Diocese of St. Augustine mourns the death of Bishop Emeritus Victor Galeone


Bishop Emeritus Victor Galeone, the ninth bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine, died Monday, May 29, in St. Martin Home for the Aged in Baltimore. He was 88.

“I am grateful for the legacy of Bishop Galeone,” said Bishop Erik T. Pohlmeier, the current bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine. “As I hear stories of his service in the Diocese of St. Augustine, the fruits of his efforts are obvious. There are many serving today who began their work and ministry under his care. May God welcome this faithful shepherd in the merciful heart of our savior.”

“Bishop Galeone was such a man of prayer,” said Bishop Emeritus Felipe J. Estévez, the 10th bishop of St. Augustine. “He led the Diocese of St. Augustine by embracing the whole spectrum of the culture of life. The mission of the church was his personal priority giving such care to people on the margins. Bishop Galeone was a bishop who witnessed the truth consistently and at all times.”

Galeone led the diocese during some of the most difficult days facing the country and the church. He was consecrated and installed as the bishop of the diocese on Aug. 21, 2001, and during his first staff meeting, on Sept. 11, he received news of the terror attacks on the United States. The following year the American church was rocked by accusations that priests had sexually abused children. The national scandal resulted in much soul-searching for the church and the implementation of mandatory training and screening procedures.

The Great Recession brought new burdens to the diocese. The major growth spurts in the previous decades had left the diocese in debt. Galeone was forced to make difficult decisions — staff layoffs and freezing the salaries of diocesan employees.

Galeone championed the traditional family, natural family planning and protection of the unborn, which he addressed in his first pastoral letter, “Marriage: A Communion of Life and Love” (July 2003), which was translated into 14 languages. His second pastoral letter was “Stewardship: A Discipleship of Love” (August 2004).

He also dedicated a museum at Mission of Nombre de Dios and consolidated and moved the diocesan archives to a two-story building at 34 Aviles St., on the grounds of the Sisters of St. Joseph convent in St. Augustine. The archives include some of the oldest documents in North America, including the first parish records, the Stetson Collection of papers from the First Spanish Period (1565-1763), the East Florida Papers from the Spanish government 1784-1821 and the records from the founding of the diocese in 1870.

In 2006, Galeone also began the diocesan formation program for the permanent diaconate and ordained the first group of deacons. Up until then, permanent deacons had come from other dioceses. A mission of St. Paul Parish in Jacksonville Beach was established during his tenure, St. Peter Mission, located at 960 Girvin Road in Jacksonville.

He retired as bishop in 2011, the year he celebrated the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination. He spent the early years of his retirement in a Trappist monastery where he did a lot of writing. In 2015, he published a book, “Joyful Good News: For Young and Old.”

As his health began to decline, he returned to Baltimore and lived at St. Martin’s Home for the Aged under the care of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Baltimore.

Galeone grew up in a close-knit Italian family. His spirituality was evident even as a boy, so his family was not surprised when he announced that he had a vocation to the priesthood. He was educated at St. Charles College in Catonsville, Maryland; St. Mary’s Seminary; University in Baltimore and Pontifical North American College at the Gregorian University, Rome.

He was ordained on Dec. 18, 1960, in Rome. He continued his studies and earned a master’s degree in education from Loyola College in Baltimore. When Galeone returned to Baltimore, he served as a diocesan priest. He served in several parishes and taught at St. Paul Latin High School during the 1960s. He felt called to mission work and twice served in Peru with the Society of St. James the Apostle during the 1970s and early 1980s.

“I had it in my blood,” he said in an interview in 2010. “It was a beautiful experience. They were very poor. The experience with the Latin culture made me much more patient. I learned not to get all uptight. You see life from a different perspective.”

In 1985, his bishop called him back to Baltimore to work in parishes. In 1996, he was named pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Catonsville, Maryland, and was thinking about retiring and returning to the mission field.

Out of the blue in 2001 the Apostolic Nuncio called with the news that Pope John Paul II named him the new bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine.

“I diplomatically declined,” he said.

He told the nuncio that he was too old at the age of 65, lacked the right experience and would be an outsider.

“When the nuncio replied that I had nine more productive years ahead of me, I knew the pope wanted it, so it seemed the Lord ‘has other plans for me,’” he said. “His ways are so mysterious.”

Cardinal William Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore, had no reservations.

“He was a humble person, an excellent leader, an excellent person as far as I was concerned,” Keeler said. “He was an outstanding priest, the kind of man who would make a good bishop.”

On the occasion of Galeone’s retirement, his long-time friend Msgr. James Farmer of the Archdiocese of Baltimore said he thought Galeone wanted to be remembered as a humble priest who brought Jesus to others.

“He was an extremely humble man,” Farmer said. “He never sought honors, never wanted any. He loved being a priest. Having him as a friend is one of the great blessings of my life. He’s a priest in everything he does.”

Galeone is survived by his sisters Elisa Lemonds and Rose Marie Sterner and numerous nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews.

The funeral arrangements are as follows. All services will be at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, 38 Cathedral Place, St. Augustine. Visitation will be 4:30 p.m. Monday, June 5. A vigil service will be at 6 p.m. Monday, June 5. The Funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 6. The main celebrant is Pohlmeier. The homilist is Farmer. Committal will follow the Mass at San Lorenzo Catholic Cemetery, 1635 U.S. 1, St. Augustine.