From the Catholic Star Herald archives: February 1, 2013
On March 23, 2004, Pope John Paul II named Bishop Joseph Galante the seventh shepherd of Camden. The Philadelphia native, having served as coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Dallas since 2000, Bishop of Beaumont from 1994-2000, and before that, Undersecretary for Religious in Rome, came back to the East Coast.
In his almost nine years serving the Diocese of Camden, Bishop Galante has been a champion to the poor and needy, strengthened schools and parishes, and inspired priests, religious and laity to know their faith more fully. Those who work with him say he has been guided by a deep conviction of God’s love and his desire to be a servant in God’s vineyard.
At his installation on April 30, 2004, Bishop Galante told his people of his desire for “us, the Church of Camden, to become more and more the fruit of love.”
To ensure compliance with the U.S. Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, in October of that same year he established the diocese’s first Office of Safe Environment for Children, Youth, and Adults (since renamed Office of Child and Youth Protection), with Rod J. Herrera as head, a position he still holds.
Consultation and Planning
Bishop Galante soon announced a plan to visit every parish in the diocese, beginning in early 2005. In these “Speak-Up” sessions, he would hear directly from the faithful of South Jersey, seeking the input of laity, clergy, and religious of every parish, to identify diocesan pastoral priorities.
The people of the diocese “will have the opportunity to share with me your concerns about the future of the church; those areas of the church that you feel may need improvement, development or change; the priorities that you believe require our resources and energy,” he said in February 2005, announcing the Speak-Up schedule.
In June 2006, the Speak-Up Sessions were completed, with more than 140 sessions taking place with 125 parish/mission sessions, and more than a dozen sessions for priests, deacons and their wives, women religious, Catholic youth, diocesan employees, and Hispanic leadership. More than 8,200 faithful answered the question of “Looking to the future, what are the three most important areas of concern for the church in South Jersey?”
A few months later, Bishop Galante sent out a mailing to households with the findings of the Speak-Up sessions, and the six pastoral priorities most identified by parishioners: Lifelong Formation, Priestly Vocations, Lay Ministry, Youth and Young Adults, Liturgy, and Compassionate Outreach. These priorities formed the foundation of the diocese’s efforts in cultivating a devout people, with a Pastoral Planning Office put in place to assist priests and parishioners in implementing these priorities.
In November 2007, Bishop Galante reorganized the diocesan offices in support of the pastoral priorities, grouping the faith and spiritual formation efforts of the multiple offices to encourage the pooling of resources, greater collaboration, and improved service to the parish communities. He named Sister Roseann Quinn, SSJ, as the Delegate of Lifelong Faith and Spiritual Formation.
The Camden bishop also sought to strengthen the schools and the parishes. In January 2006, the diocese published a report on the status of the elementary schools in the diocese, which revealed rising deficits, rising parish subsidies, and declining enrollment for many of the schools.
In December of that year, a two-year school planning initiative, “Faith in the Future,” began, designed to boost enrollment, improve programs and facilities, reconstitute school boards, address school funding, and institute advancement programs. The schools also held planning meetings in clusters, with a steering committee from each cluster making recommendations on how best to grow Catholic school education in each area of the diocese.
In November 2007, Bishop Galante held a press conference, announcing the reconfiguration of 35 Catholic elementary schools in nine clusters, to take effect in the 2008-09 school year. Today, there are 30 elementary schools, and 10 secondary schools in the diocese.
Seven months later, in June 2008. he announced that by the end of the 2008-09 school year, there would be almost 30 full-time, paid advancement directors working in diocesan elementary schools.
Funded through the Catholic School Development Program, advancement directors have focused on marketing, enrollment growth, and alumni relations.
In November of that same year, the Diocese and the International Education Foundation/Catholic School Development Program announced a partnership, calling on the expertise of top education, management, finance, and advancement executives in order to aid Catholic elementary schools in Camden.
In strengthening parishes in the diocese, the beginnings of change came about after a 12-page diocesan report was published on September 22, 2006. The report, called “Demographic Factors Impacting the Diocese of Camden,” showed population trends, changes in demographics, declining Mass attendance, the number of priests available for ministry, and changes in school enrollment.
In January 2007, more than 700 clergy, religious, and laity, from each parish, met at Camden Catholic High School in Cherry Hill, for a daylong gathering to launch the planning phase of “Gathering God’s Gifts,” an initiative which would address the challenges facing the church of South Jersey, and with the aim of bringing about stronger parishes. Each Deanery had planners making preliminary recommendations on how to strengthen parishes to Bishop Galante and the Diocesan Planning Commission for review.
After reviewing the deanery planning recommendations, and in consultation with the Diocesan Planning Commission and the Presbyteral Council, Bishop Galante announced his intentions to reconfigure parishes during a press conference on April 3, 2008.
Lay Ministry Formation
Bishop Galante was also instrumental in educating the laity who were working in the parishes. In October 2008, he announced the start of the Lay Ministry Formation Program to help the laity engaged in parish work obtain the educational credentials relating to their area of ministry. With partners such as Georgian Court University and Villanova University, the program has been able to provide courses for students at satellite locations throughout the diocese. Those individuals accepted in the program pay a third of the tuition cost, while their parish pays another third, and the diocese pays the final third.
Defending the Faith
When dealing with matters outside his diocese, Bishop Galante was not shy about defending his faith.
In March 2009, Bishop Galante responded to Barack Obama’s executive order reversing the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
The president, he wrote,”tragically has placed defenseless human life at the disposal of political expediency and so-called ‘medical progress.’ The destruction of human life, no matter what the hoped-for result, is inhumane and irresponsible, a grave moral wrong and never permissible.”
A year later, Bishop Galante cited “grave concerns” with the Senate version of the health care bill before Congress, which expanded government funding of abortion, would violate the conscience rights of pro-life healthcare providers and failed to provide adequate coverage for immigrants.
“I urge the Catholic people in the region, and all people of good will who are concerned about the dignity of human life, to let members of Congress know that the current legislation, absent these protections, is morally unacceptable and must not become law,” he wrote.
Bishop Galante also fought for immigration reform, most notably in his 2010 pastoral letter, “Every Person Is A Neighbor,” where he wrote that everyone is “worthy of care and concern, not because they’ve earned it or because they’re legally entitled to it, but because they have inherent dignity by virtue of their creation in God’s image.”
The Camden leader, in 2011, also lent his support to the proposed DREAM ACT in Congress, which would offer young, undocumented individuals in the United States to be able to achieve citizenship.
“Catholic bishops support the DREAM Act because as religious leaders we are committed to promoting the dignity of every human being,” he wrote. “As Americans we have prided ourselves on the potential that exists here. As Catholics we are morally obligated to uplifting and pointing out the God-given dignity of every human being.”
Bishop Galante also wrote a message last June, published in the Catholic Star Herald, on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Mandate, which requires all private health insurance plans to include coverage for all FDA-approved prescription contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.
Discussing the narrow parameters for “religious exemption” outlined in the federal mandate, and the government’s desire to define religion, he urged Catholics to remember how to “define for ourselves what it means to be Catholic,” and fight for “freedom of conscience,” and reject the mandate.
Bishop Galante authorized Catholic Charities in the Diocese to initiate “Project One” in 2006 to respond to the need for volunteers in Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. With this initiative, up to 30 teams of 12-15 parishioner volunteers helped rebuild and repair homes.
Bishop Galante also believed in providing affordable housing to low and middle-income families in South Jersey, and spoke at a ceremony where Gov. Jon Corzine signed a bill reforming affordable housing laws. Critical of the Regional Contribution Agreement, which allows wealthy suburban towns to pay poor towns to accept their share of affordable housing, Bishop Galante called it “inherently unfair, for it concentrates the poor in the most impoverished cities, locking them into enclaves of disadvantage, out of sight and out of minds, with jobs and opportunities out of reach.”
Illness and Spirituality
In October 2011, the bishop shared with the diocese the struggle he had been dealing with for the past 11 years, Type II Diabetes. In a press release, he revealed that for more than a year, he had been suffering from chronic kidney disease, and was soon to begin dialysis.
“This illness…has provided me with a graced opportunity for deeper prayer and reflection,” Bishop Galante wrote. “I daily offer to our Heavenly Father my illness with all that goes with it for you, that you may have a deeper faith and trust in Jesus and more fervent practice of that faith.”
In December 2012, during Mass for the celebration of the 75th year of the diocese at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Camden, he recalled the good work of the faithful “for your responsiveness to God’s call,” and urged parishioners to have the “courage to live, love Jesus, and make him known and experienced.”
Last year, after the findings of a study of religious attitudes in the diocese was announced, Bishop Galante reminded the faithful of their mission to “give people a better view of who Jesus is.”
Last May during the press conference announcing the results of the diocese-commissioned Barna Study,, he said that the church needs “to get back to teaching” to a group that seems to have a poor understanding of church doctrine, and “be more inviting,” and “help people understand that (Jesus wants to) have a relationship of love and friendship.”
In the announcement of his resignation on Jan. 8, Bishop Galante thanked the priests, deacons, religious, lay men and women, and young people, for their work.
“These past eight years and nine months have been the happiest, thanks to you all,” he said.
Standing with the man who will become Camden’s eighth bishop, Auxiliary Bishop Dennis Sullivan of New York, Bishop Galante said, “I joyfully welcome you to the wonderful people of God of this diocese. I trust you will come to love them as I do.”