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Bishop John C. Reiss

Bishop John C. Reiss

Eighth Bishop of Trenton from 1980 to 1997

“Amemus Ad Invicem”

Let Us Love One Another

Our Native Son

Bishop John C. Reiss, who died March 4, 2012, was the first native son of the diocese to become Bishop of Trenton.

Born in Red Bank May 13, 1922, John Charles Reiss studied for the priesthood at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., and Immaculate Conception Seminary, Darlington.

He was ordained a priest May 31, 1947, in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, by Bishop William A. Griffin. Father Reiss returned to The Catholic University of America in 1950 to earn a doctoral degree in canon law.

After serving as an associate pastor, he was appointed master of ceremonies and secretary to Bishop George W. Ahr in 1953. Later, he was named assistant chancellor, then vice chancellor.

In 1963 Father Reiss was named Officialis of the Diocesan Tribunal. In October 1963, Pope Paul VI named him a Domestic Prelate, with the title "Monsignor."

He was appointed pastor of St. Francis of Assisium Parish, Trenton, in 1965. Msgr. Reiss was appointed auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Trenton by Pope Paul VI on Oct. 25, 1967. He was consecrated a bishop Dec. 12, 1967.

Bishop of Trenton

Bishop Reiss was named the eighth bishop of Trenton by Pope John Paul II March 11, 1980 and was installed as bishop April 22, 1980, in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral.

In 1982, Bishop Reiss ordained Bishop Edward U. Kmiec as Auxiliary Bishop of Trenton. Ten years later, he congratulated Bishop Kmiec on his appointment as the Bishop of Nashville, TN.

Other significant events taking place under his spiritual leadership included:

  • initiating the Emmaus program of priestly spirituality in 1982;
  • implementing Renew, a process of lay spiritual renewal between 1985 and 1987;
  • implementing the Fourth Diocesan Synod, which opened with Mass Jan. 13, 1991, and closed on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, 1991;
  • conducting Faith-In-Service, a $32 million diocesan capital and endowment fund campaign from 1992 to 1995. In all, Faith In Service raised $38 million to provide financial stability for diocesan services;
  • constructing a new Morris Hall facility to include St. Joseph Hall Skilled Nursing Center and St. Mary Hall Assisted Living Residence. The new  facility was dedicated Oct. 28, 1994;
  • constructing Villa Vianney, a residence for retired diocesan priests. The facility was dedicated Oct. 18, 1995;
  • expanding the Diocesan Chancery. The newly constructed addition tripled the size of the diocesan office building was completed in 1997.

On Nov. 21, 1995, Bishop John M. Smith was named Coadjutor Bishop of Trenton, to one day succeed Bishop Reiss as Diocesan Bishop. Bishop Smith, a native of the Newark Archdiocese and a former Auxiliary Bishop of Newark, at the time was Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee, FL.

On reaching the age of 75, Bishop Reiss submitted his letter of resignation to Pope John Paul II. The letter was accepted, effective July 1, 1997, and that day he became Retired Bishop John C. Reiss.

In retirement, Bishop Reiss assisted Bishop Smith with the administration of Confirmation in numerous parishes in the diocese.


Watch the funeral Mass of Bishop Reiss on YouTube

Bishop Reiss Coat of Arms

  • In layman’s terms, a heraldic coat-of-arms entwines the past and present in a shield-like emblem which expresses the heritage, connections and accomplishments of the personage they depict.
  • The complete heraldic achievement of the Most Reverend John C. Reiss shows the arms of the Diocese of Trenton marshaled with his personal arms and displaying the external ornaments of a bishop.
  • A gold heraldic Moline cross in the form of a miller’s cross is found on the Trenton Diocesan coat-of-arms signifying the mill which was built by Mahlon Stacy on the Delaware River in 1680. A small village grew up around the mill and, in 1714, one William Trent bought the property surrounding the mill and the area became known as Trentown or Trenton.
  • Superimposed over the cross is a crescent moon, a symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary, patroness of the diocese. The shield’s two colors of blue and white are also the colors of Mary.
  • The left side of the coat-of-arms of Bishop Reiss contains the coat-of-arms of the Reiss family of Germany which dates to the 16th or 17th century. When the design was executed, William F. Ryan, a heraldic expert, researched the bishop’s coat-of-arms and described it as consisting of a gold field with a blue apex.
  • The blue portion contains two pilgrims’ staffs, each with a leather water bottle attached. The pilgrim’s staff is one of the badges of a person who journeyed to a shrine or holy place, such as Rome or the Holy Land, both of which Bishop Reiss journeyed to on pilgrimage.
  • The base portion on the right side depicts an eagle and a book in honor of St. John the Evangelist, the baptismal patron of the bishop, adding a personal element to the shield as do three grains of rice surrounding the eagle which signify the English meaning of the Reiss surname.
  • The external ornaments of the coat-of-arms include the pontifical hat in green with six green tassels on each side and the episcopal cross in gold. A prelate of the rank of bishop is indicated by these heraldic insignia.
  • The rank of a prelate is represented by the color of the pontifical hat and the number and color of the tassels.
  • The motto under the coat of arms of Bishop Reiss is “Let Us Love One Another,” from St. John’s Gospel (13:34). When he commissioned the coat-of-arms, Bishop Reiss was quoted as saying that the motto “signifies the ideal of doing what the Lord wants us to do. I use it as the guiding principle for the Diocese of Trenton.”

The Catholic Diocese of Trenton, 701 Lawrenceville Road, Trenton, NJ 08648