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.