If first impressions count, Rochester’s newly appointed bishop, Bishop Salvatore R. Matano, made a positive one, according to the reactions of several who attended a Nov. 6 press conference at which Bishop Matano spoke.
A native of Providence, R.I., Bishop Matano spoke about his upbringing as the son of a barber. Though he grew up in humble circumstances, he said he wasn’t aware that his family didn’t have a lot of money.
He also cracked several jokes, including a quip that his late father would have wanted him to get a haircut before the press conference. Afterward, several people commented that his down-to-earth nature helped win them over.
"I liked his sense of humor and his ability to joke about himself," said Father Edward Palumbos, pastor of Church of the Assumption in Fairport.
Father Palumbos said he also was impressed that Bishop Matano had done his homework on diocesan history. In his welcoming remarks, Bishop Matano spoke of the deep commitment to the real presence in the Eucharist that Father George J. Weinmann and Sister Lillian Marie McLaughlin, SSND, displayed when they plunged into the burning St. Philip Neri Church in February 1967 to rescue the Blessed Sacrament from the flames. Sister McLaughlin was killed in the fire and Father Weinmann died from injuries several days later. Parts of the tabernacle from St. Philip Neri Church make up the tabernacle installed at Sacred Heart Cathedral as part of its renovation nearly a decade ago.
Father Palumbos noted that Bishop Matano spoke extensively at the press conference about responding to sexual-abuse cases that had rocked the Diocese of Burlington. Bishop Matano apologized to those hurt by the scandals, which predated his assignment in Burlington, and begged forgiveness for any of his own failings in addressing the crisis.
Father Palumbos said he was glad to see Bishop Matano display pastoral outreach toward abuse victims, just as Bishop Emeritus Matthew H. Clark demonstrated care for victims.
"(Bishop Clark) was always welcoming people to come to him," Father Palumbos said, noting he was glad to hear that Bishop Matano seemed to have the same invitation to those who have been hurt by abuse.
Father Robert Bourcy, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Mendon, agreed that Bishop Matano seemed very willing to reach out to the people of the diocese. He noted that Bishop Matano, 67, had speculated that his appointment in Rochester likely would be his last before he is required to submit his resignation at age 75.
Father Kevin McKenna, pastor of Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral, said he is optimistic that Bishop Matano’s time in Rochester will be a positive experience for both diocesan Catholics and their new leader.
"It’s a wonderful day in our diocese. It’s always a beautiful day when a new bishop arrives," Father McKenna said. "I think it’s an exciting time for us because not only do we have the new pope, who has energized the church, but we also have a new bishop, who will be sharing his own particular gifts and strengths with us."
Bishop Matano gave local Catholics a first glimpse of some of those gifts and talents during the Nov. 6 press conference and a Mass he celebrated at the cathedral immediately after, Father McKenna added.
Sister of Mercy Janet Korn said Bishop Matano’s remarks during the press conference helped her get a sense of what kind of leader he will be.
"He sounds like a very holy man with a deep devotion for the Eucharist, and he is calling on the people of the Lord to participate in that," she said.
Bishop Matano came across as a faith-filled, energetic and thoughtful man with a strong love of the Lord, remarked Father William Coffas, rector of Becket Hall, the diocesan residential program for men discerning the priesthood. Father Coffas said the bishop appears to have a pastoral heart and a desire to be there for his flock, "which we need at a time when people are searching for truth."
"Above all, a strong faith certainly will serve him and the church well," added Father Coffas, who also is an assisting priest at St. Thomas More and Our Lady Queen of Peace parishes in Brighton.
Father Coffas brought two Becket Hall residents with him to the press conference and introduced them to Bishop Matano before it began.
"I’m so glad we could bring (the discerners) here today because, God willing, he will be the one ordaining them. It’s a very exciting time for the church and it is wonderful to be a part of it," he said.
Discerner David Fiorito said his first impression was that his new shepherd is a man of joy. He also was very impressed when Bishop Matano said his agenda was to make people holy, and said the bishop’s dynamic love for the Catholic faith was evident.
"His focus is on showing Christ’s love through the church. I think that love is going to bring people back," Fiorito said.
Fellow discerner Ryan Tomko said Bishop Matano came across as both a great leader and a devoted follower of Jesus, as evidenced by his love for the Lord in the Eucharist and his devotion to the Mass. Tomko also was impressed by Bishop Matano’s remarks about the importance of promoting unity within the Catholic Church.
"He’s just a very humble, joy-filled man who looks like he’s truly excited to be here," Tomko said.
His willingness to serve the 12 counties of the Diocese of Rochester in the best ways possible was evident, according to Bernard Grizard, diocesan director of Parish and Clergy Services.
"My first thought is he’s obviously a man of deep faith who has a great pastoral sense and experiences," Grizard said. "I think his spirituality will help him to be a great shepherd."
As news spread of Bishop Matano’s appointment, tributes and messages of welcome also poured in from around New York.
"I have known Bishop Matano since his ordination and installation in Burlington, and have gotten to know him as a devout, very bright, faithful and courageous bishop," said Diocese of Buffalo Bishop Richard J. Malone. "He has a crisp sense of humor. I look forward to welcoming him to Western New York in our neighboring Diocese of Rochester."
On his blog, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said, "Bishop Matano has been an excellent Bishop of Burlington, and I know that he will be warmly welcomed as he undertakes his new pastoral duties in Rochester. He succeeds my good friend, Bishop Matthew Clark, who served the people of Rochester so well and so faithfully during his time as their bishop. I look forward to working with Bishop Matano in caring for God’s people in New York."
The New York State Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s bishops in matters of public policy, also formally welcomed Bishop Matano. During the press conference, the bishop had joked that as bishop of Burlington, he had by himself comprised the entire Vermont Catholic Conference, since the state has only one Catholic diocese.
"Bishop Matano clearly comes to this beautiful and historic diocese with a servant’s heart and a special concern for the poor and vulnerable," said the New York Catholic conference. "In his remarks today, he spoke of the great difficulties young people have today starting out in life, as well as the challenges facing the poor at the end of their lives. In this way, he echoed the words of Pope Francis, who recently made similar remarks when discussing the most urgent challenges facing the Church. As we continue our work advancing the public policy priorities of the state’s Bishops, we anticipate Bishop Matano’s leadership and pastoral sense to be a great asset in improving the lives of families and individuals across the state."
The New York Catholic conference also expressed deep appreciation to Bishop Clark, saying "(his) 33-year tenure as the shepherd of the Rochester Diocese was a great blessing to the Church in New York."
Contains reporting by Jennifer Burke.