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Bishop Gumbleton’s 94-Year Journey: Reflecting on a Lifetime of Ministry

Editor’s note: The following excerpt is adapted from the preface by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton for the biography No Guilty Bystander , authored by Frank Fromherz and Suzanne Sattler, I.H.M., and published in 2023 with the permission of Orbis Books. Bishop Gumbleton passed away on April 4 at the age of 94.

Identifying as an introvert may appear contradictory given my occasional presence on various stages, be they local, national, or international. Yet, my true contentment lies in the solace of a cozy chair with a captivating book in hand. The notion of having my life chronicled in a biography has nudged me out of my comfort zone. I find greater joy in immersing myself in the narratives of others.

Throughout this process, unexpected blessings have surfaced. Reconnecting with long-lost friends has unearthed treasured memories, long dormant yet deeply cherished. These friendships serve as profound reminders of the invaluable life lessons learned and the inspiration gleaned, propelling me to persevere.

Expressions of gratitude extend to those whose lives have illustrated the essence of living as disciples of Jesus in the pursuit of justice. Figures such as Thomas Merton, Archbishop Óscar Romero, Franz Jägerstätter, Dorothy Day, Cardinal John Dearden, and Archbishop Ray Hunthausen have exemplified a seamless integration of their beings with the teachings of Jesus.

My “Grateful List” includes the men and women of the parishes I have served, who have endeavored to embody their Catholic faith within the familial realm. Witnessing parents juggling professional responsibilities, mortgages, and educational expenses while nurturing a household steeped in Catholic values anchored on the Beatitudes is truly awe-inspiring.

Additionally, I acknowledge those unsung heroes whose inadvertent influence has left an indelible mark on my journey. The resilience displayed by youths worldwide, advocating for peace and nonviolence despite minimal support, continues to ignite a profound sense of admiration within me.

Reflecting on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land during my residency in Rome, memories of navigating the streets of Cairo in search of the purported abode of Mary and Joseph resurface vividly. Encountering destitute individuals devoid of basic necessities amidst the ancient cityscape evoked a stark realization of abject poverty, distinct from the hardships endured during my upbringing in Depression-era Michigan.

To all those who have graciously allowed me to partake in the tapestry of their lives through pastoral ministry and companionship, I extend my heartfelt gratitude. Celebrating the milestones—be it marriages, births, or bereavements—alongside the everyday moments of joy and sorrow has enriched my being, shaping me into a better individual through the gift of your friendship.

Revisiting the annals of my 90-plus years, the cyclical nature of history emerges prominently. As disciples of Jesus, our mandate remains unchanged: to embody the Word of God and actualize His reign in the present. This enduring call has been the compass guiding my life’s trajectory.

In response to this divine summons, initiating change can commence with a single focal point. Whether advocating for democracy, combating human trafficking, addressing the plight of the incarcerated, championing L.G.B.T. rights, or staying abreast of global affairs, each endeavor warrants our attention. The pressing issue of climate change, underscored by Pope Francis in his encyclical, demands collective action to avert irreversible harm to our planet within the foreseeable future.

Amidst the myriad challenges, it is imperative to recognize our individual roles within the broader societal framework. Collaboration with like-minded individuals is indispensable in effecting the requisite societal transformations.

Ultimately, in our pursuit to establish the reign of God, cultivating a profound and unwavering relationship with Jesus serves as the cornerstone. While erstwhile advice advocated a dual approach of self-reliance and prayer, a nuanced perspective now underscores the significance of prayer intertwined with conscientious action. With such a disposition, we can forge ahead with serenity and resolve, endeavoring to mold our world into a semblance of God’s kingdom—a vision articulated by Jesus in His timeless exhortation: “The reign of God is at hand. Change your lives.”