By Mark Mueller and Judy Peet
Archbishop Peter Leo Gerety, considered one of the most progressive Roman Catholic bishops in America during his 12-year tenure as head of the Archdiocese of Newark, died Tuesday, the archdiocese confirmed. He was 104.
Gerety, the world’s oldest Catholic bishop, marked his 77th year as a priest and 50th year as a bishop in June. He spent his final years at St. Joseph’s Home for the Elderly, run by the Little Sisters of the Poor, in Totowa.
“He made an enormous contribution because of his love of the poor and his deep interest in African American Catholics,” said retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who succeeded Gerety as Newark’s archbishop in 1986. “He took the message of the Second Vatican Council as a call to action and devoted himself to trying to follow its directives in the churches that he led.”
Archbishop Gerety, who was bishop of Portland, Maine, before coming to Newark in 1974, gained headlines when he conducted mass general absolutions to bring lapsed Catholics back to the church, formed a Black Apostolate, supported equal rights legislation for women and paid off tens of millions of dollars in diocesan debt.
He marched for civil rights in Selma, Ala., protested the Vietnam War, brought Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity to Newark and launched RENEW, an adult small-group spiritual revival movement that has spread worldwide.
“Today this local church of Newark mourns a remarkable churchman whose love for the people of God was always strong and ever-growing,” Newark Archbishop John J. Myers said in a statement Wednesday.
“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,” Myers said. “He very carefully led the church, her people and institutions through those challenges.”