Bishop Joseph Perry: Humble servant with pastor’s heart

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Bishop Joseph Perry: Humble servant with pastor’s heart

The Vatican announced the retirement of Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry, 75, in September 2023. Bishop Perry has served as episcopal vicar of Vicariate Vi since 1998. He is also the postulator for the canonization cause for Venerable Augustus Tolton, the first recognized priest of African descent ordained for the United States.
Bishop Joseph Perry looks up at the giant screen during Mass at Nationals Park in Washington with Pope Benedict XVI on April 17, 2008. (CNS/Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Perry listens to speakers during a briefing in the morning as thousands of Catholics from Illinois on March 4, 2009 to participate in the first Catholics at the Capitol, a state-wide, ministries-focused advocacy day, organized by the Catholic Conference of Illinois. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Perry commissions 70 Pastoral Migratoria leaders from seven parishes during a Mass on Sept. 18, 2009 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, 3200 E. 91st St. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic
Bishop Perry smiles during the Catholic Men of Chicago Southland prayer breakfast at St. Victor Parish in Calumet City on Jan. 9, 2010. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Perry celebrated Mass for the Haitian Catholic Apostolate at Our Lady of Peace Parish, 7851 S. Jeffrey Blvd., in Chicago on Jan. 17, 2010. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cardinal George and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry concelebrate the Eucharist together during a Mass for the 20th anniversary of the Augustus Tolton Program at Catholic Theological Union, 5416 S. Cornell Ave., on Feb. 28. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Perry shares a laugh with Cardinal Francis George after receiving the Racial Justice Lifetime Achievement Award during an evening of tribute in word and song honoring the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory School, 5088 W. Jackson Blvd., on April 7, 2010. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Catholics from the archdiocese of Chicago and others joined Bishop Joseph Perry on a pilgrimage Sept. 17, 2010 and 18th to Quincy Ill and stops in Northeast Missouri to pray where Father Augustus Tolton, the first black Catholic Priest in America, was baptized and where he crossed the Mississippi river to escape with his family as a slave. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Perry points to the grave marker of Father Tolton. Cardinal George, auxiliary bishops Francis Kane and Joseph Perry, along with Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield and Bishop John Gaydos of Jefferson City, Missouri, made a pilgrimage on April 6, 7, 2011 to sites in Quincy, Illinois and Brush Creek, Missouri associated with the life of Father Augustus Tolton, the first American diocesan priest of African descent. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
In celebration of St. Elizabeth Parish’s 130th anniversary celebration, Bishop Joseph Perry and city officials honored Father Augustus Tolton, the first recognized African-American priest, during a street naming ceremony on Nov. 4, 2011. The new street sign "Honorary Fr. Augustus Tolton Way" overlooks corners between State Street and Michigan Avenue. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Cardinal George signs documents officially opening the cause for canonization for Father Augustus Tolton while Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry looks on during the first public session for the cause held Feb. 24, 2011 in St. James Chapel at the Archbishop Quigley Center, 835 N. Rush St. in Chicago. Tolton is the first recognized American diocesan priest of African descent. Perry serves as postulator for Tolton's cause. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Participants joined Bishop Perry for a pilgrimage to historic sites in Chicago in the life of Father Augustus Tolton on April 13, 2012. They were at the grave of Tolton's mother Martha in Mount Olivet Cemetery. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Perry joins Cardinal George and Dominican Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Chicago, for a ribbon cutting of the new front entrance to the school building at St. Margaret of Scotland School, 9833 S. Throop St., on Sept. 9, 2013. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cardinal George presided at the opening liturgy with Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry as the main celebrant at St. Benedict the African East Church, 340 W. 66th Street in Chicago on July 29, 2013. Prior to the Mass, a march against gun violence took place beginning at St. Bernard Hospital, 63rd and Harvard Avenue, and processing to the church. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Perry shares the sign of peace with Franciscan Father Stephen Bedenikovic during Mass on Oct. 13, 2013 with parishioners of Sacred Heart Croatian Parish, 2864 E. 96th St., in honor of the parish’s 100th anniversary. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Bishop Perry presided at a Rite of Election liturgy for those preparing to enter the Catholic Church at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago on March 10, 2014. Participants were called forth during this ceremony and will later receive the sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation during the Easter Vigil in their local parishes. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Patricia Rimkus, archdiocesan notary, Father Michael Hack, a judge on the Metropolitan Tribunal, and Bishop Perry, postulator for the cause, sign the final documents in the dossier for the cause for canonization for Father Augustus Tolton. The signing took place during a prayer service at the Archbishop Quigley Center in Chicago on Sept. 29, 2014. The dossier was dispatched to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican. (Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Perry elevates the Eucharist during a sunrise Mass on Aug. 30, 2014 at Oakwood Beach, 39th Street and Lake Shore Drive. The Mass marked the fifth anniversary of sunrise services hosted by the Black Deacons of Chicago to pray for peace during the upcoming school year. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Perry presided over a memorial service and blessed a new memorial marker erected to honor young lives lost to miscarriage, stillbirth, ectopic pregnancy or newborn death on May 9, 2016 at Assumption Catholic Cemetery in Glenwood. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Perry distributes Communion on Sept. 6, 2015 at Immaculate Conception Parish on the South Side. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Perry attends the Annual Archdiocesan Awards Ceremony at Holy Name Cathedral on Jan. 10, 2016. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Perry anoints Belinda Mendoza with chrism oil as she receives the sacrament of confirmation at St Joseph Parish in Homewood on April 10, 2016. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Perry accepts the gifts from Missionary of Charity sisters during a special Mass in honor of the canonization and feast day of Mother Teresa on Sept. 5, 2016, the eve of 19th anniversary of his death, at St. Malachy and Precious Blood Parish, 2248 W. Washington Blvd. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Perry and Bishop Thomas Paprocki (background) seal the new casket bearing the remains of Father Tolton. The remains of Father Augustus Tolton were exhumed at St. Peter’s Cemetery in Quincy, Illinois on Dec. 10, 2016. The exhumation and reinterment are part of the canonization process. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Perry, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and other officials participate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to dedicate the just-opened pedestrian bridge next to the Cardinal Meyer Center over South Lake Shore Drive at 35th Street on Nov. 9, 2016. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Perry gives remarks before the premiere of “Tolton: From Slave to Priest,” produced by St. Luke Productions, on Nov. 5, 2017 at DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Place. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Perry incenses the altar as Our Lady of Mercy Parish, 4432 N. Troy St., in Chicago hosted a special Mass in honor of the feast of Our Lady of Divine Providence, Patroness of Puerto Rico on Nov. 16, 2018. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Perry blesses a statue of St. Josephine Bakhita following a Mass at St. Adrian Church, 7000 S. Washtenaw Ave., on Feb 17, 2019. (Karen Callaway/ Chicago Catholic)
Cardinal Cupich was the main celebrant at a Mass of Thanksgiving honoring Venerable Rev. Augustus Tolton on Oct. 14, 2019 at St. Philip Neri Church, 2132 E. 72nd St., Chicago. The Mass celebrated Pope Francis’ June 11, 2019 declaration of Tolton as venerable. He is the first African American priest to receive this designation, a step toward possible sainthood. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Perry was the main celebrant for a Mass to celebrate the 125th Anniversary of the Feast of the Madonna Incoranata at St Therese Chinese Mission in Chinatown on Sep.11, 2022. Every September, Italian Catholics of Santa Maria Incoronata assemble on Alexander Street in Chicago's Chinatown to pay homage to the Blessed Mother. (Chicago Catholic/Karen Callaway)
Bishop Perry joins Cardinal Cupich in the Eucharistic Prayer during a Mass for the repose of the soul of Pope Benedict XVI at Holy Name Cathedral on Jan. 2, 2023. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Perry accepts the gifts from parishioners during a Mass in celebration of Black History Month at Our Lady of Africa Parish, 615 E. Oakwood Blvd., on Feb. 12, 2023. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Deacon William Pouncy of St. Simon of Cyrene Parish processes the book of Gospels as Bishop Perry follows during the annual Sunrise Prayer Service and Mass hosted by the Black Catholic Deacons of Chicago on Aug. 26, 2023 at Oakwood Beach in Chicago. (Deacon Randy Belice/Chicago Catholic)

When asked to describe Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry, four people who worked closely with him on local and national levels used similar terms, calling him a humble, intelligent bishop of great faith who leads with a pastor’s heart.

Pope Francis accepted Bishop Perry’s  retirement on Sept. 19. He will continue to serve as postulator for the cause of Venerable Augustus Tolton.

“I have found him to be an inspirational leader,” said Valerie Jennings, interim director of the Tolton Spirituality Center and newly retired vicariate coordinator for Vicariate VI. “He is kind. He’s gentle. He’s pastoral. He gives of himself in an unselfish way. He epitomizes the gentle spirit. There aren’t enough words in the English language that can convey the spirit of this man.”

That is how he leads and nurtures individuals, she said.

“He is the embodiment of what it means to be a shepherd,” Jennings said. “Not just to lead his people, but to invite them to the table.”

When Bishop Perry asked her to be vicariate coordinator, he told her she needed to be with the people.

“He trusted me enough to lead the people where they needed to go. I never ever saw him second-guess me,” she said. “He allowed me to be in that sphere as a trusted advisor.”

“At the end of the day, it has been a labor of love to work with him,” she said.

Auxiliary Bishop Roy Campbell from the Archdiocese of Washington has worked alongside Bishop Perry through the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Committee on African-American Catholics, both of which Bishop Perry chairs.

“He has credibility because he lives what he preaches,” Bishop Campbell said. “The mission is of paramount importance to him more so than his own personal situation. That’s a pastor and that’s a pastor’s heart.”

His brother bishops recognized this and asked him to lead committees, he said.

“The fact that folks are willing to work with him is of his knowledge, his passion for what he’s trying to do, the equality of all people and especially Black Catholics in the Catholic Church, and what will we do to foster that and bring about the unity that the church represents and is supposed to represent. He did it and he did it quietly,” Bishop Campbell said.

This carries throughout his ministry, the bishop said.

“This is what he does and this is what the conference of bishops recognizes and this is what I have recognized as one of his brother bishops working with him,” he added. “He’s soft-spoken. A humble person, but he wants to do things the way they should be done for the benefit of everyone and he doesn’t seek acclaim.”

“There is a level of humility that is so pronounced in his character. I would say a dignity and humility,” said Deacon James Norman, vicar for deacons and the former director of vicariate operations for Vicariate VI. “I found him as a leader to be very insightful and very caring.”

In his time as vicar of Vicariate VI, the community went through many challenges and Bishop Perry was able to help move them through that with deep care and compassion, Norman said.

“He would always take the time to listen to engage pastors, parish leadership and parishioners,” he said.

As director of vicariate operations for seven years, Norman worked directly with Bishop Perry and saw more than 30 parishes close. During that time he saw in Bishop Perry an internal strength and fortitude deeply based in his faith and Scripture, which allowed him to move through all of the pain experienced by the people, he said.

Bishop Perry also is a tremendous promoter of the cause for canonization of Venerable Augustus Tolton, he said.

“He’s been an outstanding postulator for the cause. He works tirelessly in that effort and has deep and profound knowledge of Tolton, his life, the circumstances that he found himself in,” Norman said. “He has a perspective of Tolton as if he walked beside him. He’s able to bring others into that level of intimacy with Tolton.” 

Father David Jones, pastor of St. Benedict the African Parish, agrees. Jones has served with Bishop Perry as a dean in Vicariate VI and as a member of the Tolton Guild.

“He definitely is the right postulator,” Jones said. “He took on that role wholeheartedly. There are times when I would hear him speak that it was almost as if he had taken on the persona of Tolton.”

But Bishop’s Perry’s influence has gone beyond that, he added.

“I think he has had a tremendous impact and, true to his character, it’s been quietly,” Jones said.

As vicar, Bishop Perry was greatly tuned into what was going on in the parishes and with the priests, Jones said.

“He was just very present but not imposing himself everywhere,” he said.

Bishop Perry’s students from Mundelein Seminary, where he teaches canon law, also have high praise for him, Jones said.

“They speak about him like no one else does,” he said. “They enjoy canon law class, which in itself is kind of remarkable. I consistently heard from people about their appreciation for being his student.”

Bishop Perry was born in Chicago in 1948 and attended high school here. He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in 1975. St. Pope John Paul II named him an auxiliary bishop of Chicago in 1998.

He is a member of several USCCB committees and vice president of the board of the Black Catholic Congress. For more than 15 years, he has served as national chaplain for the Knights of St. Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary, a historically Black Catholic fraternal organization headquartered in New Orleans. He holds a licentiate in canon law from the Catholic University of America.


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