Personal Memories of Bishop Richard Oliver Gerow

By KATE COLE

Bishop Gerow was a frequent visitor to our home when my brothers, James and Billy, and I were growing up in the 1940s. He and my great-uncle, James J. Cole (Uncle Jay), were good friends. Those were the days when you kissed a bishop’s ring upon greeting him. That ritual was a favorite of the three Cole children. As soon as the bishop entered our front door, we asked to kiss the ring. After that the four of us sat on the living room sofa and the bishop showed us the relic behind the stone on his ring and the relic behind the stone on the big cross he wore around his neck. What a special man! Not once do I recall him brushing us aside or rushing through those very special times.

Several times a month Bishop Gerow, Mr. Berdon, and Mr. Lowenberg would come to our house in the early evening to visit Uncle Jay whose eyesight was beginning to fail. This dimming of his vision had limited many of the activities he had once enjoyed with friends. My mother would always prepare a “light supper” for them. They had such a good time enjoying each others company. They would play cards occasionally, at other times they would listen to the news or maybe a special prize fight on the radio. Then again, they may have listened to music, mostly Irish ballads, played on the Victrola. I think they derived the most pleasure, however, from the times they would just sit on the porch talking, laughing and smoking their pipes or cigars.

Bishop Gerow always came by after 10:00 mass on Christmas Day to see what Santa had left, and even staying on for Christmas dinner some years. One Christmas Santa brought James and Billy a fancy Lionel Train Set. That locomotive smoked, whistled, switched tracks, went up, through and around mountains; and all the while, pulling six or seven different train cars at speeds dictated by one of the four engineers (three Coles and a Gerow) sitting on the floor around the big board on which the train traveled. It was fun just watching them have fun.

My mother told me more than once about the early Christmas morning she went to bed leaving my dad and Bishop Gerow putting together my doll house. We had all gone to midnight mass because James was a page that year. After mass the bishop walked the two blocks home with us and helped my parents “put out Santa Claus”. When mother got up the next morning to fix breakfast, she first checked on the doll house. It was together, but there was a bag of pieces and screws left over. Need I say more!

As I previously mentioned, Uncle Jay began losing his sight. My dad had taken him to see doctor after doctor after doctor. Then someone told my dad about a glaucoma specialist at Johns Hopkins, so he and Uncle Jay traveled to Baltimore. After exams and conferences the doctor did not hold much hope for Uncle Jay’s eyesight, but suggested a doctor who was reporting some very encouraging results from his research on the optic nerve. That doctor was in Lucerne, Switzerland. Bishop Gerow accompanied Uncle Jay to see the doctor. The doctor in Lucerne told Uncle Jay there was nothing to prevent the approaching blindness. Uncle Jay and the bishop made arrangements for the return trip, but they first made a side trip to The Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes, France.

Five or six months after he returned to Natchez, Uncle Jay found a New Yorker who would come to Natchez and teach him Braille. He was a willing and able student. Soon he was reading Braille and even typing letters to friends on a typewriter fitted with Braille keys. He continued to go to his office at Cole and Company until shortly before his death. Bishop Gerow and Uncle Jay remained friends until that time. What a blessing for them both.


Lithograph on stone - St. Mary Cathedral