Retired Catholic Bishop Joseph Galante, 80, of Philadelphia, who led the Diocese of Camden from 2004 to 2013, died Saturday, May 25, at Shore Medical Center in Somers Point after a long illness that led to his earlier-than-anticipated retirement.
The Diocese of Camden announced his death via Facebook. A representative could not be reached for comment.
“I ask that you pray for his eternal rest,” Bishop Galante’s successor in Camden, the Rev. Dennis J. Sullivan, said in the Facebook post.
The son of a Northeast Philadelphia grocer, Bishop Galante graduated from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood in 1960. He was ordained in 1964 before attending Lateran University in Rome, where he received his doctorate in canon law, and later the University of St. Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome for a master’s degree in spiritual theology. Bishop Galante returned to his hometown to serve in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia until he was named by Pope John Paul II to be undersecretary of the Congregation for Religious in Rome in 1986.
In 1992, Bishop Galante was named auxiliary bishop in San Antonio. He also served as bishop in Beaumont, Texas, and coadjutor bishop in Dallas before returning to the Philadelphia area as the seventh bishop of the Camden Diocese in 2004. Bishop Galante was the first Philadelphian to be named to that clerical rank in South Jersey.
“Bishop Galante was a guy from a Northeast Philly rowhouse,” said Rocco Palmo, a Philadelphia-based Catholic journalist and the bishop’s close friend. “He never forgot where he came from. At the same time, he was especially enlightened, a near prophetic figure in terms of Catholic life and where it was going.”
Under his leadership, the Diocese of Camden made several ambitious changes, including reducing the number of parishes from 124 to 70. The largest consolidation of any Catholic diocese in the history of the United States at the time, it was initially met with anger and resistance. Bishop Galante believed that the consolidation would bring community, “vibrancy,” and financial stability to congregations. The decision was so unpopular that the bishop received calls for his resignation.
At the time, Bishop Galante told The Inquirer that he had not expected to stay long enough to witness the “full flowering” of his vision, “but the tender shoots are coming up.”
“He knew that the future of the church is going to be built by everyone together,” Palmo said. “He wanted to hear the people. By and large, because of the listening he put into it, people really felt like they were building their own future.”
Under Bishop Galante, the diocese reorganized groupings of parishes to encourage collaboration among them. It also established a virtual university to provide cost-effective education for people interested in ministry.
The bishop was also known for his zero-tolerance stance on sexual abuse within the church. It earned him a spot on the ad hoc committee on sex abuse of the Conference of Catholic Bishops. In 2002, when sex abuse in Boston provoked an international crisis, Bishop Galante helped draft the Charter for Protection of Children and Young People, which was overwhelmingly approved by his fellow bishops when they met that summer.
Bishop Galante retired in 2013 to his Shore home in Somers Point after nine years with the diocese, citing Type 2 diabetes and end-stage kidney failure. By that point, he was receiving dialysis three times a week due to his diabetes. He remained bishop emeritus.
Outside of the church, Bishop Galante was an avid Eagles and Phillies fan. He also enjoyed pop music and black-and-white western films. When he was growing up, his immigrant grandmother predicted that he’d be a priest. It was meant to be – as a small boy, he often draped himself in black and pretended to say Mass.
After he retired, Bishop Galante enjoyed relaxing on his recliner to watch Phillies games. On Sunday nights, he would make his mom’s spaghetti sauce. Often, he’d invite friends over for dinner.
“Bishop Galante left everyone he knew with something,” Palmo said. “Every conversation, no matter who it was with, would end with him saying, ‘I love you.’ He showed us what a bishop could be, what a bishop was supposed to be, and that’s a pastor and a friend.”
Normally bishops are buried with their predecessors, but Bishop Galante has chosen to be buried alongside his parents in Torresdale. He is survived by three brothers, Francis, William, and Paul.