Raleigh, N.C. — Worshipers gathered at the downtown Raleigh Sacred Heart Cathedral Tuesday to pray for the soul of a longtime diocesan servant.
Bishop F. Joseph Gossman, 83, died Monday. He led the Catholic Church in the eastern half of the state for 31 years, retiring in 2006.
Hector Velazar remembered a humble man who always remembered parishioners names. Ron Daggett recalled a stern, straight-forward leader in faith. "He was the epitome of a gentleman, a Christian, a Catholic," he said.
During his tenure, Gossman oversaw a boom in Catholicism in North Carolina. The population of registered Catholics tripled under his leadership to more than 190,000.
"One of his greatest legacies is he responded wonderfully to the growth we experienced," said Gossman's successor, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge.
Gossman embraced immigrant Catholics, paving the way for unity in diversity, Burbidge said.
Alphonsus Ekele Ngwadom, who hails from Nigeria, credited Gossman for creating understanding between African and African-American groups. "We were given an okay to bring the community together," he said.
Gossman also managed the financial and physical growth required to support his growing flock and plan for the future. He blessed and dedicated more than 60 parishes, schools and all-purpose buildings, most of them in his last 12 years.
"He saw the growth potential of the faith and the community, and he was determined to reach his goal, satisfying the community with enough churches and schools and places to worship," Daggett said.
Gossman was born and raised in Baltimore, and served his entire priesthood in that area before coming to Raleigh in 1975.
In his homily, Burbidge began, "God yesterday called our beloved Bishop Gossman to himself. At this Mass today we pray his reward in Heaven will be great."
Burbidge praised Gossman as a low-key leader who worked tirelessly.
"Bishop Gossman knew life on earth wasn't all about gaining but about giving. He knew life wasn't all about running but remaining," Burbidge said.
Burbidge offered a prayer for Gossman's "eternal peace" and noted that while the cleric had grown frail toward the end of his life, he was never afraid.
"We know this is a joyful day that he’s reached the goal for which he’s been longing," Burbidge said.
A funeral is planned for Tuesday, Aug. 20, at 11 a.m., at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Cary, at 804 High House Road. WRAL.com will stream the funeral live.