When I was a young teacher, just starting out in Levittown, Pennsylvania, in 1973, my grade mentor was Rose Cocci, a feisty, rigorous Catholic school teacher who said what was on her mind — even to her nephew, Father Joe Galante. Through “Aunt Rose,” I got to know Father Galante well.
Our families connected, too, and when my grandfather died, Father Galante celebrated his funeral Mass. When my father died 32 years later, Father Galante walked the pastoral journey of loss with my family once again, but this time as Bishop Joseph Galante.
After many years in opposite parts of the country, Bishop Galante and I both came to the Diocese of Camden in 2004. He was appointed Bishop of Camden following many years in Texas, and I became assistant superintendent of Catholic schools after spending time as a teacher and administrator in the archdioceses of Philadelphia and Newark and the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J. I was blessed that our paths had brought us to the same place.
One of Bishop Galante’s great gifts was his ability to connect with the individual person. On the heels of his death, I’ve heard so many people comment about what a ‘regular guy’ he was, recalling his installation Mass in Camden, when he famously said, “Call me Joe.”
My colleague in the schools office, assistant superintendent Sister Rose Difluri, cut her vacation short to come back for his funeral. While she said she didn’t have much direct contact with him, she always felt his genuine humility and was grateful for his support of women religious. Faith Whalley, who has worked in the Office of Catholic Schools for 49 years under five bishops, recalled Bishop Galante as “very pastoral and people-oriented. He really cared for employees,” she said.
With an approachable, affable personality, Bishop Galante was a pleasure to serve. He also had to make some tough decisions that affected schools in the Diocese of Camden. Recognizing the painful reality that some of the schools in the diocese were not sustainable, he initiated a review process for every diocesan elementary school. That review led to closures and mergers — a reorganization reflective of a national trend for Catholic schools.
Despite the discomfort of change, Bishop Galante worked hard behind the scenes to maximize the financial resources available to struggling schools. At the urging of Msgr. Bob McDermott, former pastor of Saint Joseph Pro-Cathedral Parish in Camden, it was during Bishop Galante’s episcopacy that the Catholic Schools Partnership, Inc. was established as a centralized way to stabilize schools serving students in the City of Camden. During this same time, the Healey Education Foundation committed support to initiate advancement efforts at the elementary school level, and Boards of Limited Jurisdiction were also established. Many thriving schools in the diocese continue to rely on these initiatives.
An enduring memory, as far back as my days with Aunt Rose, was Bishop Galante’s love of Paul’s letters to the Philippians. So I found myself smiling when his niece began to read from Philippians at Bishop Galante’s funeral. The words were everything he embodied:
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
(Phil 2: 5-8)
Mary Boyle is superintendent of schools, Diocese of Camden.