A True Prophet for the Priesthood
The Life and Legacy of Very Rev. Gerald M.C. Fitzgerald, s.P.
(Text presented with the kind permission of the Institute on Religious Life. This article was first published in their magazine Religious Life, March/April 2010 Issue. For more information you can visit www.religiouslife.com)
We’ve added several photos of our Founder to the article we thought you might enjoy. God bless you!
I would rather have a hand in getting one priest back to the altar of God
than to write a thousand books on the priesthood,
or to preach a million sermons on the glory of the priesthood,
for neither the sermons nor the books
can hold Christ in their hands and offer Him to the Father.”
– Very Rev. Gerald Fitzgerald, s.P.
Father John Hardon, S.J., although he never met Father Gerald personally, knew of his work helping thousands of priests and wrote a spiritual biography about him. Father Hardon studied Father Gerald’s spirituality and was so inspired by his faith and supernatural vision that he described him as “a prophet for the priesthood.”
The Need for Prayer
A prophet? In what way? Father Gerald had a vital message for priests and about priests: Priests need to pray. Priests need prayers. He explained, “The greatest problem we have in the lives of priests is neglect of prayer. They tell me that they forget—they were so busy building churches, running bazaars, taking care of clubs that little by little prayer went out of their lives.” And he added, “One of the deepest errors that we are witnessing in the Church of God at this time is the attempt to rush into the lives of others before we have lost ourselves in the life of Christ.”
God inspired this luminous and prophetic priest—ordained in the Archdiocese of Boston—to open his heart to his brother priests and do everything he could to help them. As he would say, “A faithful priest is God’s greatest consolation, an unfaithful priest the source of His deepest sorrow.” He therefore offered his life in reparation for the sins of priests and for the intention of renewing priests in their sacred calling. He proposed to all the Bishops in the United States and to those beyond our country, that the most effective way to renew and strengthen priests is through the healing power, “the sunshine” of our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament. He insisted on the importance of prayer and sacrifice for our priests, and that priests understand the tremendous grace and responsibility entrusted to them by their ordination. Father Gerald’s message was simple and clear: Priests have been given a sublime and indispensable vocation. They need grace to fulfill their high calling. Grace comes from our Lord Jesus Christ. He is here on earth in His Eucharistic Presence. Go to Him. He will supply and fulfill your every need.
A Testimony to Divine Providence
The story of Father Gerald’s life and how he was led to found two Congregations in the Church specifically dedicated to the priesthood is a testimony in itself to the wondrous works of Divine Providence.
Gerald Cushing Fitzgerald was born on October 29, 1894, the second oldest of eight boys. He grew up in New England in a loving family and from his boyhood he was given, as he said, “an almost perfect realization of the presence and divinity of Jesus in the Eucharist.” Our Eucharistic Lord captured his heart and drew him to the priesthood.
Service as a Diocesan Priest
After his graduation from Boston College in 1916, he entered St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, MA, and was ordained a priest on the Feast of Corpus Christi, May 26, 1921. He spent the entire afternoon of his Ordination day before the Blessed Sacrament and said, “I believe that the Son of God made Himself a prisoner of love in the little white Host in this tabernacle for me. He who is my God loves me enough to be here as a prisoner of love, then I love Him enough to give up the joys and consolations of a Christian home and be His prisoner of love.” He labored for twelve happy years as curate to the parish of Our Lady of the Presentation in Brighton, where he arranged all-day Adoration every day of the week. During this time Father added writing and publishing to his parish activities, and already as a young priest, he was sought as a Confessor and spiritual director.
One night a destitute person knocked at the rectory door and was cordially received by the young Father Gerald. When Father realized this man was a priest, his heart was filled with an intense desire to help him in his need. That door, opened to a “stray shepherd,” was the first of many such doors. The discovery that there were priests with serious problems remained constant in Father’s mind and compassionate heart.
Service as a Religious Order Priest
Father Gerald was led to embrace religious life. With the blessing of his Bishop, Father Gerald entered the Congregation of Holy Cross on the Feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Holy Year of Redemption, 1933. His farewell sermon to his beloved parish was on the priesthood.
Soon after his profession of vows on December 8, 1934, he was appointed Rector of Holy Cross Seminary, in North Easton, MA, and remained in office until December of 1942. All of his books were published during these years: two volumes of poetry; Juxta Crucem, the biography of Blessed Basil Anthony Moreau, the Founder of Holy Cross; the Letters of Father Page, C.S.C., and The Path of Love. His prolific writing brought him the distinction of being elected to the Gallery of Catholic Authors in 1943. He was also an esteemed retreat master and a spiritual director for many souls, from every state of life.
Priestly Service in the Military
The urgent need for military chaplains in World War II presented Father Gerald with an opportunity to exercise his patriotism and expand his experience of priestly life. He responded with enthusiasm, obtained the necessary permissions, and was accepted for military service. He left Holy Cross Seminary at the end of December, 1942. He was forty-eight years old. In the Army reached the rank of Captain serving both stateside and overseas in the Pacific.
Father’s military chaplaincy (1943-1945) brought him into contact by letter with chaplains all over the world and increased his awareness of the complexity and the extent of the problem of priests who were either “off duty” or who had some personal difficulty that needed attention. He had discussed this matter with his Holy Cross superiors even before the war; now he had a sense of urgency about responding to the call to help priests. Father Gerald requested to be released from the military to begin his life’s work. His request was granted and he was deactivated from the Service on December 8, 1945.
Nothing Father Gerald did was disassociated from the Eucharist. Priests no longer active in their ministry appealed to his sense of justice toward the Blessed Sacrament. He reasoned that if God loves us so much as to become Man and, in the Eucharist finds a way to remain with us until the end of time, then the priesthood owes fidelity to such a loving God so that His tremendous plan of love can be realized.
Father Gerald knew the life of diocesan priests, including their problems; he knew the particular difficulties, as well as the joys, of priests in consecrated life, and he understood the challenges and trials of a military chaplain. His paternal heart had been well formed for his future role as shepherd of priestly souls. He was ready to take the next step.
Two Religious Communities Established
After much prayerful discernment with his Superiors, Father Gerald recognized it was God’s Will that he establish two religious communities to carry on the work of the Apostolate for priests. He received permission to detach himself from the Congregation he so revered and the blessing to “launch out into the deep.”
In 1947, at the invitation of Archbishop Edwin V. Byrne of Santa Fe, Father Gerald founded his communities, both to specifically support the priesthood, yet each in a unique and autonomous way: a community of priests and brothers by actively caring for priests, and the Handmaids of the Precious Blood, by their hidden lives of prayer and sacrifice, and daily Eucharistic Adoration.
Father Gerald’s Apostolate was basically twofold: to pray for all Bishops and priests in the Church, both living and deceased, to obtain from the Divine Mercy of God all the graces they need; the second part of his Apostolate to help priests who have wandered from the path of virtue.
For the next twenty-two years of his life, Father Gerald formed his spiritual sons and daughters according to the charism he had received from the Holy Spirit. To him, the key to priestly sanctity, fidelity, reparation and rejuvenation is a deep personal prayer life expressed in ardent devotion to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
This is what he untiringly proclaimed and lived.
After starting his Communities for priests,
Father Gerald had audiences about his work with the Popes;
two with Pius XII,
one with Blessed John XXXIII
from whom he received a letter of commendation,
and two with Paul VI.
The Handmaids of the Precious Blood, an IRL affiliate, are whole-heartedly committed to faithfully fulfilling the sacred mission they received from their beloved Founder. They believe he truly is a “prophet for the priesthood.”
The truth of his conviction that what the Church urgently needs, and will always need, is unceasing, assiduous prayer on behalf of her clergy, was undeniably confirmed in the recent document from the Congregation of the Clergy presented to all the Bishops of the Church, entitled, “Adoration, Reparation, Spiritual Motherhood for Priests”. What Holy Mother Church is proposing to all her members today is precisely what the Handmaids have been doing since Father Gerald founded them, over sixty years ago.
Strengthening the Sacred Priesthood
Father Gerald Fitzgerald loved the Church, he loved his priesthood, he loved Jesus Christ. He willingly laid down his life for his brother priests for he knew that “in strengthening the priest you strengthen the whole Church.” The sufferings of Jesus and His priesthood were the blueprint of Father’s own life; he wanted his daughters to share in this and sketched this life in a poem he wrote for them.
The following excerpts of “Crimson Robes” outlines how they ought to follow their Bridegroom:
Thy own most Precious Blood adorns Thee, Jesus.
This “garment” I desire – Oh, make it mine!
Immerse me in Thy overflowing Chalice
That I find raiment, too, in Love’s Pure Wine.
Thou art Thyself the one Eternal High Priest,
And yet thy boundless Goodness doth impart
To many souls a Sacerdotal calling,
To offer LOVE to LOVE with LOVE’S own Heart!
For such as these accept my life’s oblation—
I daily pray their number be increased,
And beg for each already consecrated,
The grace to live and die a Holy Priest.
If Thy anointed ones have this misfortune,
That from their sacred calling they depart,
Accept my life’s atonement, humbly offered
And lead them back, Good Shepherd to Thy Heart.