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Remembering Archbishop Gerety as “Father of RENEW”

Archbishop Peter L. Gerety, who died on Tuesday at the age of 104, was aptly known as the “father of RENEW International”—a ministry that began in the Archdiocese of Newark under Gerety’s watch and spread around the world.

In 1974, Archbishop Gerety asked Fr. Thomas Kleissler to form a committee to think through the implementation of parish councils throughout the archdiocese.

And the archbishop supported Fr. Kleissler’s proposal for a three-year spiritual-renewal process that would move lay people to take on ministries and responsibilities called for by the Second Vatican Council.

Fr. Kleissler collaborated with Fr. Thomas Ivory, director of the archdiocesan Office of Religious Education, in developing a program based on that proposal.

After the “RENEW process,” as it was known, was launched successfully throughout the archdiocese, it attracted attention from other dioceses—first within the United States and then from all over the world. Over the nearly 40 years since then, some 25 million men and women in 24 countries have participated in RENEW processes.

“From the very beginning,’’ said Fr. Kleissler, “Archbishop Gerety’s unhesitatingly positive response and support was amazing. He was a brilliant pastoral man who immediately embraced the vision of an archdiocesan-wide spiritual renewal. His leadership, and constant support, would lead him to be rightly acclaimed as “the father of RENEW.”

“It took a leader as tremendous as he is,” Fr. Kleissler said, “to see the profound possibilities of this spiritual renewal effort in the lives of the people. He exercised his leadership to initiate a diocese-wide program totally different from what any other diocese had undertaken.’’

Fr. Ivory said he was also impressed by the fact that under Archbishop Gerety’s leadership RENEW became a such a collaborative venture. “He was a man of great vision,’’ Fr. Ivory said, “and I share Tom Kleissler’s admiration of him and also value his friendship over the years.’’

And the archbishop’s zeal never waned. In 2013, he wrote, “I still believe firmly that the RENEW approach to evangelization, building on small groups, is the most effective way of all to spread the Gospel message far and wide. The impact RENEW International has had, and will continue to have, makes (its work) an important contribution to … the Church in the 20th and 21st centuries.”

Right up to this year, Archbishop Gerety attended RENEW’s annual fundraising gala.

Sr. Terry Rickard, OP, who became executive director of RENEW in 2006 after Archbishop Gerety had retired, remarked, “I will always be grateful for his support of RENEW’s work. Virtually every day in our work at RENEW, something reminds us that we are standing on a foundation made of the contributions of scores of men and women. First among them was Archbishop Peter L. Gerety.”

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