Bishop Joseph, O.S.B.


On the second day of July 2023, our confrere, Bishop Joseph John Gerry, O.S.B., died in the early morning hours of the day that marked the 75th anniversary of his profession as a Benedictine monk. He served as abbot of Saint Anselm Abbey, chancellor of Saint Anselm College and bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Maine. Beloved for his qualities of heart and admired for his keenness of thought, Bishop Joseph served the Church for more than seven decades as a Benedictine monk and priest, college professor and administrator, religious superior and bishop.

A native of Millinocket, Maine, he was born on September 12, 1928, the son of the late Bernard E. and Blanche A. (McManemon) Gerry and was one of 8 children. He was a 1945 graduate of Stearns High School in Millinocket. He began studies at Saint Anselm College and later entered the monastic community. Following his novitiate at Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, PA, he professed first vows as a member of the Order of Saint Benedict on July 2, 1948. He returned to Saint Anselm and continued his college studies, earning a B.A. degree in philosophy in 1950. His theological studies were at the Abbey seminary, and he professed solemn monastic vows in 1951.

Bishop Joseph was ordained to the priesthood at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Manchester on June 12, 1954, by the Most Rev. Matthew F. Brady, 5th bishop of Manchester.

Continuing his academic studies, the future bishop received a Master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Toronto in 1955, and a doctorate in philosophy from Fordham University in 1959.

Bishop Joseph served on the philosophy faculty of Saint Anselm College and held administrative posts including both dean and chancellor of the college. He was instrumental in the founding of the Saint Anselm College Humanities Program.

He served as executive secretary of the Ad Hoc Committee of the American-Cassinese Congregation of the Benedictine order, which produced a document to inspire and guide monastic renewal in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. The document, titled Renew and Create, was published in 1969 – and remains a seminal text for the study of contemporary monasticism.

In the abbey, Bishop Joseph served as subprior and prior and was elected as the third abbot of Saint Anselm on January 6, 1972. He received the abbatial blessing from the Most Rev. Ernest J. Primeau, 6th bishop of Manchester, in the Abbey Church on January 11, 1972.

Pope John Paul II appointed him auxiliary bishop of Manchester in 1986 and he was ordained a bishop on April 21 of that year, the feast of Saint Anselm of Canterbury, at Saint Joseph Cathedral by the Most Rev. Odore J. Gendron, 7th bishop of Manchester. Three years later, on February 21, 1989, Bishop Joseph was installed as the 10th bishop of Portland at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Bishop Joseph’s personal coat of arms features the motto, “To Serve Rather Than To Preside.”

Bishop Joseph is the author of a collection of conferences and homilies he gave to his monks, titled Ever Present Lord. As bishop of Portland, he wrote pastoral letters to the Catholic community in Maine, nearly one during each of the 15 years he led the diocese. Bishop Joseph addressed many issues, including abortion, evangelization, the power and beauty of the doctrine of the faith, vocations, the sacraments of initiation, human sexuality and physician-assisted suicide.

Bishop Joseph served the Church on a number of committees concerned with interreligious dialogue including the Secretariat for Interreligious Relations of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and as a member of the NCCB Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

He was a trustee of both Pope Saint John XXIII National Seminary and Saint Anselm College. He also served on the NCCB committee dealing with relations between the bishops and the presidents of Catholic colleges and universities.

In September of 2003, Bishop Joseph, upon reaching age 75, submitted his resignation which was accepted on February 10, 2004. Upon his return to Saint Anselm Abbey, Bishop Joseph served as novice master for several years, and continued to give retreats and conferences until his health limited his activities.

Although obedience to God’s will would call him from his monastery to serve the Lord and his Church as a bishop, he was first and foremost a monk. His decisions, his service to the Church, his counsel, his personal relations, his prayer and work, were all governed and shaped by his formation as a disciple of Saint Benedict. It was his love of the Lord that sustained him in his long life, and it was the time he spent alone with the Lord in prayer which was the source of both his happiness and his strength.

Bishop Joseph was pre-deceased by his parents and his seven siblings, Barbara, Catherine, Bernard Jr., Fr. Jude, O.S.B., Elizabeth, Nora, and Margaret.

The monastic community will receive Bishop Joseph’s body in the Abbey Church on Wednesday, July 5, 2023, at 12 noon, followed by calling hours until 9 p.m. Evening Prayer will be at 5:35 P.M., with Compline at 7:30 P.M. On Thursday, July 6, 2023, Morning Prayer will be at 6 A.M., Daytime Prayer at 8:30 A.M.; Visitation from 8:30 until 10:15 A.M. A Mass of Christian Burial in the Abbey Church will be celebrated by the Most Reverend Peter A. Libasci, D.D., 10th bishop of Manchester at 11 A.M. Burial will follow in Saint Leander’s Cemetery on the Abbey grounds.