Thank you again and yet again for your very warm welcome to the Diocese of Rochester, a welcome extended from all quarters — priests, religious, deacons, laity, young and more senior, and all in between that vast spectrum we call the family of God.
Despite what was termed a herculean storm, bringing almost two feet of snow and frigid temperatures at the time of the installation events, all proceeded quite beautifully. I continue to receive very positive and uplifting reports from those who attended the solemn evening vespers on Jan. 2 and the solemn Mass of installation on Jan. 3 , as well as those who were able to view these ceremonies through media and television access. To all who made this possible and worked so long and diligently to assure such a wonderful diocesan celebration, I am most grateful. I hesitate to name individual persons, for their name is legion and I do not wish to miss anyone; however, I do express my sincere gratitude to His Excellency Bishop Matthew H. Clark, our bishop emeritus, and to His Excellency Bishop Robert J. Cunningham of Syracuse, who served as apostolic administrator during the interregnum, for their fraternal welcome and support.
My visits throughout the diocese began prior to my installation. On New Year’s Day, I celebrated holy Mass at the Carmelite Monastery in the Rochester suburb of Pittsford, where the prioress, Mother Therese Marie of Jesus Crucified, very graciously welcomed me. Visitors from the area also filled the chapel. Following Mass, I had a delightful visit with the sisters, whose promise of prayers is a great encouragement to me. These women of deep faith do pray for our entire diocesan family.
On Jan. 2, I celebrated holy Mass at St. Thomas More Parish in the Rochester suburb of Brighton for the seminarians of our diocese. Father Paul J. Tomasso and Father William G. Coffas and members of the Vocation Apostolate again gave me a wonderful greeting. Already during this Mass the snow was falling heavily and foretelling that it would not ease up any time soon!
Shortly after the installation, I began my parish visitations with the solemn Mass of the Epiphany at St. Mary’s Church in Auburn on Sunday, Jan. 5. Under the direction of Father Frank Lioi, the Mass was truly beautiful with outstanding altar servers and a magnificent choir.
In the following week I was privileged to confer the sacrament of confirmation on two occasions at Sacred Heart Cathedral. The young men and women confirmed exhibited true joy at this very important moment in their lives as they completed the sacraments of initiation. This same spirit was repeated at St. Alphonsus Church in Auburn the following week. There, Father Louis A. Vasile and his staff could not have been more hospitable and the candidates for confirmation quite enthusiastic.
Friday evening, Jan. 10, was the occasion for the solemn Mass of rededication of St. John of Rochester Church in Perinton after the completion of renovations. Father Peter C. Clifford and the many wonderful people who worked with Father on this project were joined by fellow parishioners and priests who had served at the parish to celebrate this historic occasion. Indeed, it was quite uplifting to experience a church filled with parishioners so dedicated to their parish and the church’s mission to renew all things in Christ.
On Sunday, Jan. 12, the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, I celebrated holy Mass at St. Michael’s Church in Penn Yan, which is part of Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community, with the students of St. Michael’s School in attendance. It was wonderful to meet them and the parishioners at the Knights of Columbus breakfast that followed. Fathers Leo Reinhardt, John Hayes and John O’Connor extended both their welcome and prayerful support.
Saturday, Jan. 18, brought me to St. Patrick’s Church in Owego, where once again I had the opportunity to meet some of the good people entrusted to my pastoral care. Fathers William A. Moorby and Brian Carpenter were quite anxious for me to learn of the deep faith of the people of Owego. I assured them that the far reaches of the diocese are not forgotten and are very much united in prayer as a diocesan family.
In all these parishes, the support and assistance of the laity was clearly visible, whether through pastoral associates, volunteers and those who have loved and supported their parishes for many years.
As you can imagine, it is the preference of any bishop to visit with his people and celebrate holy Mass and the other liturgies of the church for them. At the same time, it is the responsibility of the bishop to administer, as well as to teach and to sanctify. So the days have been filled with many meetings with the various consultative bodies of the diocese, with members of the diocesan staff and heads of departments, as well as answering much correspondence. Those referred to above are a great help to our diocese and to me. Their advice, counsel and the information which they have provided has been very helpful during this transition.
Sunday, Jan. 19, was a particularly moving experience at the cathedral with the Mass celebrated for refugees and migrants. Many of us can recall the histories of our own relatives and ancestors who came to these shores to begin a new life. They, too, experienced the harsh realities of prejudices, the struggles in obtaining employment and the challenge of raising families in a different country. With this history, we all the more should welcome our present-day brothers and sisters who have come to our diocese to build a new life. Like our ancestors, they also come with gifts and talents, and with cultural backgrounds that enrich the cultural landscape of our diocese. Above all, they come with a profound love for faith and family. These virtues truly build up the Body of Christ in our midst.
On the morning of Jan. 22, I concelebrated the solemn Mass at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Following the Mass, I was privileged to join the March for Life with our brothers and sisters from the Diocese Rochester who were participating in these life-filled events proclaiming God’s gift of life! I particularly was impressed with the waves of young people joyously present throughout these days. Their enthusiasm and zeal for witnessing to the Gospel of Life was most encouraging and very uplifting. I am convinced that they will carry this spirit into the future and be powerful voices calling for the protection of all human life from the moment of conception until natural death.
Catholic Schools Week ushered in visits to several of our Catholic schools where the students come to know the person of Jesus Christ in every classroom and where faith permeates throughout the corridors and classrooms. I pray that these schools will perdure into the future through the continued sacrifices and support of the faithful. More than ever, it is necessary that our young people learn and experience the virtues of the Gospel in a culture that is not always receptive to the Word of God.
The Catholic Schools Week activities actually began on Jan. 25 at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Geneva, with a special Saturday-evening vigil Mass offered for the students and Catholic school community at St. Francis de Sales/St. Stephen’s School. The students beautifully participated at the Mass attended by the principal, Mr. Stephen Tartaglia. Fathers Thomas Mull and Michael Mayer joined me at Mass in praying for the students, faculty, staff and families of the school. The students’ participation at Mass truly indicated the solid lessons in the Catholic faith being taught at the school.
On Tuesday morning, Jan. 28, Father John DeSocio and the priests in the area welcomed me to St. Mary’s Church in Elmira to celebrate Mass for the students at Holy Family School followed by visits to the classrooms. To be in the presence of these wonderful, enthusiastic and joyous students was quite uplifting. They confidently introduced themselves and told me the subjects they were studying. The principal, Ms. Lorie Brink, and the faculty and staff were justifiably proud of their students.
This same spirit was repeated on Jan. 31 at Holy Cross Church in Rochester, where I celebrated Mass for the students and visited their classrooms. Fathers Thomas H. Wheeland and John Reif concelebrated the Mass, and the principal, Ms. Mary Martell, introduced me to the faculty, staff and students at the school. Father Wheeland, who has served at Holy Cross Parish for 32 years, has been a constant and strong supporter of the school. Throughout the visit, everyone praised him for his pastoral dedication and love for the school.
On Feb. 2, I offered holy Mass for the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance at the Abbey of the Genesee in Piffard and visited with the members of the community. Father Abbot, the Right Reverend Gerard D’Souza, and the monks welcomed me with a brother’s heart to this beautiful place of contemplation, where the liturgy was so beautifully celebrated for the solemnity of the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord. The chant preceding the Mass and throughout the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the blessing of the candles and procession were an inspiration to the faithful in attendance. During my visit with the community, I asked for their prayers as I begin my apostolic ministry in the diocese.
And the visits continue. I just wanted to share with you some of these very uplifting moments early into my apostolic ministry. Thank you for such a warm welcome! Let us work cooperatively, priests, religious, deacons and laity, in strengthening our parishes, schools, apostolates and outreach programs so that we continue to reflect and to live the motto of our first bishop, the Most Reverend Bernard J. McQuaid: Salus animarum lex suprema ("The supreme law is the salvation of souls").
Renewing my prayers for you and asking a memento in your good prayers, I remain devotedly yours in Christ.