ROCHESTER — A bishop who spent his life listening to new friends and old in the Diocese of Rochester had a final message to share.
That message was clear in the Scriptures (Isaiah 25:6a, 7-9; 1 John 3:1-2; John 15:9-17) that Bishop Emeritus Matthew H. Clark had personally preselected for his funeral Mass Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
“As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love,” the Gospel exhorted in John 15:9.
The message was sung in three languages in Michael Hay’s Universal Prayer, and in the ecumenical stanzas of “Amazing Grace.” It was clear as a cardinal, 10 bishops, and dozens of priests and deacons reverently sang “Salve Regina” as they looked toward a statue of the Blessed Mother.
And the message was especially obvious in Rory Cooney’s march-like hymn “Jerusalem, My Destiny,” which closed the funeral Mass.
“Let no one walk alone,” the congregation sang. “The journey makes us one.”
Through Scripture, prayer and song, Bishop Clark was telling his former flock, brother priests and bishops to “Love one another as I have loved you, and as God loves you.” And his loving farewell was reflected back to him by hundreds who attended the Mass and shared their memories of Bishop Clark.
Among the dignitaries at the Mass were longtime friends Bill Johnson, former mayor of Rochester, and Rabbi Alan Katz.
Bishop Clark and Rabbi Katz were among the signers of the historic 1996 Jewish-Catholic Rochester Agreement of friendship and dialogue. They also led interfaith trips together to Israel in 1998 and to Rome in 2005.
“He was a dear friend of the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Katz, rabbi emeritus of Temple Sinai. “I’ve said before that he was our bishop, too.”
As shepherd of the Diocese of Rochester for 33 years, Bishop Clark formed life-long friendships with many.
“Who could not love him?” asked Father Raymond Fleming of St. Monica Parish. “He was somebody who gave me great hope and delight in being part of the church, and that hope and delight continues.”
Father Fleming said he learned from Bishop Clark the importance of listening. He noted that when Bishop Clark wrote his 1982 pastoral letter “The Fire in the Thornbush,” it was after he listened to the voices of women in the diocese.
“What a wonderful gift that letter was, because it came from somebody who listened, because it came from his heart,” Father Fleming said. “I learned to trust your heart.”
Andrew Uttaro, a parishioner of the South East Catholic Community, recalled meeting the bishop at the annual Good Friday ecumenical Way of the Cross walk.
“He wanted to be where there were a lot of different voices,” Uttaro said.
Years later, after Alzheimer’s disease claimed Bishop Clark’s ability to speak, he could still communicate with his eyes, noted Sister of St. Joseph Beth LaValley.
“Those eyes were always looking at you with total compassion and understanding,” Sister LaValley said.
Many people at the funeral recalled Bishop Clark’s humility even as he served as a pastor.
Deacon Joe Erway of Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Elmira said that during his diaconal ordination, Bishop Clark accidentally skipped the part where Deacon Erway was supposed to promise obedience to the bishop and to his successors. “He stopped and said, ‘You have to promise me first?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I do.’” Deacon Erway recalled. The incident was an example of how humble and human Bishop Clark was, he said.
“He was one of the most down-to-Earth people I met in my life,” Deacon Erway said.
June Weltzer-Frosino, music director at St. Rita Parish in Webster, said she and her twin sister served as acolytes for Bishop Clark at Holy Name of Jesus Church when they were teens. Years later, she invited him to play handbells with the handbell choir each December at St. Ann’s Home. He also presided at her wedding in 2014.
“He just honored us with his presence,” Weltzer-Frosino said. “He just had a beautiful way of making every person feel special.”
Victoria Hayashi echoed that thought. Three years ago, Bishop Clark baptized her at Brighton’s Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish; she was the last person he baptized.
“He was a very special person to me,” Hayashi said.
Patricia Mason of St. Michael Parish in Newark said she and her husband of 65 years used to go to the annual Jubilee Mass at the cathedral where married couples renew their vows. “He married my husband and I three times,” she said, noting that was why she wanted to pay her respects.
“My son got his Boy Scout award from him,” said Peg Lamark of St. Pius Tenth Parish in Chili. “That was very meaningful to him to meet the bishop and have the bishop talk to him.”
Ministry to youths was particularly special to Bishop Clark, many attendees said. An avid runner for many years, he gave his right and left sneakers to be bronzed and used as trophies for the annual Run for the Young 5K.
The bishop highly valued the time he spent with youths and families. Once, while visiting in Elmira, Bishop Clark was asked to stop at St. Joseph Hospital to visit a sick child. He spent quite a long time talking to the child and parents, said Deacon Paul Sartori of Elmira’s Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish.
“He connected to you, and it felt like you were the only person in the room,” Deacon Sartori said.
Joan Arthur remembered Bishop Clark’s visit to Camp Stella Maris on Conesus Lake when he first arrived as bishop of Rochester. He bookended a tour of the camp by spending time playing ball with campers on the ball field, she said.
“He was very engaging. He was very charismatic,” Arthur said. “The kids took to him, as did the counselors.”
Bishop Clark’s ability to make a connection with youth lasted his entire life. Wearing two tiny beribboned pigtails and a batik patchwork dress, 2-year-old Etta Jones was one of the youngest attendees at the funeral. The daughter of close family friends, Etta was a favorite of Bishop Clark’s in his final years, and his room at the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse had many pictures of her.
“She brought him a lot of joy,” her mother, Mara Jones, said, flipping through photos on her smartphone that showed Etta and Bishop Clark smiling at each other.