EDITOR’S NOTE: Staff Writer Mike Latona and Staff Photographer Mike Crupi joined Bishop Matthew H. Clark on Monday, April 26, for one of his typically long work days.
Exercise, 7:15 a.m.
You might expect Bishop Matthew H. Clark to do his morning exercise in a palatial, state-of-the-art health spa.
In actuality, his regular workout area is more akin to the no-frills gym in the series of “Rocky” movies.
Bishop Clark pedals vigorously on an exercise bike, bunkered in a tiny boiler room in the basement of Sacred Heart Cathedral’s rectory. Though he no longer runs or plays racquetball for health reasons, the bishop — who will turn 67 on July 15 — still soaks his sweatshirt pretty well, spending 40 minutes on the bike while reading The Night Inspector by Frederick Busch. He follows up with some leg exercises.
“I try to be consistent,” he says, noting that he likes to exercise at least five days per week. Tonight he will preside at a confirmation in Geneva; thus, he opts for an early-morning workout.
After an hour of exertion he concludes, “I think that’s enough for these old bones today.”
Breakfast, 8:15 a.m.
The bishop gathers around the rectory breakfast table with Sacred Heart’s other resident priests — Father John Mulligan, pastor; Father Joseph Marcoux, parochial vicar; and Father Larry Murphy, retired. He addresses such subjects as Father Mike Bausch’s 25th-anniversary party — which he attended the night before — and the New York Yankees, of whom he’s a big fan. “(Jorge) Posada and Hideki (Matsui) are both doing decent,” the bishop offers.
For the most part, the bishop sits back and weighs the lively banter with a grin. As breakfast ends, he takes a quick glance at the morning paper; then it’s off to shower and dress.
Not long after, as a cold wind howls, the bishop perches atop a muddy surface, donning a hard hat as he prepares to lead a prayer service for construction workers on the cathedral renovation. After the brief service, he wipes the mud from his dress shoes and heads off work at the diocesan Pastoral Center on Buffalo Road.
Office, 9:30 a.m.
Upon arriving at his office, the bishop reviews mail that has been sorted by Mercy Sister Mary Ann Binsack, vice chancellor and administrator of the bishop’s office. The pile consists largely of personal letters and documents requiring his signature.
Whether it’s a slow or busy mail day, Bishop Clark notes that he strives to read all his correspondence. “Over the years, I think some people have had this illusion that I don’t see my mail. I do,” he remarks.
A few minutes later he turns to his computer and scans his e-mail, saying, “E-mail has the obvious advantage of speed and directness. But I don’t like it when it replaces significant conversation about something.”
The area near the bishop’s first-floor office is vacant and silent — no radio music, no voices in the foyer. “Notice how quiet it is without Sister Mary Ann, Father (Joseph) Hart and Father Mulligan?” the bishop laughs. (Sister Binsack is out this morning, and Fathers Hart and Mulligan, his vicars general, won’t arrive until noon for their weekly meeting.)
Interview, 11 a.m.
Following a private meeting at 10 a.m., the bishop begins an hour-long interview with Courier staff writer Jennifer Burke for an article reflecting on his 25 years as leader of the Rochester Catholic Diocese. Later in the day he comments on his relationship with the media, giving it a general thumbs-up.
“Good relationships with everybody in the community are important,” he says. “I try to always regard the media as friends and co-workers, understanding their responsibility of objective reporting of the news. I try to be available and accessible; I don’t cringe when the media wants to talk to me.”
Although a few stories have not turned out to his liking, “By and large I think it’s been OK,” he observes.
Meeting, 12 p.m.
Sister Binsack arrives with box lunches, right around the time Father Hart and Father Mulligan enter the bishop’s office to begin their meeting. “The team is here,” Father Mulligan announces, pumping his fists. Today the three diocesan leaders will discuss pastoral planning; prepare for the next day’s diocesan Priests’ Council meeting; and focus on the cathedral renovation.
These meetings usually last about two hours, although the bishop jokes, “Father Mulligan gets carried away on these long digressions.” Father Mulligan then accuses Father Hart of pushing a past meeting beyond hours. The men occupy the same chairs each week: “They’re assigned,” Father Hart quips.
All kidding aside, these meetings invariably involve decision-making on crucial diocesan matters. Therefore, Bishop Clark says he and his vicars general almost always stick to their Monday get-togethers: “You really have to make a commitment to that.”
Road trip, 4:15 p.m.
After his meeting with Fathers Hart and Mulligan, Bishop Clark has squeezed in more paperwork and an important phone call, the latter causing him to arrive late at Sister Binsack’s residence across town. Sister Binsack then takes the wheel of Bishop Clark’s car — a ritual when he attends out-of-town evening events — and they start out for Geneva.
A cell phone is in view, but the bishop says he uses that even more sparingly than e-mail. So-called modern conveniences were “supposed to make it so people could work four days,” he remarks, “and now they’re working six days.”
Then again, seven-day work weeks are the norm for Bishop Clark. Just prior to these two consecutive evenings of confirmations (he was scheduled to be at St. James Church in Trumansburg the following day), he spent all Saturday at the April 24 deacons’ convocation and presided over a special Sunday Mass for the School Sisters of Notre Dame April 25.
Narrowing down numerous requests for personal appearances is no easy task: “He could be out every day for lunch and dinner,” Sister Binsack says, adding that Bishop Clark strives to visit each parish of the diocese at least once every few years.
“Part of it is selfish because I enjoy it very much,” the bishop says. “I don’t like saying no to people, I really don’t.”
Although the day has proceeded smoothly, Bishop Clark acknowledges that the unexpected is always just around the corner, leading to tough and sometimes unpopular decisions. “There really isn’t a typical day,” he concludes.
Bishop Clark averages around seven hours of sleep per night; exercises; and tries “to give real time to prayer each day — a review of life, even if it’s only briefly.” Has he mellowed? “I don’t feel less busy than I used to. But feel I make better choices about where I put my time.”
Yet as we approach the outskirts of Geneva, the bishop and Sister Binsack begin naming all his affiliations and obligations with local, state and national boards, committees and convocations. Ten minutes later we pull into the St. Stephen’s Church parking lot — and they’re still adding to the list.
Dinner, 5 p.m.
Bishop Clark and Sister Binsack engage in a pre-dinner chat with Father Roy Kiggins, pastor, and other parish staff members from the Roman Catholic Community of Geneva. He then leads grace at the dinner table, praying for those who will be confirmed tonight.
Dinner conversation includes plans for the cathedral renovation, as well as Bishop Clark’s day of honor May 15 at a Rochester Red Wings baseball game, when he’s due to throw out the first pitch. He jokes about the last time he took part in such a ceremony: “My fastball bounced about 5 feet before home plate. They say your fastball is supposed to have some hop to it, but not that kind.”
Once more, the bishop does more listening than talking. On his way out, he makes sure to stop in the rectory kitchen and thank all the volunteers.
Confirmation, 6:45 p.m.
Immediately upon entering St. Stephen’s Church, the bishop moves toward the pews offering smiles and handshakes. He engages in brief chats as opposed to quick, mechanical hellos; the same will hold true when those being confirmed approach the altar with their families.
Even though Mass lasts about two hours, the bishop comes to the base of the altar for 20 additional minutes of picture-taking while a large throng anxiously presses forward, perhaps fearful they won’t reach him in time. Not to worry; he accommodates every photo request while never relinquishing his ear-to-ear grin.
Day’s end, 10:30 p.m.
Bishop Clark finally returns to his Flower City Park rectory, where bedtime is usually preceded by a glass of milk and a scan of the evening news. “I need to unwind — although that will only take about five minutes tonight,” he remarks.
He has shaken many hands, posed for lots of photos, and discussed the weather quite often over the past 12 to 14 hours. Behind closed doors, he has also made important decisions about the direction of our diocese. Despite his weariness, the bishop remains upbeat right to the end.
“It was a most enjoyable day,” he concludes.