In the early morning hours of Saturday, May 25, 2019 we lost a “gentle giant” and I lost a very dear friend, Bishop Joseph Galante. Many accolades will be forthcoming but I have been invited to share my very special relationship with him – as his spiritual director for the past 7 years.
It all began with a tap on my shoulder when I was attending a gala diocesan celebration. Surprised to see that the tapper was none other than the Bishop of the Camden Diocese. His request stunned me: “Peggy, I’m looking for a spiritual director.” My response: “I have a whole list of references.” His response: “No, I’m wondering if you would consider this request.” And, so I did – cherishing this role as a graced invitation and privilege.
My connection with Joe actually began years before when we both served as Vicars for Religious: he in Philadelphia and I, as Associate Vicar in Camden. We often connected at regional and national meetings. One meeting remains burned in my memory. Joe, as President of the Vicars Conference, arranged that our annual meeting one year be held in Rome with the officials of the Congregation for Religious (later on he would become the Undersecretary of the Congregation!) I will never forget his passionate and eloquent representation of the important role of American Women Religious – it touches my heart even now.
Joe’s friendship with “NUNS” is legendary, so it was no surprise when in 2004 the good news of his coming to Camden as our 7th Bishop spread like wildfire – it’s hinted that the phone lines in convents went on overload. And, typical of him, one of his first official acts was a formal visit with the women religious – why would we be surprised!
Back to my connection: over these past years during our monthly visits in Somers Point I got a glimpse into this man’s soul. The depth of his faith and his spirituality knows no words. I learned over time the primary sources. In addition to his parents and his family, there were two others: His “SUPREME MENTOR” (Joe’s words) Bishop Humberto Medeiros – later to become cardinal-archbishop of Boston – along with his ministry in Texas among the poor and marginalized in the Dioceses of Brownsville, Beaumont and Dallas. These influences were profound and lasting and contributed to his conviction that listening to the Spirit through others was crucial to his role in Church leadership.
In my monthly visits to Joe in Somers Point, my eye would get fixed on a cherished icon he received from Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS, featuring St. Joseph holding the Infant Jesus with a quote from St. Francis de Sales: “NOTHING IS SO STRONG AS GENTLENESS / NOTHING SO GENTLE AS TRUE STRENGTH.”
There could be no more perfect description of my dear friend. And so, with a hole in my heart and a tear in my eye that I say: Farewell – and well done, good and faithful servant!