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Father Arthur J. Espelage, OFM

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Father Arthur (Art) J. Espelage, OFM, 78, passed away Dec. 9 at Riverside Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, where he was receiving Hospice Care.

Born on Aug. 13, 1944, in Cincinnati, Father Art was one of six children of Arthur Sr. and Antoinette. He attended St. Bonaventure School in Cincinnati. With strong Franciscan connections through his parish and uncles who were friars, he attended St. Francis Seminary in Cincinnati before entering the Franciscan novitiate on Aug. 15, 1962. After professing first vows in 1963, Father Art entered Duns Scotus College in Southfield, Mich., where he made his solemn vows on Aug. 16, 1966. He was ordained to the priesthood on June 12, 1971, at St. Leonard College in Centerville.

His first assignment was to St. Catherine Indian School in Santa Fe, N.M., as part of the Christian Development Program. In 1977, Father Art entered Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he earned a JCB and licentiate in canon law. He returned to St. Leonard College as professor of canon law and director of field education. Father Art went on to be named as associate pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Centerville. He also served the Archdiocese of Cincinnati as defender of the bond, associate tribunal judge and tribunal judge until 1983, when he moved to Santa Fe where he served in the Archdiocesan Tribunal and as judicial vicar. In 1987, Father Art returned to Catholic University of America as a doctoral student, earning his JCD in canon law before being named a professor of canon law at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio.

Father Art ministered as a canonist in the Diocese of Columbus (1994-1997) and the Diocese of Palm Beach (1998-1999). He was then named executive coordinator for the Canon Law Society of America, serving until 2008 when he became judicial vicar for the Diocese of Venice, Florida. He also served the Order as general visitor for the Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
After a sabbatical year of prayer and reflection, Father Art taught for a year at St. Meinrad School of Theology before beginning his final ministry as canonist and judicial vicar for the Diocese of Tucson in 2017.

Father Art was preceded in death by his parents and his stillborn sister, Angela. He is survived by his sisters, Theresa Michael, Diana Daria and Anne Martin, and brother, Joseph. Fr. Art requested that his body be cremated. Friars, family and friends will receive his remains at St. Anthony Friary and Shrine in Cincinnati on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023 at 10 a.m. The Mass of Christian Burial follows at 11 a.m. It will be livestreamed on the Facebook page for St. John the Baptist Province at https://www.facebook.com/Franciscanfriars. Interment will take place in the friars’ plot at St. Mary Cemetery.

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