From the Editor

Drescher: Bishop Gossman epitomized Christian service

jdrescher@newsobserver.comAugust 16, 2013 

Joseph Gossman, the former bishop of the Catholic diocese covering Raleigh and Eastern North Carolina, wasn’t impressed by wealth. He once traveled to Edenton in the 1990s with staff members. They detoured to see a $1 million home under construction. When they got out to look at the mansion, Gossman stayed in the car.

That anecdote was reported in Yonat Shimron’s fine profile of Gossman published in 2001 in The News & Observer. Shimron covered religion for The N&O from 1996 to 2011 and is managing editor of Religion News Service, a nonprofit news wire. You can read the profile at http://nando.com/bl.

Gossman died this week at age 83. He had been bishop of the Raleigh diocese from 1975 to 2006, a period of growth and change for Catholics in North Carolina.

Shimron told me this week that Gossman epitomized Christian servanthood. “He was an extremely unassuming, quiet man with deep, deep theological convictions about social justice,” she said. “He didn’t seem to have any ego. I have the greatest admiration for him.”

Shimron noted that Gossman typically dressed in a generic black suit and Roman collar. That he didn’t have a driver. That he disregarded hierarchy and pomp. That he used to sign letters to priests, “Your brother, Joe.” That it was all genuine.

Easy religiosity

Shimron’s impressions of Gossman matched mine. I met him in 1975. He had just been named bishop of the Raleigh diocese and was moving from Baltimore. I was a ninth-grader at Cardinal Gibbons High School.

Our principal, Sister Mary Teresita, asked me and some classmates to help Gossman move boxes into what was then the bishop’s house off Western Boulevard. When Sister Teresita asked, you didn’t say no.

Gossman was polite, gracious and humble that day, as he was every time I saw him over the next 30 years, including when I served on his committee that oversaw the diocese’s publications.

He was unfailingly open and honest, with no pretense. He was a bit shy but strong. Diane Winston, another former N&O religion reporter, said Gossman had an “easy religiosity”: You knew you were in the presence of a person of great faith, but he didn’t make you feel inferior, nor did he condescend or patronize.

When we think of great leaders, we tend to think of great orators giving powerful, inspiring speeches. That wasn’t Gossman.

Sharing power

But he was a highly effective servant-leader. The Rev. Joe Vetter reported to Gossman for nearly 25 years, first as communications director, then as chief operating officer.

“He was a great guy to work for,” said Vetter, now pastor at St. Therese Catholic Church in Wrightsville Beach. Vetter said Gossman was collaborative. He provided direction but delegated and supported. He shared his power.

He left behind a strong diocese with congregations that are more diverse than when he arrived. Among the Catholic newcomers are Latinos and other nationalities.

“He helped those people be a part of the church without taking it away from people who were historically here,” Vetter said. “He shepherded us as a church in a way that allowed for growth and engaged people in ministry. He empowered people to become the kind of church we were called to be.”

Gossman was an effective, empowering leader, a great ambassador for his faith – and a nice guy who brought out the best in people.

Drescher: 919-829-4515 or jdrescher@newsobserver.com; Twitter: @john_drescher

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