MARYKNOLL, New York — Gerry Lee, former director of both Maryknoll Lay Missioners and the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, died July 24 surrounded by family at his cabin home in Cle Elum, Washington, of pancreatic cancer. He was 72.
“We are heartbroken to lose Gerry, our dear friend and partner in mission. At the same time, we are overwhelmed with gratitude for his life and all the ways he shared his gifts,” said Susan Gunn, current director of the global concerns office.
“Gerry was a deeply spiritual and compassionate man who always responded to injustice and suffering with unwavering confidence in the promise of God’s peace and love,” she said.
Lee was director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns office from 2013 until 2019. He retired after he received a diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
He died “in one of his favorite places on earth — in our cabin surrounded by forests, butterflies and hummingbirds,” said his wife, Patti McKenna.
“We are grieving the loss of our beloved Gerry Lee. We are adjusting to this new phase in our lives and spending time together as a family in one of his favorite places in the Cascade mountains,” she said.
“While he leaves a huge void, we are so grateful for the outpouring of love and support during this time, and your comforting words,” she added. “It has been heart-warming to hear from so many people that have been touched by his life.”
Regarding funeral arrangements, McKenna said the family is planning a celebration of life for Lee later this fall and details are to be announced later.
Lee and McKenna, together with their daughters, Amanda, Abigail and Jessica, served as a Maryknoll lay missioner family in Venezuela from 1984 until 1994.
Upon the family’s return to the United States in 1995, he worked in development for Maryknoll and from 2000 until 2006 was a co-director on the leadership team.
Lee also joined the food justice movement, and before he was named to head the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, he was involved in urban farming with young adults and community leaders in inner city Philadelphia.
“Whether organizing his neighbors to protect human rights in the slums of Venezuela or advocating for investments in peace, nonviolence and care of the earth with policymakers in Washington and at the United Nations, Gerry’s life exemplified the highest ideals of the Christian faith,” said a Maryknoll statement about Lee.
“His generous, joyful spirit — and the beautiful photos taken with his camera — made a strong impact wherever he served. His death strengthens our resolve to stand in solidarity with all vulnerable, marginalized peoples and with all of creation,” it added.
The statement included an excerpt from a reflection Lee wrote for Palm Sunday in 2015 posted on its website, https://maryknollogc.org:
“Often, in being humbled by life’s losses and suffering, we are offered the gift of faith, and with it, the love that sustains and calls us to be more than we think we are. This is what Pope Francis speaks of as the ‘joy of faith’ and the spirit of mission that he so often invokes. … For Maryknoll’s founders, the heart of being a missioner is love expressed with joy,” he wrote.
“In serving, in being humbled by our vulnerability when immersed in a strange culture, we lose ourselves — only to encounter Jesus in new and wonderful ways among a people who reveal to us our true selves in processions and fiestas, community struggles and celebrations … a faith ever expanding in reverence for life and for the earth that nurtures us.”
Under his stewardship, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns embarked on numerous efforts for building pathways for peace and social justice. It also joined CIDSE, a network of 18 Catholic international development and social justice organizations working for justice and peace through global solidarity.
As a member of Pax Christi International, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns joined in a landmark conference in 2016 to discuss the Catholic understanding of nonviolence and just peace.
Lee was a foundational member of the steering committee that organized the conference and was an active participant in the dialogue at the gathering that led to the birth of the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative.
Besides his wife, Lee is survived by the couple’s three daughters and two grandchildren.
In her message about her husband’s death, McKenna asked those mourning his loss to consider something else to remember him by in lieu of flowers:
— “Doing a random act of kindness, something Gerry loved doing often.”
— Donating to “his work passion,” the Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns, by visiting https://donate.maryknoll.org and adding “in memory of Gerry Lee for MOGC” under the “Make This a Tribute” section.