheists, he said.
School District of Abington Township v. Schempp arrived on the U.S. Supreme Court docket in 1963. In an 8-1 decision, the court sided with Schempp, saying the Bible-reading requirement violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause. This ruling invalidated mandatory Bible reading in all public schools.
For months after the decision, Schempp felt the wrath of Christians who sent thousands of letters to his family. Some, he said, were “so vile” that they had to be turned over to postal authorities. Schemmp didn’t stop fighting for his beliefs, though. In later years, he wrote letters to newspapers, marched against the Vietnam War and published the book, “Buyer’s Guide to Gods.”

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