Remembering Bishop Galante – Serving as ‘our’ bishop

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Bishop Joseph Galante’s vision of the church emphasizes a strong sense of community and the importance of lay leadership. In this photo, Bishop Galante greets Gwendolyn Schell, a student of St. John of God Community Services, Westville Grove, and her mother Mary Ellen Schell.

As the Catholic community of South Jersey, and beyond, mourns the passing of Bishop Joseph A. Galante, the Catholic Star Herald is taking a look back on its coverage of the 7th Bishop of Camden. This story was first published February 1, 2013, as the Star Herald marked Bishop Galante’s retirement from active ministry.

A key word in understanding Bishop Joseph Galante is “our.” As in “our faith,” “our church,” “our God.”

When the bishop came to the Camden Diocese in 2004 he said his goal was summed up in his episcopal motto, “Have the mind of Jesus.”

“I invite all of you to join with me in coming to know Jesus more intimately, to love Jesus more ardently, and to live Jesus more totally,” he said in a prepared statement at the press conference announcing his appointment.

In a recent interview as he prepares to leave that appointment behind, he stressed the Catholic — meaning catholic — vision of the Jesus relationship he preaches.

“What I do not say is that I accept Jesus as my own personal Lord and Savior,” Bishop Galante said. “He is not mine. He is ours.”

The bishop has said many times that his sense of church is formed by the Second Vatican II document Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium). Promulgated Nov. 21, 1964, it presents the church as a mystery, as a communion of baptized believers, as the people of God, as the body of Christ and as a pilgrim moving toward fulfillment in heaven but marked on earth with “a sanctity that is real, although imperfect.”

The bishop’s understanding of the church as a communion of baptized believers was integral to his work in the diocese, beginning with the nearly year and a half he devoted to 138 “Speak Up Sessions,” an outreach that obtained feedback directly from parishioners, clergy, religious and others on the ministerial priorities of the diocese. This consultation led to a multi-year planning process that has sought to address challenges and revitalize parish life.

The bishop also has put a strong emphasis on lay ministry by establishing a virtual university by reaching agreements with several institutions of higher learning to provide cost effective education in ministry and church administration.

The “our” of the bishop’s thinking is evident in less sweeping initiatives as well, such as the yearly Advent and Lenten retreat days for diocesan employees that he started.

This wide-ranging and inclusive “our” also figures into his vision for the church’s future, which he sees shaped largely by the spirituality of the developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. “They will bring a different kind of spirituality,” he said. “There is a vitality and dynamism in their faith.”

In the United States, he added, the “deep faith and wonderful sense of community” of Hispanic Catholics will continue to be a positive influence.

Looking back on his years in the diocese, the bishop said he is not unhappy about leaving administrative tasks behind. But, in summing up, he said, “It was a wonderful time.” 

“I’ve had great acceptance and wonderful support,” he said. “God has blessed me in allowing me to come here and serve. If I have offended anyone, I ask for their forgiveness.”

He added that his new home has a chapel, where he will continue to pray for the people of the diocese.