“In Omnibus Christus” “In All Things, Christ”
On September 26, I was privileged to join with hundreds of priests and some 25 bishops at the Basilica Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey, for the funeral Mass for Archbishop Peter Leo Gerety, oldest bishop in the world at 104 years of age. It was a wonderful tribute. Though retired for almost 30 years, the Cathedral was full for his funeral. I wanted to be present there because Archbishop Gerety had been one of my predecessors as Bishop of Portland. I visited him in 2014 on the occasion of the celebration of his 75th anniversary of priestly ordination. In our conversation, he showed a keen interest in what was happening in the Church in Maine and spoke fondly of his years among us. Long after he had moved to Newark, he continued to sail in Casco Bay enjoying the scenic beauty of Maine.
Monsignor Gerety, then a priest of the Archdiocese of Hartford, was ordained a bishop on June 1, 1966. His first appointment was as coadjutor bishop of Portland. He was to assist Bishop Daniel J. Feeney who had been bishop of Portland since 1955 but had carried out the administration of the diocese for a number of years before that because of the declining health of Bishop Joseph McCarthy. It would be Bishop Gerety’s responsibility to serve Bishop Feeney in the same way. Following the death of Bishop Feeney in 1969, Bishop Gerety was named Bishop of Portland. He remained in that position until he was named Archbishop of Newark in 1974.
On the day of his ordination as a bishop in 1966, Bishop Gerety chose as his motto the words quoted above, “In All Things, Christ.” Monsignor Frank Seymour, a priest of Newark who served Archbishop Gerety for many years as his secretary, once wrote that this episcopal motto was really his life’s guide. “As he made Christ the center of his life, he wanted to do the same for others by entering the priesthood.” It was Christ the peacemaker, Christ the healer, Christ the messenger of hope that Archbishop Gerety proclaimed throughout his years of ministry as priest and bishop.
The motto he lived by was put into action in Archbishop Gerety’s episcopal ministry through the social teaching of the Church, also a special concern of his in his years as a priest. He saw it as the way to bring to life the Gospel message of the Christ he sought to proclaim. As a pastor, he found himself in the midst of struggles for civil rights, farmers’ rights, and the peace movement. It was not surprising, then, that he continued to advocate for these issues when he came to Maine. The times were changing, however, and something new also caught his attention and interest in Maine. He also became a strong advocate for the unborn child, fighting against loosened abortion laws.
Upon his arrival in Maine in 1966, Bishop Gerety found that social services were being provided throughout the diocese through the service of the Church. Offices for social services were at Bangor, Brewer, Lewiston, and Auburn. The charitable mission of the Church was being carried out in many and diverse ways through the diocese, parishes, and religious orders. Bishop Gerety took a significant amount of time in his early months in Maine visiting the various services in the diocese and conferring with those priests, religious sisters, and laypeople who provided this essential assistance to the needy. From this consultation, he determined that it would be best to gather the diocesan services together in a more effective way. Eventually, the social service arm of the Church in Maine would be called the Diocesan Bureau of Human Relations Services, predecessor to Catholic Charities Maine.
It is striking that, even as we mark the passing of Archbishop Gerety and give thanks for the gift of his life, his ministry, his care for the poor, and his advocacy for the marginalized, we begin our celebration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Catholic Charities Maine (CCM), the social service arm of our Church, which continues to bring the healing message of Jesus Christ to the many people served by its diverse and varied programming. Assistance with food insecurity, recovery resources, aid to the blind, dental services to the poor, mental health assistance, refugee resettlement, daycare for children: these are some of the services provided by CCM. In addition, there is Parish Social Ministry, which assists parishes throughout Maine in bringing the social teaching of the Church into the mission of the parish, applying that teaching to real situations of need in the parish and community.
All of this good work is done to continue the saving mission of the Church. Though the services are provided to people of many faiths and none, they flow from the conviction that we Christians are sent on mission. Jesus calls us to love one another and to serve one another. In carrying out the works of mercy, we pray, then, that Archbishop Gerety might now rest in the peace of Christ, and at the same time, we ask God to help us to seek ways in which we can continue the mission of Catholic Charities Maine to serve the needs of the people God places in our midst.