Most Reverend William E. Cousins, D.D.
1959 - 1977
William E. Cousins was born on August 20, 1902, in Chicago, and was a member of the first class to graduate from Our Lady of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois, where he was ordained to the priesthood on April 23, 1927. Cousins was known for his affable presence and spirit. Pope Pius XII named Cousins to the episcopacy on Dec. 17, 1948, and he served as an auxiliary bishop to then Archbishop Stritch. He was named bishop of Peoria and installed in that post on July 2, 1952.
After six years as Bishop of Peoria, Cousins was assigned to be the eighth archbishop of Milwaukee on December 18, 1958.
Marking Cousins’ time as archbishop was Pope John XXIII’s announcement of the Second Vatican Council. During the council, Cousins was a member of the Commissions on Communications Media and the Lay Apostolate. He also served on several commissions before and after the council.
During his time as archbishop, Cousins worked to implement the changes directed by the council in one of the most uncertain times in the history of the archdiocese. It is speculated that his even hand spared the archdiocese the level of polarization experienced in other American dioceses of the post-conciliar time.
Cousins saw the social upheaval of the civil rights and peace movements during his episcopacy. The civil rights marches led by Fr. James Groppi resulted in much pressure on Cousins to sanction the priest and others involved. Throughout the controversy, however, he maintained his even-handed nature. Cousins strongly supported open housing and affirmed the efforts of those working on the issue, though he did not condone all of their tactics.
Cousins approved major changes in archdiocesan offices, and was known for giving priests and laity the latitude to creatively initiate programs aimed at solving the problems of the day. He also ordained the first group of permanent deacons and was a member of the Board of Governors of the Catholic Church Extension Society, Episcopal Advisor to Serra International, and served on many committees of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Archbishop Cousins retired in 1977 and continued to maintain a schedule of episcopal duties until his health began to fail. He died on September 14, 1988, in Milwaukee.