Bishop Joseph Gerry, OSB, the Tenth Bishop of Portland, dies at age 94.

It is with great sorrow that the Diocese of Portland announces the passing of Bishop Joseph J. Gerry, OSB, the 10th Bishop of Portland. Bishop Joseph died at Mt. Carmel Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Sunday, July 2, the 75th anniversary of his profession as a member of the Benedictine community. He was 94 years old.

“Bishop Joseph gave his life in service to Christ and the Church. He was a monk, a priest, an abbot, a bishop, and spent 15 years as Bishop of Portland. In each mission that he accepted from the Church, he was the pastoral presence of the Good Shepherd, helping everyone he met in coming to know Christ in a new way. Though saddened by his death, we are strengthened by the hope that faith gives us that this good man will be in the loving presence of God,” Bishop Robert Deeley said.

Bishop Joseph was a native son of Maine, born in Millinocket in 1928, one of eight children of Bernard and Blanche Gerry. He was baptized with the name John Gregory, named for the fifth Bishop of Portland, Bishop John Gregory Murray. Joseph was the name he later received when he entered religious life.

Bishop Joseph said the roots of his vocation were planted in his family’s deep faith and were supported by the priests and religious sisters he encountered in his life.

“Thus, from a very young age, I prayed for the grace to come to know what the Lord desired, for somehow, I never doubted that his desire for me was for my well-being and happiness,” he told The Church World in 1989.

He attended Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, in 1945. He said he was considering three possible vocations — doctor, teacher, or priest — but discerned it was the latter to which he was called. At age 18, while still a student at the college, he entered the Benedictine novitiate. He professed first vows as a member of Saint Anselm Abbey on July 2, 1948. He was ordained to priesthood on June 12, 1954, at St. Joseph Cathedral in Manchester.

After receiving a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Toronto in 1955 and a doctorate in philosophy from Fordham University in New York in 1959, he joined the faculty of Saint Anselm College. In 1963, he was named prior of the abbey, responsible for the religious formation of those entering monastic life. He then served as academic dean of Saint Anselm College in 1971 before being elected abbot of the abbey and chancellor of the college in 1972. They were positions he continued to hold until he was ordained in 1986 to serve as the Auxiliary Bishop of Manchester.

He said he had a difficult time saying yes to the appointment, knowing how much it would change his life, but through prayer, he came to the conclusion that it was what God wanted of him.

“I do not know if I am capable of fulfilling all of the expectations and demands of the office of bishop, but I will work at it with whatever gifts the Lord has given me and trust in the support of the people and the grace of God,” he said at the time.

Bishop Joseph served as Auxiliary Bishop of Manchester for three years before being named the tenth Bishop of Portland on December 27, 1988, succeeding Bishop Edward O’Leary. He was installed as Portland’s bishop at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland on February 21, 1989.

“I was born and brought up among the people of Maine. To them, to whom I owe so much, I offer the fullest measure of my affection. The deepest desire of my heart is and shall be to serve all of them to the utmost of my strength and ability,” he said at the time of his appointment.

During his years as Bishop of Portland, he was known for sharing the teachings of the Church through pastoral letters, writing about one a year on topics such as vocations, the sacrament of confirmation, marriage, and human sexuality. He also authored a book featuring many of his homilies.

On Bishop Joseph’s Coat of Arms are the words “To serve, not to preside,” and those who served beside him said that is how he led the diocese. He is remembered as a man of deep prayer, who had a gentle spirit and a warm, welcoming smile.

“You can’t understand Bishop Joseph without first understanding him as a monk. He was first and foremost a monk, and that never changed,” said Msgr. Marc Caron, moderator of the curia and vicar general for the Diocese of Portland. “In terms of his personal life, his outlook on life, the way he led the diocese, and his decision-making process, he was a monk.”

“He was a gentleman, a nice man, somebody who was very real and very human,” said Msgr. Paul Stefanko, vicar for priests.

“He respected everybody, and he found the good in everybody. I think the greatest gift he gave to the diocese was the spirituality he brought,” said Sister Rita-Mae Bissonnette, RSR, chancellor. “He was genuine. It was a glow from within that shined through.”

Bishop Gerry served as bishop until February 2004, at which time he returned to Saint Anselm Abbey, where he lived until his health required additional care, and he was transferred to Mt. Carmel Rehabilitation and Nursing Center. For several years after retiring from active ministry, he continued to return to Maine to be present at some liturgies and to assist in administering the sacrament of confirmation.

Mass of Christian Burial

A Mass of Christian Burial for Bishop Joseph was celebrated Thursday, July 6, at Saint Anselm Abbey. Read more about the Mass here. View the Mass on video.

Memorial Masses

Saturday, July 22, 2023, at 11 a.m.
St. Martin of Tours Church
19 Colby Street, Millinocket
Celebrant: Father Dominic Savio, HGN

Thursday, August 3, 2023, at 2:00 p.m.  
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
307 Congress Street, Portland, ME  
Main Celebrant: Most Reverend Robert P. Deeley, Bishop of Portland

Papal Message - July 7, 2023

Letter sent to Bishop Robert P. Deeley:

His holiness Pope Francis was saddened to learn of the death of Bishop Emeritus Joseph J. Gerry, and he sends heartfelt condolences to you, the clergy, religious and lay faithful of the diocese, as well as to Bishop Gerry's confreres in the Order of Saint Benedict. Commending the late bishop's soul to the love and mercy of Christ the Good Shepherd, His Holiness joins you in giving thanks to Almighty God for his years of ministry to the Church in Portland, marked by the example he gave of prayer and service, commitment to making known the teachings of the Church, and closeness to the people entrusted to his pastoral care. To those gathered for the Mass of Christian Burial and to all who mourn Bishop Gerry's loss in the sure hope of the resurrection, the Holy Father cordially imparts his blessing as a pledge of peace and consolation in the Lord.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin
Secretary of State

Bishop Joseph Gerry, OSB, on the occasion of his 90th birthday.
Bishop Joseph and Bishop Robert Deeley
Bishop Joseph Gerry, OSB
Bishop Joseph Gerry, OSB