My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
In the May edition of the Catholic Courier, we honor our priests and religious jubilarians who are celebrating special anniversaries of ordination to the Sacred Priesthood and the entrance into and the Profession of Solemn Vows in consecrated religious life. I offer my heartfelt congratulations to these dedicated servants of the Lord.
In the Collect for the Mass celebrated on the Anniversary of Priestly Ordination, the celebrant prays:
“Holy Father, who, by no merit of my own, chose me for communion with the eternal priesthood of your Christ and for the ministry of your Church, grant that I may be an ardent yet gentle preacher of the Gospel and a faithful steward of your mysteries.”
In the Collect for the Mass celebrated on the Anniversary of Religious Profession, the celebrant prays:
“O Lord, faithful God, grant, we pray, that we may give you thanks for your kindness towards our sisters and brothers, who are eager today to renew the gift received from you; strengthen in them a spirit of perfect charity, so that each day they may more fervently serve your glory and the work of your salvation.”
Each of these prayers expresses the profound commitment made by our brothers and sisters to serve the church in the work of evangelization. Our jubilarians represent an extraordinary number of years in bringing Christ to God’s people. Primarily through the Sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ, our priests continue the real presence of Jesus among us. Our sisters in consecrated life have been the presence of Christ to those in the classroom, in hospitals and nursing homes, to the incarcerated, the forgotten, refugees and the poor. In the history of our diocese, religious over the years staffed so many educational and charitable institutions.
Our first Bishop’s love for the priesthood is beautifully recorded by Father Robert F. McNamara in his book “The Diocese of Rochester in America 1868-1993” when he writes of Bishop Bernard J. McQuaid in these words: “There is no question about it: St. Bernard’s Seminary was the apple of his eye. So long as the Bishop lived, it was he, rather than Father (James J.) Hartley, who was the actual rector” (p. 161). Bishop McQuaid understood that if his parishes were to thrive, his priests needed a solid foundation to proclaim the truths of the faith. They were his first cooperators in fulfilling the path put forward by the Bishop’s motto: Salus animarium lex suprema, “Tthe salvation of souls is the supreme law.”
Bishop McQuaid had great esteem for the religious congregations that became more and more visible in the apostolates of the diocese, particularly in the area of Catholic schools. Again, Father McNamara writes of our first Bishop: “Still, it was the system of parochial schools that Rochester’s first Bishop called ‘his greatest glory’” (ibid., p. 162). As the Bishop was concerned for the formation of his priests, so, too, he was concerned for the religious formation of his children and young people, who would become faithful adult Catholics who knew, understood and loved their cherished faith.
Well, certainly the times have changed; our landscape is different as are our demographics and moral and cultural challenges. But the jubilarians whom we now honor for many years contributed to the vision and legacy of Bishop McQuaid. To this day, ministry continues through these dedicated sons and daughters of the church. Theirs is a vocation for a lifetime and beyond. Even if relieved from the demands of administration, our senior priests continue to serve our parishes in offering assistance for sacramental ministry throughout the diocese. Religious never grow tired of serving the poor and those on the fringes of society. The rings religious sisters wear on their hands signify their spousal union with Christ, forever as a Sponsa Christi, “Bride of Christ,” with a bond that stretches into eternity.
Priests and religious have been an integral part of my life. It was wonderful parish priests who inspired my vocation to the priesthood. Religious have been my educators from kindergarten to post-graduate studies: the Religious Sisters of Mercy, the De LaSalle Christian Brothers (Brothers of the Christian Schools), diocesan seminary professors, the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) and the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). The Sisters of Mercy were a great influence upon me in discerning my vocation to the priesthood. I also have been blessed to know the Sisters of Life, who dedicate their lives to protecting and enhancing the sacredness of human life, supporting women in difficult circumstances and unexpected pregnancies. Through the support, care and guidance of these sisters, troubled women find hope and are able to welcome joyfully into the world the child of their womb. The Sisters of St. Joseph, who taught in our schools for many years, cared for our departed Bishop Emeritus, Bishop Matthew H. Clark, in his illness and they also provide a true home for some of our senior priests.
I also have a very deep appreciation for the contemplative vocation. The Sisters at the Carmelite Monastery of Rochester and the Monks at the Abbey of the Genesee have supported me with their prayers from the very beginning of my tenure as the diocesan bishop and a wonderful relationship was established with these communities and continues to this very day. How can I not render gratitude to all our priests and vowed religious, while paying special tribute to our religious jubilarians and acknowledging their many, many contributions in the vineyard of the Lord!
This special edition of the Catholic Courier also provides us with the opportunity to pray fervently for vocations to the priesthood and the vowed religious life so that laborers in the vineyard of the Lord may continue His salvific mission. Rather than long for times past, we need to go forward in hope believing that the Lord will provide future vocations if we do our part in supporting and encouraging vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
During this month dedicated to our Mother Mary, we ask her intercession that she beseech her Son that our diocese will be blessed with vocations to the ordained ministry and consecrated religious life, so that the zeal and enthusiasm of those who have gone before us will be continued in the ages to follow. We also ask her Son’s blessing upon our priests, deacons and religious now serving in our diocese. We pray that they will have the support and encouragement of those entrusted to their pastoral care, especially when their ministry requires that they make difficult decisions and preach the Gospel in its fullness.
In closing, I wish to express my deep gratitude to our laity who support us in so many ways and the wonderful number of volunteers in our parishes, schools, charitable institutions and apostolates, and who readily come forward to offer their time, talents and gifts to build up the Body of Christ. Thank you again, and yet again!
United with you in praying for vocations and renewing our plea to Our Mother Mary to present our needs to her Son and invoking the intercession of St. John Fisher, our diocesan patron, I remain
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend
Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester