• Bishop Emeritus Matthew H. Clark gives a witness talk during an Alzheimer's prayer service at St. Mary Church in Elmira Sept. 24. Bishop Clark was recently diagnosed with the disease.

    Bishop Emeritus Matthew H. Clark gives a witness talk during an Alzheimer's prayer service at St. Mary Church in Elmira Sept. 24. Bishop Clark was recently diagnosed with the disease. (Courier photo by John Haeger)

  • Rose Carnegie lights candles during the prayer service.

    Rose Carnegie lights candles during the prayer service. (Courier photo by John Haeger)

  • Participants bow their heads in prayer.

    Participants bow their heads in prayer. (Courier photo by John Haeger)

  • Candles are lit during the service.

    Candles are lit during the service. (Courier photo by John Haeger)

Bishop Emeritus Clark joins others affected by Alzheimer’s

Mike Latona / Catholic Courier    |    09.30.2019
Category: Southern Tier


At the moment she learned that Bishop Emeritus Matthew H. Clark has been diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s disease, Rose Carnegie couldn’t have been performing a more fitting activity.

She was helping plan an Alzheimer’s prayer service.

“It hit me like a ton of bricks,” Carnegie, a member of Parish of the Most Holy Name of Jesus in Elmira, said of her reaction to the early September news. Adding to its impact was the fact that Carnegie’s husband, Bill — who died in 2010 — lived with Alzheimer’s for the final 13 years of his life.

Carnegie then suggested inviting Bishop Clark to the service. From there, Mary Montanarella, parish liturgy and music director, checked into the bishop’s availability, and he readily agreed to attend.

“We were honored and delighted,” Montanarella said, noting that Bishop Clark is “very well-loved” among Elmira’s Catholics: “He is part of our family.”

That’s how Bishop Clark became the featured guest Sept. 24 at Elmira’s St. Mary Church, joining with other folks living with Alzheimer’s or dementia along with their loved ones and caregivers. During his talk, Bishop Clark reflected on his recent diagnosis and offered prayers for the congregation, also emphasizing his desire to learn more about Alzheimer’s from their experiences.

Being at the event was “sort of a spiritual classroom for me,” Bishop Clark remarked to the Catholic Courier. “I thought it went very well. I felt enriched by being among the people there; I was very happy to be invited.”

Carnegie said she was delighted at how approachable the bishop was to her and many others in attendance.

“It was a beautiful, beautiful service,” said Carnegie, who gave the welcoming presentation. “The bishop was absolutely phenomenal. He spoke from the heart. He was so compassionate, so gentle. I just respect him for coming here and sharing with the people. I think he needs the prayers and encouragement now, too.”

The evening service was nondenominational and also included readings, prayers, hymns and a lighting of candles, with Most Holy Name of Jesus’ priests and deacons helping to lead the event.

Carnegie, Montanarella and Deacon George Welch organized the first Alzheimer’s prayer service five years ago and have continued it annually. Montanarella said that the gatherings are modeled after a service held each June — also at St. Mary Church — for those affected by cancer. A top priority at the Alzheimer’s and cancer gatherings is to pray for an end to those diseases, neither of which has a known cure.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that erodes the brain’s memory cells, causing gradual memory loss, personality changes, and diminished ability to comprehend and speak. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, with deaths from Alzheimer’s having increased by 145 percent between 2000 and 2017. An estimated 10 percent of Americans aged 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s-related dementia.

Carnegie, in addition to her involvement with the prayer service, takes part annually with family members in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. She’s walked every year since her husband’s diagnosis — 22 in all — and raised many thousands of dollars for the Alzheimer’s Association; as of late September, she was the leading local fundraiser for the 2019 walk set to take place Oct. 19 at Elmira’s Eldridge Park.

“What I want to see is Alzheimer’s conquered. I want to see a cure,” she stated, asserting that nearly everybody knows a family member, friend or coworker affected by the disease.

Bishop Clark, also, is now living with Alzheimer’s, having been given the news by his neurologist this past July 31.

“That was quite a jolt, as you might expect,” he said. Yet the bishop added that he moved rather quickly to make his diagnosis public, so as to minimize confusion and misinformation about what’s happening with him.

Bishop Clark, who led the Rochester Diocese from 1979 until his 2012 retirement, said he’s open to attending future Alzheimer’s-related events. In the meantime, he noted that he’s not in pain and remains at peace and upbeat.

“The neurologist told me to eat well, exercise, get a lot of sleep, spend a lot of time socializing and being with a lot of people, and doing things I love to do. That’s a nice agenda to have, isn’t it?” he quipped.

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