Member Profile: Father John Fitzgerald
A Force to Be Reckoned With
John Fitzgerald was a teenager in West Hempstead, NY, when a local priest asked him to consider a clerical vocation. "I'd always had a leaning [toward the priesthood] — and many good role models in the priests at St. Thomas the Apostle. His asking me crystallized the idea," Father John recalls 54 years later.
In the same way, he was introduced to Bread for the World by a priest, this one a visitor from South America. "He brought me to a meeting of the Long Island Bread group," the good natured octogenarian recalls. Father John says he was drawn to join because of Bread for the World’s faith base and "because Bread carries out the gospel imperative of caring for each other."
Every year, the Long Island Bread group puts on a dinner to recognize churches that have undertaken Offering of Letters activities. At least four participating congregations also hold soup suppers on Ash Wednesday. Although it is not their explicit purpose, the dinners also raise money to support Bread for the World. Sarah Rohrer, Bread for the World's regional staff person in New York, calls the Long Island group "incredibly well organized."
The anchor of the New York contingent during Bread's annual Lobby Day, Father John says he loves seeing so many young people involved. "We graybeards have to pass the torch!" he laughs. "Through their Hunger Justice Leader training and internship programs, Bread is encouraging young people to take up the cause."
Sarah Rohrer calls Father John "a force to be reckoned with," remembering his insistence in 2011 that the group visit a senator who had not responded to their request for a meeting. "Father John is a powerful presence, while always encouraging younger participants. He steps back so they can lead. He absolutely personifies Bread’s mission."
Formally retired at 71, Father John now resides at St. James Parish in Setauket, NY. Upon retirement, he began serving as a substitute for Long Island priests on break. "We'd seen that priests were not taking sabbaticals," he says. "Priests in our diocese were responsible for finding substitutes while they were away. I offered to make myself available for the job." Today at age 80, he has substituted at seven parishes. His favorite clerical activity is preaching.
Several years ago, Father John worked with the Evangelical Church in America (ELCA) Foundation to set up a charitable gift annuity that benefits Bread for the World Institute. The ELCA Foundation helps people arrange deferred gifts such as charitable gift annuities and charitable trusts. Since Bread for the World is a ministry of the ELCA, any Bread member may use the foundation’s services. Father John calls the annuity "a good way for me to ensure ahead of time that my money will go to institutions that I care about," he says.
"There is only so much local congregations can do," he says about why he supports Bread for the World. "Change has to be systemic. Bread for the World is accomplishing that."