One of my first assignments for this paper, back in spring of 2007, was covering Bishop Joseph Galante’s visit to youth of Rowan University in Glassboro. Until his 2013 retirement, I followed him everywhere: Easter Masses, Rite of Election celebrations, spiritual retreats.
I covered his press conferences announcing the closings and mergers of schools and parishes. In these understandably hard moments for the faithful of South Jersey, he led with a love for his people and a desire to strengthen faith communities in the Diocese of Camden. Throughout all, I witnessed a humble shepherd, quiet yet firm in the faith he held fast to.
But I couldn’t say that I ever really knew him on a personal level until five years into his retirement — on Feb. 4, 2018, to be exact.
That was the day of Super Bowl LII, the championship for the National Football League crown, between the New England Patriots and Bishop Galante’s beloved Philadelphia Eagles.
When it became apparent that the Eagles were getting the chance to win their first title, my editor reminded me that the bishop, as a Philadelphia native, was the biggest Eagles fan he knew. As well, my co-workers recalled him throwing pep rallies for diocesan staff during the team’s 2004 Super Bowl run, in which they also played the Patriots, and lost in a heartbreaker.
Why not watch the Eagles game with Bishop Galante and write about it, my editor queried. As a devoted baseball-phile, my Philly sports allegiance is fixed on the Phillies. Nonetheless, I do look forward to the Super Bowl every year, if not for the winner-take-all action on the field, then to see funny new ads from Doritos, Pepsi and E-Trade.
I was excited about this opportunity, not only to watch the game with an Eagles superfan, and all the passion and devotion for the hometown team that came with that description, but to spend time with a man I looked up to in faith.
After reaching out to Bishop Galante, he warmly invited me to his Atlantic County residence for the game, and I made my way, pen and pad in hand.
Clearly, the years of dialysis had taken a toll on him. However, with his attentive ear, ever-present smile, rosary clasped tightly in his hand, and DeSean Jackson No. 10 jersey on, he was ready for the game.
Joining us were Bishop Galante’s caregiver, Steve; his longtime friend, Jim Murray, former Eagles general manager; and Murray’s wife, Dianne.
In the first three quarters of the seesaw game between the Eagles and Patriots, I saw the bishop go through characteristic emotions of sports fandom: disappointment, doubt and hope.
After another quarter, as the hopes of Bishop Galante and other Eagles fans became reality with a 41-33 win and the raising of the Lombardi trophy, another emotion appeared on his face: joy.
I can’t help but feel that the joy he exuded that night was more than his happiness at a sports triumph.
“Suffering is never a problem” if you deal with it correctly, Bishop Galante told me that night when discussing his ill health. Daily, he offered up his ailments for the people of Camden. He desired for them the knowledge of the joy that can come to those who live a life for Christ, who daily seek to lift up their brothers and sisters, as he did.
I believe I saw in the bishop the joy that only comes from a life lived in hope amidst struggles, a life with eyes locked on the path, a life based on the belief the journey’s end will bring goodness and happiness.
Peter G. Sánchez is the Catholic Star Herald staff writer and social media coordinator.