Midtown Raleigh News

Raleigh Diocese begins long goodbye to former bishop

Catholic Bishop F. Joseph Gossman questions children at Raleigh's Sacred Heart Cathedral following his sermon on the meaning of Ash Wednesday in 1999.
Catholic Bishop F. Joseph Gossman questions children at Raleigh's Sacred Heart Cathedral following his sermon on the meaning of Ash Wednesday in 1999.

Congregants at a Tuesday funeral Mass for Bishop Emeritus F. Joseph Gossman prayed that he would find peaceful rest, and that they might remain discomforted enough over the plight of the needy to carry on his life’s work.

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge used the regularly scheduled midday Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral in downtown Raleigh to honor Gossman, who died Monday at age 83. Gossman had led the Raleigh Diocese of the Catholic Church for three decades, from May 1975 until he retired in June 2006.

“He imitated Jesus in the generous giving of himself without counting the cost, especially to the poor, the needy and the most vulnerable, and in this he found joy,” Burbidge said. “May we renew our promise today to give generously of ourselves in service to the Lord, his church and one another.”

More than 150 people attended, including about a dozen clergy members and several seminary students.

Gossman’s body will be brought Sunday to Sacred Heart, where he led uncounted services during his tenure. The church will host funerary events and a public viewing Sunday evening through Monday night. On Tuesday, the body will be taken to St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Cary, which can accommodate the larger crowd expected for his formal funeral Mass, followed by a burial ceremony in Newton Grove.

Gossman was a Baltimore native who came to North Carolina just after the state’s Catholic population had grown large enough to be divided in two: the Charlotte and Raleigh dioceses. When he took over the Raleigh Diocese, the state’s 54 easternmost counties had about 37,000 registered Catholics.

Migration from Northern and Midwestern states, as well as Latin American countries, resulted in explosive growth of Catholics in the state. It was Gossman’s job to make sure new members were served and had home churches.

Under his watch, the diocese added more than 60 parishes, schools and all-purpose buildings, and more than 200,000 new members.

‘A calming influence’

Monsignor Gerald Lewis, who was chancellor of the diocese when Gossman joined it in 1975, said Gossman also came at a time when the church was instituting the changes from Vatican II, and that there was lingering disagreement among clergy members and among church members.

“We were looking for a man who would bring unity to the clergy and to the people,” Lewis recalled Tuesday.

Gossman, Lewis said, “was that man from the very start. He was a calming influence. He was a gentle man who reached out to everybody, had an ear for everybody. He did not begin by judging people. He began by accepting people.

“By embracing everybody, he allowed us to embrace each other.”

Gossman had a good sense of humor, Lewis said, and wasn’t easily upset by what he viewed as small problems. At his installation – a major event held at the Raleigh Civic Center – organizers had to hold up the ceremony about 20 minutes while Gossman’s mother returned to her hotel for a more comfortable pair of shoes.

“It didn’t bother him,” Lewis said with a laugh. “I was the one who got upset.”

The common good

In the 1990s, Gossman joined with the bishop of the Charlotte Diocese to encourage not only their parishioners but also public and business officials to work for the common good. In 1998, he asked local priests to preach in support of the passage of a bond issue to pay for affordable housing in Raleigh. Voters approved the bonds.

By the mid-2000s, Gossman was ready to retire, Lewis said. He looked forward to traveling to visit relatives, which he had not had much time to do while leading the diocese. He also collected stamps and coins.

Burbidge, who took over the diocese from Gossman, said the former bishop’s handoff was the smoothest and friendliest he could have hoped for.

“He gave me nothing but encouragement and support,” Burbidge said.

For about four years, Gossman would accompany Burbidge on visits to different parishes, not to look over the new guy’s shoulder but because he loved seeing old friends and attending services where he didn’t have to deliver a homily. “He loved it,” Burbidge said.

The year he retired, the diocese established the annual Bishop F. Joseph Gossman Award to recognize individuals for outstanding contributions to Catholic education in the diocese.

Gossman suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 2010 and had been living in a Moore County care center for the past three years. Lewis often visited him

One day, Lewis teasingly responded to one of Gossman’s orations with a joking, “You don’t mean that.” Gossman looked at him and said, “I do mean that.”