Archbishop John J. Myers and the entire Church of Newark will celebrate Archbishop Gerety's long and holy life with a commemorative noon Mass Monday, June 29, at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, 89 Ridge St., followed by a reception at the nearby Archdiocesan Center. Born in 1912, the oldest of nine boys, Archbishop Gerety credits his parents as among of the major influences on his decision to become a priest. Another source of inspiration was the clergy at his boyhood parish, Saint Joseph, located in his hometown of Shelton, CT.
The future archbishop entered Saint Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, CT, and was selected to study abroad at Saint Suplice Seminary in Issy, France. He was assigned to Saint Brendan's Parish in New Haven, CT, in 1942. In addition to his parish duties, he ministered to the sick at Yale/New Haven Hospital.
He subsequently was named director of an interracial social and religious center that ministered to the community's black Catholic population. In 1956 the interracial social and religious center became Saint Martin de Porres Parish. Then-Father Gerety was appointed pastor. In 1969 he was named chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee for Liaison with the National Office of Black Catholics. He would go on to establish the first Office of Black Catholic Affairs in the Archdiocese of Newark.
Ordained to the episcopacy on June 1, 1966 in Saint Joseph Cathedral in Hartford, CT, Archbishop Gerety became coadjuctor bishop of Portland, ME, in 1969. Three years later he was head of the diocese. Soon thereafter, he stood up for conscious objectors who refused service in the Vietnam War.
He was named Archbishop of Newark in April 1974. The Church in Newark, he has said, "really and truly was able to put flesh" on many of Vatican II's reforms. His predecessor, Archbishop Thomas A. Boland, he added, was "one of the fathers" of the landmark Vatican council. Archbishop Gerety came to Newark right after the sweeping changes of the Second Vatican Council. It was a time he described as "a new era in the history of the Church" at both the "divine and human" levels. One of the most important changes, he has noted, was the shift in the "top-down" mindset in the Church that emphasized the authority of the hierarchy in favor of a focus on the hierarchy as servants.
Looking back on his days as head of the Archdiocese of Newark, from 1974 to 1986, Archbishop Gerety told The Catholic Advocate two years ago said he particularly enjoyed assisting with the post Vatican II "change of attitude in the Church, fostering the servant nature of the Church's authority."
Twice during his pastoral duties to the Archdiocese of Newark, Archbishop Gerety was called upon to testify at U.S. Congressional subcommittees. In 1976 he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on "U.S. Foreign Policy: A Critique from Catholic Tradition." A year later he was before the Welfare Reform Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee offering the United States Catholic Conference (USCC) view on President Jimmy Carter's "Better Jobs and Income" proposal.
Several years ago, reflecting on the priesthood, Archbishop Gerety commented, "there is no profession on earth closer to people or that provides greater satisfaction." To be a good priest, he has said, means "total commitment to Jesus Christ, Our Lord and His people in the Church." Through prayer, he is convinced, a priest "keeps close to Our Lord." If a man strives to be a good priest, he believes, he will be a happy priest. He has pointed out with equal emphasis too that if a man "tries to be a priest of the Eucharist it will strengthen him to really be a model for his people and to be constantly supported by the Holy Spirit."
These days much of his leisure time is spent reading about U.S. History and the development of its democracy, Theology and Church history with an eye toward learning more about how the Church is "meeting its challenges." He remains active and during the year participates in numerous events throughout the archdiocese.