Updated: Friday, 08 Jan 2010, 10:14 AM MST
Published : Thursday, 07 Jan 2010, 4:39 PM MST
GALLUP, N.M. (KRQE) - The nation's first Native American Roman Catholic bishop who left Gallup after suffering serious injuries in a still-mysterious incident has died in Florida.
Bishop-emeritus Donald Pelotte died Thursday morning in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He was 64.
Pelotte had been admitted to the cardiac-care unit of Holy Cross Hospital on Dec. 27, according to the Diocese of Gallup. The nature of his illness has not been disclosed.
Pelotte made history several times during his rise in the Roman Catholic Church.
After being ordained as a priest in 1972 in the Diocese of Portland, Maine, Pelotte went on to become at age 33 the youngest major superior of a men's religious community in the United States.
In 1990 Pope John Paul II appointed Pelotte as the Bishop of Gallup making him the nation's first Native American bishop. He held that post until retiring and moving to Florida last year.
“We are saddened by the passing of Bishop Donald Pelotte, who so faithfully served the Church throughout his life especially as the third bishop of the Diocese of Gallup," Bishop James Wall, the current Gallup bishop, said in a statement released by the diocese. "Bishop Pelotte, being the first Native American bishop, had a great love for the Native American people, and his spirit of service will continue to live on."
Pelotte was born in Waterville, Maine. His father was a member of the Abenaki tribe, a part of the Algonquin nation, and his mother was French-Canadian.
In 1999 Pelotte returned to Maine to ordain his twin brother into the priesthood marking the first time in known Catholic history that a bishop had done so.
In July 2007 Pelotte was seriously injured in his residence with bruises and cuts all over his body and his eyes swollen shut. He was in a hospital intensive-care unit for weeks and was reported near death.
Pelotte said he had fallen down a flight of stairs, but first responders reported they thought he had been beaten. The resulting controversy was never resolved.
During Pelotte's 18 years in Gallup he helped create programs for Native American ministers. He also helped expand the Christian hospital and he fought to save a homeless shelter.
A vigil for Pelotte is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, and the funeral Mass will be said Thursday at 11 a.m. Both will be at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Gallup.
In keeping with Pelotte's wishes he will be buried in the
cathedral crypt, the diocese said.