NEWARK-As the oldest bishop in the United States, Archbishop Emeritus Peter L. Gerety has reached a multitude of ministerial milestones. The latest is the 70th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood on June 29, 1939. That will be followed by his 97th birthday July 19. He has served as a bishop for 43 years.
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 Rink in Branch Brook Park.
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 Sulpice 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 coadjutor bishop of Portland, ME, in 1969. Three years later he was head of the diocese.
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.
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 had 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 and His Church."
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."