PEORIA, Illinois– Archbishop John J. Myers was recalled as a man of faith and prayer, a scholar, a teacher and as “a really good bishop” during the funeral Mass for him at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria Sept. 30.
The archbishop emeritus of Newark, New Jersey, who was a native of Earlville, Illinois, in the Peoria Diocese and a former bishop of Peoria, was interred in the Bishop’s Mausoleum at St. Mary’s Cemetery in West Peoria following the funeral liturgy.
The Mass, which was livestreamed on the Diocese of Peoria’s website, was attended by family members; representatives of several communities of women religious; and nearly 100 clergy, including Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark and eight visiting bishops.
Myers, who guided the Diocese of Peoria from 1990 until his appointment as archbishop of Newark in 2001, died Sept. 24 at a care facility in Ottawa, Illinois. He was 79.
Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria was principal celebrant of the Mass. In opening remarks, he welcomed Tobin — who succeeded Archbishop Myers in Newark following his retirement in 2016 — as well as a delegation of priests from the Newark Archdiocese.
Turning to the family of Myers, seated in the front pews to his right, Jenky said: “We share your sorrow, but most of all we share your faith in Christ’s victory over death.” He promised continuing prayers for their consolation.
The homilist was Msgr. Steven P. Rohlfs, rector emeritus of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and a longtime friend of Myers.
Rohlfs, who served the Diocese of Peoria in several leadership roles during Bishop Myers’ 11 years as diocesan bishop, including as vicar general, said the archbishop had “all of the qualities necessary to be a good bishop.”
He called him “a man of faith and prayer, honest, fair, merciful, just, tolerant, funny, discreet, a good mentor, teacher and example.”
Vowing not to use superlatives that are often part of recalling the recently deceased, Rohlfs drew laughter when he answered, “No,” to the self-posed question if he thought Archbishop Myers was “the best bishop.”
“I don’t think any of us have ever met ‘the best bishop,'” Rohlfs said, drawing more laughter as he turned to Tobin, Jenky and other bishops present — including Peoria Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka — and ad-libbed “No offense.”
But Rohlfs repeatedly called Myers “a really good bishop.”
“No matter what role the archbishop played in each of our lives, all of us could probably say the same thing: He was really pretty good.”
Rohlfs shared three humorous, yet poignant, personal stories about Myers, including one that illustrated how “he always had the care of the priests in his heart,” said Rohlfs, his voice cracking with emotion.
He chose to speak of Myers in the present tense, because “he is still very much alive and existing in eternity,” and ended his homily by detailing three things the archbishop would want to say now to those gathered if he had the chance.
He summarized them as: Make sure you understand the true meaning of life, “to learn to love on earth the way they love in heaven”; devote yourselves to things that make a difference in the “really real world of heaven”; and that Archbishop Myers will see us again. “He still knows us, still loves us, and still cares about us,” said Rohlfs.
Accompanying Myers’s casket as pallbearers were five priests who served as his administrative assistants in Peoria as well as Msgr. Michael Andreano, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Newark.
Four nieces of Myers had roles in the liturgy. Kathryn Niemerg and Zoe Myers gave Scripture readings, while Maribeth Hoffman and Denise Gould led the prayers of the faithful.
Those intentions were each prefaced by a corresponding trait of Myers. For example, they noted his devotion to the Eucharist, his promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, how he “walked with the church in its suffering” after 9/11, and his concern for universities, seminaries, Catholic health care and medical ethics. Specific related prayers were then added to each of those subjects.
Music for the Mass ranged from the opening procession’s solemn “Requiem aeternam,” chanted by a lone cantor, to the post-Communion hymn “O God, Beyond All Praising,” robustly sung by the assembly and backed by cathedral organist Jon Kroepel along with brass and timpani.
Among the concelebrating bishops were Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis; Illinois Bishops David J. Malloy of Rockford, Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield and Bishop Joseph M. Siegel of Evansville; Bishop William Patrick Callahan of La Crosse, Wisconsin; and Auxiliary Bishop Manuel A. Cruz of Newark.
A memorial Mass for Myers will be celebrated in the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark Oct. 7 at 2 p.m. (EST). Tobin will be the celebrant with retired Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson, New Jersey, as the homilist.
Due to capacity limitations brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mass will not be open to the public. Admission will be restricted to immediate family members and invited lay, clerical and religious representatives. The Mass will be livestreamed to the public via YouTube, www.YouTube.com/NwkArchdiocese, and a link also will be available on the Newark Archdiocese’s website, www.rcan.org.
Dermody is editor of The Catholic Post, newspaper of the Diocese of Peoria.