Reflecting on his 45th anniversary of ordination as a priest of the Diocese of Albany, Bishop Matthew H. Clark, 70, said he can’t pinpoint one time when he began to discern a call to the priesthood. Instead, he said he found it to be a growing attraction dating back to his years as an altar server, his experience with parish priests and lay catechists, and his education at Catholic Central High School in Troy.
At Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass., he spoke to a priest, who encouraged him to pray and reflect on his call.
"Today when I think about my call to be a bishop, it’s totally different. I was asked by a human voice, and I said — to make a long story short — I said, ‘Yes, I would.’ Well, the call (to be a priest) was no less real, but it was much less direct, focused, and it was not in a human voice," Bishop Clark recalled.
Following studies at Mater Christi Seminary in Albany, St. Bernard’s Seminary in Rochester, and the Pontifical North American College and Gregorian University in Rome, Bishop Clark was ordained in Rome on Dec. 19, 1962.
He was in Rome again, serving as a spiritual director for seminarians, when Pope John Paul II appointed him Bishop of Rochester on April 23, 1979. He was installed in Rochester June 26, 1979.
Bishop Clark said being a priest and a bishop brings both joys and difficulties. As one response to church closings and the priest sex-abuse scandal, for example, he began a spiritual renewal this year to help parishioners reconnect with Christ. Although he said it may take awhile to get an accurate measure of response to the renewal, Spirit Alive!, he said he hopes that parishioners will display a renewed spirituality in everything from Mass to monthly meetings.
"The measure of this is not how many new things we did," Bishop Clark said. "It is how we do things. Do we do what we do with a sense that God is in it with us all?"
Most recently, the bishop had to make the decision to close 13 Catholic schools in Monroe County and one in Livingston County due to declining enrollment and mounting expenses.
"Yes, as in any life there are challenges and difficulties and hurdles to be met," Bishop Clark remarked. "But given the choice (of becoming a priest) again, I know my choice wouldn’t be different. I have thoroughly enjoyed the years and I look forward, God willing, to many more."