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A good man died, yesterday.  Francis Joseph Gossman entered this world on April 1, 1930 in my hometown of Baltimore, but it likely fooled no one that he accomplished all that he did in life.  He was ordained a priest in the Catholic Church in1952 after completing his bachelor’s degree at St. Mary’s Seminary, then finished a doctoral degree with honors in canon law at Catholic University in 1959.  Pope Paul VI elevated him to the office of Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore in 1968.  In 1975 he was appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Raleigh, where seventeen years later I would become, for a time, one of his flock.

Bishop Gossman was a tenacious advocate for the migrant farmworkers who pass through North Carolina each year to bring in the harvest. Unafraid of a fight, he stood up publicly to local companies that paid these workers unfair wages and housed them in substandard conditions, ultimately bringing about real change.  He was a committed supporter of Catholic education and rapidly expanded the number of schools around the diocese that have served thousands of children, including my own.  But my favorite memory of Bishop Gossman is a very specific one.

He was speaking at a dinner given for the volunteers of Catholic Parish Outreach, a food bank charity, of whom I was one.   All of us had been exposed on occasion to discouraging comments from people who believe food banks accomplish no lasting good or, worse, only enable continued dependence.  But Bishop Gossman would have none of this.  He recalled the words of Christ in the Gospel of John, “The poor you will always have with you.” In those words, the bishop said, he heard not a prophecy “but a lament.”

It was Bishop Gossman’s belief that the war on poverty is worth waging and can be won—that hunger and want are not reasons for despair but reasons to fight.  One of the most tireless voices for that fight is silent, today, but a chorus of lamentation rises behind him, eager for the day when we shall lament no more.