San Fernando’s retiring auxiliary bishop will be missed for his leadership, approachability and sense of humor, say his colleagues.
On Feb. 6, Bishop Gerald E. Wilkerson was honored for more than 50 years of service in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles with a Mass in the chapel of Bishop Alemany High School in Mission Hills, followed by a formal reception.
More than 400 attendees gathered to thank Bishop Wilkerson for his service and accomplishments, but the prelate was quick to note that the night was not about him.
“Tonight is not about me, it’s about us,” Bishop Wilkerson told those assembled. “I think a lot of good things have happened in this pastoral region in the last years, but it’s not because of me.
“We work together,” he added, “and I think that is key.”
Monica Broderick worked as executive secretary to Bishop Wilkerson for almost 10 years before leaving to train as a teacher. She said she knows first-hand how much he cares about everyone in the San Fernando region.
“He’s always interacting with people. He’s always listening to everybody’s ideas, because he knows that you have to work with everybody,” she said, adding that Bishop Wilkerson’s strong sense of teamwork was one of his greatest gifts.
“He really empowers the people he works with to really make the decisions and take the initiative,” said Broderick. “And he’ll really back you up, and if you mess up, he’ll tell you. But he is very good at telling you in a very polite way.”
After spending a year working toward her teaching credentials, Broderick said she already misses working with Bishop Wilkerson. “He’s been a really wonderful person to work with.”
But she knows she couldn’t have made the career change without his encouragement. “That’s where he supported me, too,” she said. “When I made the choice that I wanted to be a teacher so that I could spend more time with my kids, he said, ‘OK.’”
Despite needing to initially take time off work at the regional office in order to attend classes twice a week and to complete her required service hours, Bishop Wilkerson was more than accommodating, she recalled.
“He was so supportive. He actually worked it out and found somebody that could cover for me in the office so that I could take that time.”
Bishop Wilkerson’s sense of humor is well known and, true to form, he began his homily with a joke. “He’s got a great sense of humor,” says Broderick. “He can give a joke and he can take one, too.”
The Feb. 6 Mass was celebrated in both Spanish and English, a nod to Bishop Wilkerson’s decision to learn Spanish after becoming a bishop.
“He’s very bilingual,” said Elizabeth Cruz, director of religious education at St. Bridget of Sweden Church in Van Nuys. “He’s taken the time to understand everybody’s uniqueness and culture.”
Dana Couso, the San Fernando regional coordinator for the archdiocesan Office of Religious Education, said Bishop Gerry “knows his parishes. He knows the people of this region. He knows and loves them, and they love him right back.”
“Anyone who has had the great privilege of working with Bishop Gerry has been blessed, because he is such a personable bishop and just a genuinely warm human being,” said Couso.
Although she is sad to see Bishop Wilkerson retire, she said she knows that his service to the Church will continue. “I think it would be impossible for him not to do anything.”
“He’s going to continue serving the people,” she said. “I see him enjoying celebrating Masses without having to deal with all the administrative work that goes with it.”