CLYDE — When Bishop Matthew H. Clark agreed to speak at this year’s first installment of the Family Education Program at the former St. John School in Clyde, event organizers didn’t assign him a specific topic to talk about.
This didn’t bother Bishop Clark, who simply decided to talk about what he knows best: his job as bishop of the Diocese of Rochester.
"There’s only one bishop in the shop right now, and you have only one person to call if you want to hear some reflections about the office of bishop," he said during his presentation.
The Family Education Program has brought dozens of distinguished speakers to Clyde throughout the years, but Sept. 9 marked the bishop’s first visit as a featured speaker. Through this program, which is sponsored by St. John the Evangelist Parish in Clyde and St. Patrick Parish in Savannah, adults gather once a month in the school’s basement to learn more about their faith while their children are upstairs in their own faith-formation classes.
Father James Hewes, who was pastor of the parishes for seven years, helped put together the slate of speakers for the 2007-08 series before he left in June for a new position as parochial administrator at St. Joseph Parish in Rush.
The Family Education Program has always been popular, but the bishop’s presentation attracted a record-breaking crowd of 130 adults, noted Sister of St. Joseph Diane Dennie, pastoral administrator of the newly formed cluster of St. John and St. Patrick parishes and St. Michael Parish in Lyons.
During his presentation, Bishop Clark recalled his ordination to the office of bishop 28 years ago. Pope John Paul II ordained Bishop Clark and 25 other priests from 11 countries and five continents on May 27, 1979.
"When he ordained the 26 of us, he ordained us primarily and firstly to the College of Bishops. All 26 of us held in common that day that we were now part of the College of Bishops," Bishop Clark said. "The difference is that I was entrusted with the pastoral care of the wonderful Diocese of Rochester."
Bishop Clark was formally installed as the eighth Bishop of Rochester in a June 25, 1979, ceremony that drew 10,000 people.
"Ever since then it’s been my primary responsibility to serve the spiritual needs of this faith community. … The bishop should be deeply involved with the community of faith that he’s asked to shepherd and care for," Bishop Clark said.
A bishop is called to be attentive to the elements of life that build up the bonds of faith, unity and charity within his diocese, the bishop added. A bishop should encourage the members of his community and remind them of the depth and beauty of their individual vocations.
"What we hold most deeply in common is that we are baptized in the dying and rising of Christ and are called to be disciples in all that we do. … I am called to serve as bishop not to serve with greater generosity than you do. It’s just that I am called to serve and exercise my discipleship in service to the community," Bishop Clark said.
Although the Catholics of the Diocese of Rochester are his primary concern, Bishop Clark said he occasionally must attend to matters of concern outside the diocese. He does this primarily through his involvement with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the New York State Catholic Conference, which is the public-policy arm of the state’s eight bishops. He also is directly and personally responsible to Pope Benedict XVI, although, "I’m not on the phone with him a lot," the bishop joked.
"Every five years we have to write up a rather detailed report against schema that he sends us, and then follow up on the report with a meeting," Bishop Clark said.
The bishop spoke for an hour before taking a short break for refreshments with his audience. After the refreshments he answered questions from the audience for 15 minutes before the children came downstairs from their own classes. Children and adults alike were impressed by the bishop’s presentation and presence, Sister Dennie said.
"He really spent a lot of time and was good with the children, too. When they came down at the end, a lot of the parents took their kids over to say hello to the bishop and he sat down and spent time with them," she said.
Robin Connor said she and her husband, Tom, enjoyed Bishop Clark’s talk. Parishioners of Blessed Trinity Catholic Community in Wolcott, Red Creek and Fairhaven, Connor said she and her husband had been interested in the Family Education Program for some time but had never before attended a presentation. When they heard the bishop was coming to Clyde, they decided, "it’s time to listen," she said.
"I wanted to see the bishop. I’ve never seen the bishop," she said.
"He was very informative. I liked hearing about how he became a bishop," she added after the presentation.
St. John parishioners Deanna Sharp and Colleen Aldrich have been to many Family Education Program presentations. Nonetheless, they still look forward to coming to each session and learning about something new, they agreed.
Sharp wanted to listen to Bishop Clark because she hadn’t seen him since he confirmed her 26 years ago at St. Patrick Parish in Seneca Falls, where she grew up.
"I thought it was interesting," added Aldrich, who especially liked the way the bishop asked people to encourage the young people they knew to consider priestly and religious vocations. "I would have never thought about it."