Monday, May 05, 2008

The other "George W." in my life

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the death of Bishop George W. Ahr, who was the Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey, from 1950 until 1979.

George William Ahr was born on June 23, 1904, in Newark, New Jersey, to George and Mary Ahr.  The elder Ahr was a mortician by trade, and all his life critics would jokingly blame his son's seemed "coldness" on the fact that he had formaldehyde running through his veins.  A graduate of Seton Hall University, he was sent to the North American College for his theology studies.  He was ordained to the Priesthood in 1928, and returned from Rome in 1929, having earned a Doctorate in Sacred Theology.  Most of his Priesthood was spent teaching, either in Seton Hall Preparatory School or Immaculate Conception Seminary, where he served as Rector from 1947 until his appointment as Bishop of Trenton in 1950.  His resignation as Bishop was accepted on June 23, 1979, his 75th birthday.

I got to know "George W." when I needed a topic for my Master's thesis in Church history, about 1995.  At the time, the only biography that existed of Bishop Ahr was part of a larger book on the history of the Trenton Diocese called "Upon This Rock".  Fr. Michael Roach, one of the Church History professors at the Mount and a great teacher and parish Priest, gave me the advice to pick a topic that piqued my curiosity, and not just a topic to "get the paper over with", otherwise the research and writing would get real boring really fast.  Bishop Ahr was bishop of my diocese, back when we were all the Diocese of Trenton.  He had been a Bishop during an amazing time in Church History: 12 years before the Second Vatican Council, and 14 years afterwards.  Plus, the little snippets I had heard for years as a seminarian about his demeanor and the fear he instilled in clergy and laity alike.  How could I not be interested?  Many contemporaries of the bishop agreed to be interviewed: Trenton Bishop John Reiss (an auxiliary bishop under Ahr and later his successor), Bp. Edward Kmiec (longtime secretary to Bp. Ahr), Priests who knew him well, such as Msgrs. William Fields, George Ardos and William Fitzgerald, Dr. Peter Ahr (the bishop's nephew), Retired Archbishop Peter Gerety of Newark, and even two Filippini sisters who often made the jaunt across the Delaware River to visit Bp. Ahr in his retirement in his home in Morrisville, Pennsylvania.  Msgr. Joe Shenrock even did the unthinkable:  knowing how seminarians love to get their grubby paws on relics of the Church's past, he allowed me time alone with storage bin after storage bin of Bp. Ahr's papers, photographs, and even a miter (and since you're dying to know, it was too small for both Msgr. Shenrock and me).  It became a labor of love trying to put together different pieces of the puzzle of George Ahr's life.  What was supposed to be about a 40 page work stretched over 100 pages, but I enjoyed every bit of it.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him.  May he rest in peace.

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