It’s been 40 years since St. John Paul II named the young Father Matthew H. Clark as eighth bishop of the Diocese of Rochester, and the infants Bishop Clark baptized during his first year as shepherd of the Rochester flock are now adults, many with children of their own. The bishop emeritus said he’s grateful for having been able to play a role in the lives of these and thousands of other local Catholics.
“Over 40 years you have the privilege of (watching) generations come by,” Bishop Clark said. “When I meet people like that I’m always curious how their spiritual growth has been, what they’ve achieved.”
People often share stories of the times Bishop Clark confirmed them, or officiated at their weddings, or presided at a parent’s funeral. Such pastoral experiences have been one of the joys of his years in Rochester, he remarked.
Bishop Clark grew up just down the Thruway from Rochester, in the Town of Waterford in the Diocese of Albany, but spent two years in Rochester while studying at St. Bernard’s Seminary in the late 1950s. He also studied at Albany’s Mater Christi Seminary and the North American College in Rome before he was ordained a priest of the Albany Diocese in 1962.
After ordination, he earned licentiates in sacred theology and canon law from Gregorian University in Rome and spent several years ministering at two parishes in the Diocese of Albany and as that diocese’s vice chancellor and chairman of its Priest Personnel Board.
He had studied at the North American College in Rome before his ordination and in 1972 returned to the Eternal City, eventually becoming spiritual director at his alma mater. By 1979 he was ready to return to Albany and engage in parish ministry, but those plans did not come to fruition.
“When I got home I didn’t go to a parish. I became the pastor of the (Rochester) diocese, and that was a surprise, but it was also a great blessing,” Bishop Clark said.
He was installed as bishop during a June 26, 1979, ceremony at Rochester’s War Memorial, which is a moment he still recalls fondly. Another highlight of his 33-year tenure as Rochester’s bishop is the diocese’s three-year synod process, which culminated in a 1993 General Synod, also at the War Memorial. This process identified as diocesan priorities lifelong faith formation, the consistent life ethic, support for the role of women in the church and the establishment of small Christian communities.
“That was an extraordinary experience for our diocese,” he said.
Bishop Clark retired after turning 75 in 2012, but he keeps busy leading parish retreats.
“I love to do those,” he said. “It’s a time of grace and renewal for parishes, and I’m so pleased to be a part of it.”Tags: Bishop Matthew H. Clark