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Episcopal Bishop Commits Suicide

January 16, 1995 GMT

BOSTON (AP) _ The bishop of the nation’s largest Episcopal diocese was found dead in his home Sunday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, police and church officials said.

Bishop David E. Johnson, who had announced his retirement and was to begin a sabbatical next month, committed suicide, apparently on Saturday, diocesan spokesman Jay Cormier confirmed. Police said he died of a single rifle shot.

Diocesan officials said they had no idea why Johnson killed himself.

``This devastating time is filled with pain, anger and questioning for all of us who knew, worked with, loved and were loved by Bishop Johnson,″ said Johnson’s successor, M. Thomas Shaw, who is to take over the diocese June 5.

Johnson’s body was discovered in his suburban Framingham apartment, where he had moved last summer after selling his home. He announced his retirement in November.

Johnson, 61, succeeded Bishop John B. Coburn in 1986 as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, the nation’s largest with 193 congregations and 95,000 baptized members.

Johnson planned to take a sabbatical beginning Feb. 1 to help other dioceses set up programs for children, a particular interest. He had established DoveMass, a program that recruits volunteers to work in public schools.

``He was a very warm, loving person, very committed to the ministry with people and with a particular interest in the well-being of children,″ said Suffragen Bishop Barbara Harris, who had assisted Johnson for six years.

Born in Newark, N.J., Johnson received a bachelor’s degree from Trinity College in 1955. He served for three years as a pilot in the Strategic Air Command, where he rose to the rank of captain.

Johnson received his master’s of divinity degree in 1961 from the Virginia Theological Seminary. He was ordained in 1962 and served as rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Little Rock, Ark.; St. Martin’s Church in Fayetteville, Ark.; Calvary Church in Columbia, Mo.; and St. Boniface Church in Sarasota, Fla., before being elected vicar coadjutor of the Massachusetts diocese in October 1985.

Johnson is survived by his wife, Joyce, who is known as Jodie; three grown children, Stephanie, Elizabeth and Scott; and several grandchildren.

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church of America, Edmond L. Browning, was to conduct funeral services scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday at Trinity Church in Boston.