In December 2012 about two hours after the then Papal Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, informed me that the Holy Father Pope Benedict was transferring me from the Archdiocese of New York to the Diocese of Camden, I received a phone call from Bishop Galante. I did not know the bishop; had never met him. I picked up the phone and he greeted me, “Brother, welcome, welcome, welcome. As your Irish relatives say, Céad Mille Fáilte, a hundred thousand welcomes, to the Diocese of Camden! I will pray for you every day and look forward to personally meeting you. Our diocesan staff will work with you to arrange for your installation as the eighth bishop of Camden.”
His sincere words put me at ease. In early January 2013 on the day of the public announcement of my appointment to Camden when I arrived at the diocesan office he greeted me with a big bear hug and once again with assurances of his prayers for me and my episcopal ministry and the full cooperation of the diocesan staff.
Prior to my installation in February as the eighth bishop of Camden, he arranged for private time with me during which he briefed me on the pastoral life of the diocese, its financial reality and the administrative situation of the chancery. He assured me that he would “get out my way,” his words, so that I would be able to shepherd the diocese without any interference from him.
Bishop Galante did “get out of my way,” but I wouldn’t allow him to stay at a distance. Over the years, I have sought his wise counsel on a variety of issues that the diocese has faced and I have continually requested his prayers for me and for the diocese. With great charity he responded by telling me that when he was on dialysis he prayed a rosary for the Church of Camden and its bishop. I enjoyed his company both at my residence and at his home and delighted listening to his stories of a life in the church that took him from Philadelphia to Rome to Texas to New Jersey; from parish work; to graduate studies in theology; to a doctorate in Canon Law; to seminary teaching; to diocesan offices in Philadelphia; to a Vatican assignment in the Congregation for Religious; and, to episcopal ministry in the dioceses of San Antonio, Beaumont and Dallas, all in the Lone Star State.
Father Terry Odien in his excellent homily (see page 19) at the Mass of Christian burial for Bishop Galante, fittingly described him as so “very ordinary” to demonstrate how approachable and thoroughly human he was. No “airs” about him. I agree but would add to Father Odien’s description that the bishop was extra-ordinarily ordinary. In his extraordinarily ordinary style he made people comfortable in his presence. In his extraordinarily ordinary style he served God and the Church as priest and bishop and he did both extraordinarily well.
This past Holy Week the bishop was upset that his illness prevented him from concelebrating and being present for the Chrism Mass and the fellowship meal with the priests and deacons of the diocese that followed. He said that the Chrism Mass was his favorite liturgy. At that Mass, priests renew their promises of ordination and the bishop requests prayers for his episcopal ministry. Promises which Joseph Anthony Galante faithfully observed during his 55 years as a priest and bishop. Prayers which he said he needed and welcomed.
Rest in a well-deserved peace, Excellency. Well done, good and faithful servant. Pray for this local church which you shepherded and loved and pray for me, its bishop, who will miss your friendship and your wise counsel.
I invite all who are reading this column to pray for our beloved bishop-emeritus: Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen. May his soul and the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.
Most Reverend Dennis J. Sullivan, D.D.
Bishop of Camden