It was the spring of 1979. I was in the seminary after graduation from R.I.T. in 1977. My heart and soul was in discernment about a possible career change. I was asked to serve at the installation of the new Bishop who was arriving to lead the Diocese of Rochester.
The anticipation of this new Bishop and how young he was caught the attention of everyone. He was ordained as a Bishop by Pope Saint John Paul II on May 27, 1979. Now, just a month later, he was coming to Rochester to lead our diocese.
June 26, 1979 was a day/night to remember! Our new shepherd was going to be installed in a liturgical ceremony I will never forget! We were going to gather at what was then called the War Memorial for the installation. It is currently called the Blue Cross Arena. The night was filled with great energy and as I recall the place was filled with people from all over the counties that make up the Diocese of Rochester. My dear friend, Father Rick Farrell, and I were assigned to be Cardinal Cooke’s servers. Cardinal Cooke was going to install our new Bishop.
There we were in the line up in the War Memorial. Rick and I were in front of Cardinal Cooke and our new Bishop was right before the three of us. It was exciting and I felt so honored to be part of this momentous time. You could hear the voices and enthusiasm of everyone in the arena. The doors opened, as it was time to begin the celebration. Cheers, music and acclamation resounded.
Now, I am being humble, so accept what I am about to share. As we all processed into the arena, it became a thunderous moment of life! I turned to Rick and said, “can you believe they are all cheering us in?” I will never forget this beautiful moment when Bishop Matthew H. Clark became our Bishop!
Our new Bishop was a phenomenal man whose faith, spirituality, love for the Lord and church was grace. Interestingly, this humble man, Bishop Matthew H. Clark, welcomed people to call him Matt. Wow. That was something new for most people and made so many feel more connected to their brother in Christ. Imagine, even a seminarian could call his brother Matt.
On November 11, 1983, Bishop Matthew H. Clark ordained me a priest at Saint John of Rochester. As I write this article, I am feeling the chills, blessings and prayer of that night. Matt made me know by the gifts of the Holy Spirit what was coming over my new life and vocation. He helped me realize the truth of the scriptures I chose for my ordination theme, “If I take the wings of dawn, if I settle at the farthest limits of the sea, there your hand shall guide me, and your right hand hold me fast.” Psalm 139:9-10. I will never forget that moment of grace.
Over the years of my priesthood, this man was not only my shepherd, but friend. I cannot tell you how many times he reached out to me in my ministry to offer words and prayers of support. Personal phone calls that will be forever etched in my mind and heart. The picture included with this message was taken on my Ordination Anniversary in 2021. Matt was already residing at the Sisters of Saint Joseph Motherhouse. He was facing his new cross of dementia but we had a great contact of conversation, memories, prayer and laughter.
On Wednesday, January 18th, my friend Deb Housel and I went to visit Matt. The time was approaching when this great Shepherd, Friend and Brother was getting closer to his eternal reward. Deb and I had a blessed hour with Matt, his beloved niece, Grace and her husband Mark. We reminisced and shared stories and prayed. As Deb and I prepared to leave, I ( I’m going to keep this to myself and heartfelt memory) …
I cannot thank the Lord enough for Matt and all he gifted me with by example to be a good steward and priest for Jesus. How blessed to have had a Bishop who was so engaged and loving not only to his priests, religious but to all his sisters and brothers. Matt’s love for our ecumenical community was inspirational. Matt’s commitment to the poor and vulnerable not only in Rochester but beyond our boundaries was a testament to his witness of the Gospel he embraced.
Matt, enjoy the eternal kingdom you helped to prepare in Rochester and beyond. God love you with eternal joys in paradise!!!
I look forward to seeing you there one day!
With my faith,