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Gerety 20140722cm00864 webRetired Archbishop Peter L. Gerety of Newark, N.J., celebrates his 102nd birthday July 19, 2014. (CNS photo/Melissa McNally, Catholic Advocate) 

TOTOWA, N.J. (CNS) -- Retired Archbishop Peter L. Gerety of Newark died Sept. 20 while in the care of the Little Sisters of the Poor at the order's elder-care facility in Totowa. He was 104.

According to a remembrance of Archbishop Gerety posted Sept. 21 by the Archdiocese of Newark on its website, Archbishop Gerety was the world's oldest Catholic bishop at the time of his death. By 2007, when he was 95, he was already the oldest living U.S. bishop.

Newark Archbishop John J. Meyers in a Sept. 21 statement called Archbishop Gerety "a remarkable churchman whose love for the people of God was always strong and ever-growing."

"He served as shepherd of this great archdiocese during a time of spiritual reawakening in the years after the Second Vatican Council, and a time of deep financial difficulties," he added. "He very carefully led the church, her people and institutions through those challenges."

Archbishop Leonard P. Blair of Hartford, Conn., said of passing of Archbishop Gerety, "After a very long and fruitful priestly life Archbishop Gerety has passed from this world, and we join his family, friends and the members of the Archdiocese of Newark in commending him body and soul to God's merciful love. We remember with gratitude and affection his ministry as a priest of the Archdiocese of Hartford, where he was born and raised, and where he served as a priest for 27 years. We pray that God will now grant him a place of refreshment, light and peace with all the saints."

Archbishop Meyers will preside at the funeral Mass at 3 p.m. Monday, Sept. 26, at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Burial will follow immediately in the crypt of the cathedral basilica.

Archbishop Gerety had been retired as head of the Newark Archdiocese for 30 years at the time of his death. He was Newark's archbishop for 12 years. Before that he spent five years as the bishop of Portland, Maine; he had been coadjutor bishop of the statewide diocese for three years prior.

During his tenure in Newark, Archbishop Gerety helped create Renew International, the parish renewal program still in wide use among U.S. parishes today. Renew also has created several other parish renewal programs, including one that has been used in more than two dozen countries outside the United States.

Because Renew's use was so widespread, Archbishop Gerety asked the U.S. bishops' Committee on Doctrine in 1988 to evaluate it. Some groups in dioceses where it was being used were publicly critical of it.

The committee's report praised many aspects of Renew, but said participants needed to be given a more complete understanding of Catholic faith and doctrine, and small-group leaders were to be more than just facilitators who accepted all the participants' contributions as equally valid. Revisions suggested by the committee were made.

In a 2007 interview with The Catholic Advocate, Newark's archdiocesan newspaper, he noted how he had been ordained a bishop shortly after the close of the Second Vatican Council. He noticed one important change was a shift from the "top-down" mentality that had prevailed at that time in the church.

Archbishop Gerety said the liturgy "improved tremendously" at that time, centering on increased participation among laypeople. Another major change he saw was the formation of parish councils and similar programs. In fact, he said one of his prized possessions was a stone tablet inscribed with a pledge he made in his early days in Newark when he said in a speech on April 18, 1975: "I am totally committed to parish councils by April 15, 1976."

Born July 19, 1912, in Shelton, Conn., Leo -- as his parents called him -- won academic honors at Shelton High School and was captain of the football team. He was the eldest of nine sons.

His mother and father, Peter L. and Charlotte Daly Gerety, "had a tremendous religious faith, and a tremendously optimistic view of life. They loved life very much. They taught us we could do almost anything," the archbishop once said.

After working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the New Jersey Transportation Department, the future archbishop entered St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, Connecticut, and was chosen for study abroad at St. Sulpice Seminary in Issy, France. He was ordained for the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut, in 1939 at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris.

One hallmark of his service in the Archdiocese of Hartford was ministry to black Catholics in New Haven. He founded an interracial social and religious center, the St. Martin de Porres Center, which gained parish status in 1956 with then-Father Gerety as its first pastor. In the 1960s, he founded the New Haven chapter of the Urban League and was a member of the Connecticut State Committee on Race and Religion and the National Catholic Conference on Interracial Justice.

As bishop of Portland, Archbishop Gerety was active in pro-life and social justice causes, led campaigns to protest state legislative efforts to legalize abortion, and defended the rights of conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War.

In Newark, Archbishop Gerety expanded outreach to black and Hispanic Catholics, and shored up a deteriorating archdiocesan financial base. On a national stage, he was known for his work with the Call to Action Committee, formed at the time of the U.S. bicentennial celebration in 1976 to address and discuss the needs U.S. Catholics.

The eldest of nine brothers, Archbishop Gerety outlived all of them. He is survived by many nephews and nieces, as well as their children.

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.