Harvard clergyman Gomes is recovering from stroke

By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / December 17, 2010

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The Rev. Peter J. Gomes, an often honored and outspoken Harvard professor who oversees the university’s Memorial Church and is among the nation’s most prominent preachers, is recovering from a stroke he suffered last Friday, according to his friends, co-workers, and staff.

“There are signs of improvement, both in his ability to speak and in his physical response,’’ said Wendel Meyer, a longtime friend and an administrator and preacher at the church. Meyer said he has seen Gomes three times since his stroke. Gomes has been in demand locally, nationally, and internationally for years because of his insightful speeches and sermons, Meyer said.

Gomes, 68, a Baptist minister, is the author of several books, including New York Times bestsellers “The Good Life: Truths That Last in Times of Need’’ and “The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart.’’ He spoke at the inauguration ceremony of Governor Deval Patrick.

“He’s one of the greatest preachers of our generation,’’ said Preston Williams, Houghton Research professor of theology and contemporary change at Harvard. He said he has known Gomes since the 1960s.

Janetta C. Randolph, Gomes’s executive assistant, said he is at Massachusetts General Hospital and will undergo rehabilitation but she was not sure when that treatment will begin. He underwent heart surgery to place a pacemaker last year, according to the Harvard Crimson newspaper. Last fall, he taught “Introduction to Public Preaching.’’

Gomes lives in Plymouth, where he was born and raised, but has a residence on the Harvard campus.

Gomes last preached at the Memorial Church Nov. 14 and was scheduled to conduct services again last Sunday but suffered the stroke two days before at his home. Meyer replaced him.

“Reverend Gomes is the main attraction here,’’ said Justin Mullane, spokesman for the church. “He delivers more than 50 percent of the sermons here during the year, and when he’s not preaching here, he’s usually preaching somewhere else or fulfilling a speaking engagement.’’

Gomes is scheduled to retire in 2012 but due to his medical setback, may retire sooner. “Internally, he is a major loss, but the Harvard community is also deeply affected by his absence,’’ Mullane said.

Brian Ballou can be reached at