Archbishop Gerety recalls fondly that he became a bishop right after the sweeping changes enacted by 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.
Vatican II, he explained, was a time when the Church embraced what Pope Paul VI called a "new attitude toward the world" shifting from a "defensive" approach in favor of embracing what it had previously resisted. One of the most important changes, he noted, was a 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 at the helm of the Archdiocese of Newark (from 1974 to 1986), Archbishop Gerety said he particularly enjoyed assisting with that (post-Vatican II) "change of attitude in the Church, fostering the servant nature of the Church's authority." It was a time, he said, when lay people became involved with a variety of new organizations taking their responsibility in the mission of the Church. It was also a time, he continued, when the liturgy "improved tremendously," centering on increased participation among lay people.
A vivid example, he pointed out, was formation of parish councils and similar programs. In fact, one of his prized possessions is a stone tablet inscribed with a pledge he made in his early days in Newark when he said in an April 18, 1975 speech: "I am totally committed to parish councils by April 15, 1976." He remarked to the effect that that commitment could be put in stone—and it was by some of the people who attended the presentation.
Born on July 19, 1912, Archbishop Gerety credited his parents as one of the major influences on his decision to become a priest. Another source of inspiration, he recalled, was the clergy of his boyhood parish, St. Joseph's in Shelton.
His Connecticut hometown had no Catholic school so he attended the local public schools. His mother, whose primary concern was a Catholic education for her children, was active in many organizations with Catholic and Protestant members—a situation her son now sees as the foreshadowing of today's ecumenical movement. He had, Archbishop Gerety said nostalgically, "many wonderful Protestant friends."
The future archbishop entered St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, CT, and he was selected to study abroad at St. Sulpice Seminary in Issy, France. Following his ordination, then-Father Gerety returned to the United States and was assigned to St. John the Evangelist Parish in New Haven, CT. There, in addition to his parish duties, he ministered to the sick at Yale New Haven Hospital.
He was assigned to St. Brendan's Parish in New Haven in 1942. The move was made necessary because Archbishop Henry O'Brien had established an interracial social and religious center to minister to the community's black Catholic population.
He served as director of the center, then known as the Blessed Martin de Porres Center, from 1942-56. In 1956 the center became St. Martin de Porres Parish and then-Father Gerety was named its pastor. As a result of this experience in the Elm City, he continued this ministry and outreach to the African-American community when he arrived in Newark.
On March 4, 1966, Pope Paul VI appointed him Titular Bishop of Crepedula and co-adjutor with the right of succession to Bishop Daniel J. Feeney of Portland, ME. He was ordained to the episcopacy on June 1, 1966 in St. Joseph Cathedral in Hartford, His formal accession to the Portland See was on Sept. 15, 1969 on the death of Bishop Feeney. Archbishop Gerety arrived in Newark in April 1974.
His long life, Archbishop Gerety said, has strengthened his faith and his belief that in faith the Holy Spirit constantly guides the Church. The Holy Spirit, he stressed is "the soul" of the Church. The Church in Newark, he pointed out, "really and truly was able to put flesh" on many of the reforms established by the Second Vatican Council. His predecessor, Archbishop Thomas A. Boland, Archbishop Gerety stressed, was "one of the fathers" of the Second Vatican Council.
Relaxing at his residence at St. John Vianney in Rutherford, Archbishop Gerety reflected on the many changes in society he has witnessed during the last 50 years. He noted the "change of attitude toward women" that resulted in moves towards equality, which has proved to be "enormously beneficial."
The June 4, 1986 edition of The Catholic Advocate carried a page-one story that Archbishop Gerety formally announced his resignation, with then-Metuchen Bishop (now Cardinal) Theodore E. McCarrick appointed to lead the Archdiocese of Newark.
"The reasons for my action in submitting my resignation are very simple," Archbishop Gerety wrote 21 years ago. "It is well known that a bishop must resign at the age of 75. I will be 74 years old next month and I told the Holy Father in my letter of resignation that for the good of God's Church and for my own peace of mind, I believe it is time of a younger man to take over the reins of office here in Newark. I have done my best and I am very happy now to step aside."