The Most Reverend Peter Leo Gerety, Archbishop Emeritus of Newark, entered eternal life on Tuesday, September 20, 2016. He was 104, and at the time of his passing, was the oldest Catholic bishop in the world. The retired Archbishop passed peacefully at about 8:20 p.m. while in the care of the Little Sisters of the Poor at St. Joseph’s Home for the Elderly, Totowa, NJ.
Upon hearing the news of Archbishop Gerety’s passing The Most Reverend John J. Myers, Archbishop of Newark, said, “Today this local Church of Newark mourns 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,” Archbishop Myers continued. “He very carefully led the Church, her people and institutions through those challenges.”
Peter Leo Gerety was born on July 19, 1912, in Shelton, CT, the eldest of nine sons of Peter L. and Charlotte Daly Gerety. His parents were New Jersey natives. His father’s family lived first in the Greenville section of Jersey City, where they were parishioners of St. Paul’s Parish-Greenville.
The Geretys moved to Shelton shortly after their wedding, and Leo – as the family addressed the first-born – attended public schools there. At Shelton High School he won scholastic honors and was captain of the football team.
“My mother and father had a tremendous religious faith, and a tremendously optimistic view of life,” Gerety recalled years later. “They loved life very much. They taught us we could do almost anything.”
Second to his parents as an influence in his vocation to the priesthood, Archbishop Gerety often credited the priests of his home parish, St. Joseph’s in Shelton. He praised the pastor, Father Andrew Plunkett, as a “great Churchman and a strong character.”
After working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the New Jersey Transportation Department, Peter Gerety entered St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, CT and was chosen for study abroad at St. Sulpice Seminary in Issy, France. He was ordained for service in the Archdiocese of Hartford on June 29, 1939 at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris.
During some 27 years of service as a priest in the Archdiocese of Hartford, the majority of which was spent in New Haven, Father Gerety devoted considerable effort and energies to the social and spiritual needs of the Black Catholic community in that city. He founded an interracial social and religious center, the St. Martin de Porres Center, which became St. Martin de Porres Parish in 1956 with Fr. Gerety as its first pastor. A champion of the Civil Rights movement 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.
Blessed Pope Paul VI named him a Prelate of Honor, with the title Monsignor, in 1963.
On March 4, 1966, Pope Paul VI appointed Monsignor Gerety Titular Bishop of Crepedula and Coadjutor with the right of succession to Bishop Daniel J. Feeney of Portland, ME. He was ordained to the episcopacy on June 1, 1966. He was named Apostolic Administrator in 1967, and succeeded to the seat of the diocese in 1969 upon the death of Bishop Daniel Feeney.
During his years as a priest and bishop in New England, Bishop Gerety was active in numerous pro-life and social justice causes, led campaigns to protest against state legislative efforts to legalize abortion, and defended the rights of conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War.
In 1974 Pope Paul VI appointed Bishop Gerety Third Archbishop of Newark, succeeding the retiring Most Reverend Thomas Boland. He was installed as Archbishop on June 28, 1974.
In his 12 years as Archbishop of Newark, Gerety continued to build and strengthen outreach to Latin American and Black Catholic communities in northern New Jersey. He also sought to strengthen adult faith formation in parishes including, in 1978, the establishment of Renew International, an organization recognized internationally as a premier resource for parish-based spiritual renewal to inspire Catholic men and women to act on their faith through works of charity and justice. Also during his years as shepherd of the local Church of Newark, Archbishop Gerety developed and implemented a physical reconfiguration of the Archdiocese to facilitate improved communications and operations. He also dealt with a major problem of the day – a deteriorating financial picture for the Archdiocese in the 1970s – through collaboration and cooperation with a group of outstanding business leaders. Together, the Archbishop and his group were able to restore financial viability and eliminate millions in debt. Under his stewardship, the Archdiocese of Newark also instituted a formal parish-based Archdiocesan Appeal program to provide long-term annual support of vital parish, social service and school ministries. That Appeal continues in effect today, raising significant amounts of money annually from the parishioners of the Archdiocese to support Catholic Charities initiatives, Catholic education, Youth Ministries, Seminarian education, Campus Ministry, Priest retirement, and other programs.
While undertaking his duties as a Bishop in both Portland and Newark, Archbishop Gerety also served on numerous Committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and was particularly known for his work with the Call to Action Committee, formed at the time of the American Bicentennial celebration in 1976 to address and discuss the needs of the Faith in the country at that time.
After his retirement from active ministry in 1986, Archbishop Emeritus Gerety continued to remain active in the sacramental life of the Church of Newark, officiating at Baptisms, Confirmations and other events that his two successors, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and Archbishop John Myers, had entrusted to him. Those activities continued for as long as his health allowed.
In 1986, in partnership with Immaculate Conception Seminary, Seton Hall University, Archbishop Gerety established The Archbishop Gerety Fund for Ecclesiastical History.
This fund seeks to advance studies in ecclesiastical history, especially the history of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. Among its various activities, the Fund sponsors two lectures annually, at the beginning of the fall and spring terms. It also sponsors annual awards for excellence in the study of the history of the Church for students of Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology, as well as awards for monographs on the history of Catholicism in the United States, with special emphasis on the history of Catholicism in New Jersey.
Reflecting on Archbishop Gerety’s 77 years of priestly and episcopal ministry, and more than a century of life, his long-time friend and fellow priest, Msgr. Frank Seymour, once wrote: “When he was ordained a bishop in 1966, he chose as his motto: ‘In omnibus Christus’ – ‘In all Things, Christ.’ As he made Christ the center of his life, he wanted to do the same for others by entering the priesthood.”
Archbishop Gerety’s eight brothers predeceased him. He is survived by numerous nephews, nieces and their children.
Sunday, September 25
Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart
89 Ridge Street, Newark
3:00 p.m. Reception of the Body
Presider: The Most Reverend John W. Flesey
3:30 – 6:30 p.m. Viewing
7:00 p.m. Vespers
Presider: Most Reverend Dominic A. Marconi
Monday, September 26
Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart
10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Viewing
3:00 p.m. Funeral Mass
Presider: The Most Reverend John J. Myers
Interment will follow immediately after Mass in the Crypt of the Cathedral Basilica.