Bishops at Rochester's helm kept calm amidst storms - Catholic Courier
Bishop Bernard J. McQuaid Bishop Bernard J. McQuaid

Bishops at Rochester’s helm kept calm amidst storms

As the ninth Bishop of Rochester, Bishop Salvatore R. Matano joins a long and storied history of prelates shepherding the Diocese of Rochester.

Bishop Bernard J. McQuaid

That history began in 1868, when the Diocese of Rochester was officially separated from the Diocese of Buffalo on March 3 and its first and longest-serving bishop, Bishop Bernard J. McQuaid, was appointed.

At the time, Bishop McQuaid oversaw eight counties: Monroe, Livingston, Wayne, Ontario, Seneca, Cayuga, Yates and Tompkins. Four Southern Tier counties — Tioga, Chemung, Schuyler and Steuben — remained with the Buffalo Diocese until they were added to the Diocese of Rochester in 1896.

Bishop McQuaid had been vicar general of the Diocese of Newark, N.J., founding president of Seton Hall University and founder of the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth. A proudly native of New York City, he was the son of Irish immigrants who led an effort to build a Catholic church in Paulus Hook, N.J., which is now Jersey City.

Orphaned at 8, Bishop McQuaid was raised in a Manhattan asylum by the Sisters of Charity. He shunned alcohol, was firmly committed to personal poverty and avoided hearty laughter due to a “weak chest” — possibly due to a bout of tuberculosis — according to The Diocese of Rochester in America: 1868-1993 by the late Father Robert F. McNamara, former diocesan archivist.

At the outset of his episcopacy, Bishop McQuaid oversaw 54,500 Catholics, 35 parish churches and 29 mission churches. By the time of his death in 1909 after more than four decades of shepherding the diocese, it encompassed 93 parishes, 36 mission churches, 53 parish schools, 164 priests and 121,000 total Catholics.

Bishop McQuaid encouraged the establishment of communities of women religious, and founded a diocesan-wide network of tuition-free parochial schools with sisters at the helm. To help support these institutions, he strongly enforced rules barring Catholics from attending non-Catholic schools and colleges.

He also fostered priestly vocations among the young people in the diocese at a time when most other bishops sought priests from Europe. Using special collections, he founded St. Andrew’s Preparatory Seminary and St. Bernard’s Theological Seminary.

Though still new in his role of bishop, he journeyed to Rome to take part in the First Vatican Council, which met from 1869-70. According to Father McNamara’s account, he departed from Rome early so as to avoid voting against the pope on the establishment of the dogma of papal infallibility.

He founded Holy Sepulchre Cemetery and built boys’ and girls’ orphan asylums; high schools for boys and girls; St. Ann’s Home for the Aged; and several diocesan hospitals. He owned a personal farm and vineyard on Hemlock Lake; although the property was later sold, it still produces sacramental wine under his O-Neh-Da label.

“For his zeal, his uncompromising devotion to duty as he conceived it, his ‘leonine courage,’ his magnificence of dream and deed, Bernard John McQuaid deserves to be ranked among the great bishops of the American Church,” Father McNamara wrote in his book.

Archbishop Thomas F. Hickey

Before his death, Bishop McQuaid handpicked his successor, having Bishop Thomas Francis Hickey appointed coadjutor bishop with right of succession in 1905.

Born in Rochester, Bishop Hickey also was the son of Irish immigrant parents and a product of St. Andrew’s Preparatory Seminary. After graduation, he attended St. Joseph’s Provincial Seminary in Troy, N.Y. While he was studying in Troy, his father — a tailor — lost his business, which put young Thomas’ education in doubt. However, Thomas’ 17-year-old brother, Jeremiah, volunteered to work so Thomas could continue his studies. Jeremiah later cofounded the custom clothing manufacturer Hickey-Freeman.

As a priest, Thomas Hickey served as diocesan vicar general and rector of the cathedral. He also founded Cathedral High School, which would later become Aquinas Institute.

During his tenure, he relaxed some of Bishop McQuaid’s firm stances, such as the ban on Catholics attending non-Catholic colleges, and started a program of catechetical education for public-school students. He encouraged the development of churches to serve the numerous foreign-language groups that had settled in the diocese, including Italian and Lithuanian Catholics.

Bishop Hickey continued to found parochial schools, combined diocesan charitable institutions into Catholic Charities and supported an apostolate for the deaf that the Redemptorist Fathers had begun in 1908.

He also founded a lay retreat movement, a girls’ boarding house, Charles Settlement House and a fourth diocesan hospital — Mercy Hospital in Auburn. He helped shepherd the diocese through World War I and the Spanish influenza, which orphaned many children. He also encouraged the development of such groups as the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Women’s Club of Rochester and Catholic Scouting groups.

In 1928 Bishop Hickey resigned his post just prior to serving nearly 20 years. According to Father McNamara’s account, Bishop Hickey was prone to indecisiveness, and eventually agreed to retire when it became clear that he could not make the administrative decisions required of a bishop. He spent his remaining 12 years assisting in parishes, teaching at schools, and giving instructions and conferences.

Bishop J. Francis O’Hern

The announcement of Bishop Hickey’s resignation was made by his vicar general, Msgr. Francis O’Hern, who would become the third Bishop of Rochester.

Bishop O’Hern, who was to serve four years in office, was born in Olean to Irish immigrant parents. He attended St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s seminaries and then attended the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He quickly distinguished himself among the ranks of priests and was named bishop in 1929; at the time, the diocese had 208,000 Catholics, according to Father McNamara’s account.

Due to the short duration of his episcopacy and a shortage of funds during the Great Depression, Bishop O’Hern’s role was limited, Father McNamara’s diocesan history notes, but he established several new parishes and mission churches in the diocese and opened Catholic high schools in Auburn and Elmira.

He welcomed into the diocese many orders of men and women religious who filled various roles, from education to prayer to ministry, and he founded several lay associations, including the Nocturnal Adoration Society.

He made interfaith and ecumenical efforts that were considered remarkable at the time, according to Father McNamara’s book, and he appointed Catholic chaplains for the secular universities. He led the diocese in taking over the Knights of Columbus’ Columbus Civic Center, which was mired in debt, and he moved the diocesan offices to that location. A former prison chaplain, he was instrumental in encouraging chaplaincies at correctional institutions.

Cardinal Edward A. Mooney

In 1933, Bishop O’Hern, 58, died of a heart attack at his episcopal residence. He was succeeded by Archbishop Edward A. Mooney, who was notified of his new role while visiting the United States during a break from his post as apostolic delegate to Japan.

Born in Mount Savage, Md., the future Cardinal Mooney grew up in Ohio and was a priest of the Diocese of Cleveland. His father had been born in Ireland and his mother had been born in America to Irish immigrants.

Cardinal Mooney distinguished himself scholastically, and after ordination he served the Diocese of Cleveland as a theology professor and founder of a boy’s high school. He was called to Rome to be spiritual director of the North American College, his alma mater. Later he was named a titular archbishop and papal delegate to India, where he distinguished himself in diplomatically resolving a hierarchical dispute and helping to establish the Indian church. He also served two years as apostolic delegate to Japan before his appointment to Rochester. He was installed Oct. 12, 1933.

During his time in Rochester, Cardinal Mooney retained the title of archbishop as a personal distinction. During his episcopacy, the population of the diocese was relatively stable, growing by 9,000 Catholics from 1933-37 to a total of 223,000.

As seminarian vocations burgeoned during this time, priests borrowed from other dioceses were sent home. He also established the diocesan Clergy Relief Society to support disabled and needy priests. He transferred operation of Aquinas Institute to the Basilian Fathers of Toronto and, as part of the agreement, gave Basilians priority in the future establishment of a Catholic men’s college. This led to the order opening St. John Fisher College in 1951.

Due to his extensive foreign travel and service, Cardinal Mooney heavily promoted foreign missions and the annual Mission Sunday Mass. He also established the St. Peter Claver Society within the diocese to evangelize and unite African-American Catholics. He served as a director of the Rochester Community Chest and organized efforts to aid Southern Tier parishes after a devastating flood in 1935.

He promoted rural and urban catechetics and advocated for a living wage for workers and fair treatment of employees. He was elected chairman of the National Catholic Welfare Council in 1935 — precursor to the modern U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — and served in that role nearly every year until 1946.

In 1937, Cardinal Mooney was appointed to lead the church of Detroit, which had recently become an archdiocese; he would be elevated to cardinal in 1946. At the time of his departure from Rochester, Cardinal Mooney was negotiating the sale of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and its rectory, the diocesan chancery, and St. Andrew’s Seminary, which had been landlocked by Eastman Kodak Co. buildings in Rochester. The camera and filmmaker offered $300,000 for the complex, which ultimately was dismantled to make way for a new Kodak building.

When the buildings were sold in September 1937, Sacred Heart Church was temporarily designated the pro-cathedral (temporary cathedral).

Bishop James E. Kearney

When Salt Lake Bishop James E. Kearney was subsequently appointed Bishop of Rochester, he gave permission for the sale of the properties.

Bishop Kearney, an Iowan by birth and son of Irish immigrants, had been an infant when his parents moved to Manhattan, where his father sold furniture. Studying both to be a priest and teacher, Bishop Kearney founded St. Francis Xavier Parish in the Bronx. He also taught religion at Good Counsel College in White Plains twice a week, and was superintendent of Catholic schools in the Bronx. He was ordained a bishop and installed as Bishop of Salt Lake in 1932, according to Father McNamara’s history.

Upon arriving in Rochester in 1937, he traveled widely within its borders and worked to fight unemployment that lingered from the Great Depression. Historical accounts say Bishop Kearney was the first to celebrate a solemn pontifical Mass in an American penal establishment when he celebrated the construction of the Chapel of St. John Bosco at the State Reformatory in Elmira.

He campaigned against artificial-birth-control clinics as well as morally objectionable motion pictures and publications. He pledged interfaith goodwill and bestowed mission crosses on several women religious journeying to Selma, Ala., where they opened a hospital for underserved African-Americans.

Construction projects were for the most part deferred until after the end of World War II, when the population of the diocese blossomed due to baby boomers and immigrants. In 1950, the Catholic population of the diocese was 320,700, and it had grown to 361,790 by 1967, according to the Official Catholic Directory. New waves of Catholic immigrants and migrants arrived, including Lithuanians, Italians, Hungarians and Puerto Ricans.

New parishes were established to accommodate a shift of population from urban centers into such places as Brighton, Chili, Irondequoit, Webster, Perinton, Henrietta, Greece, Gates, Auburn, Painted Post, Horseheads and Owego.

Bishop Kearney raised millions to help fund education construction, including building McQuaid Jesuit High School in Brighton, Mount Carmel High School in Auburn, Notre Dame High School in Elmira, Bishop Kearney High School in Irondequoit and Cardinal Mooney High School in Greece. By the end of 1966, the diocese comprised 13 Catholic high schools with a combined total of 10,350 students. Registration at diocesan elementary schools peaked at 55,000 in 1959. Yet as education costs rose due to the declining number of available women religious to serve as teachers, the diocese placed a moratorium on building new Catholic schools and began to expand catechetical programs and training for lay catechists.

Bishop Kearney also requested the first auxiliary bishop for the diocese, native Rochesterian Bishop Lawrence B. Casey, formerly the vice chancellor and Sacred Heart Cathedral rector. He also received permission to name martyr St. John Fisher as the diocesan patron.

Bishop Kearney participated in the first month of the Second Vatican Council, with Bishop Casey representing the diocese throughout. After three weeks of instructions, the vernacular Mass was introduced throughout the diocese in 1964, and Masses were said for the first time in English, Italian, Polish, Spanish and Lithuanian.

Bishop Kearney also promoted foreign missions and sent priests and women religious to work in Bolivia, Brazil and Chile. He also created a diocesan ecumenical commission that began to work with Protestant denominations. Lastly, he saw Bishop Casey installed as the fifth Bishop of Paterson, N.J., in 1966.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Later that year, after a change in rules requiring bishops to retire upon reaching their 75th birthdays, Bishop Kearney, who was 81, submitted his resignation. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen — already world renowned for his television show, “Life is Worth Living,” and his radio evangelization and missionary efforts — was named the sixth Bishop of Rochester. He was installed in December 1966. Known as Bishop Sheen while in Rochester, he was named the titular archbishop of Newport, Wales, in 1969.

A native of El Paso, Ill., Archbishop Sheen was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria in 1919. Pursuing an academic career, he won distinction as an author, preacher and lecturer. He taught at the Catholic University of America for more than 20 years and served as the national secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.

According to Father McNamara’s account, Archbishop Sheen aimed to make the Diocese of Rochester a showcase of observance of Vatican II precepts and he placed emphasis on urban ministry; alleviating poverty; such new forms of administration as the Priests’ Council; and new educational structures. Among these was the transformation of St. Andrew’s Preparatory Seminary into King’s Preparatory School, a coeducational vocational high school. He brought the Cursillo movement to the diocese and fought state efforts to legalize abortion. He established Bishop Sheen Housing Foundation as a way to build affordable housing, and he participated in local interfaith discussions.

According to Father McNamara’s account, Archbishop Sheen’s exit from the diocese was hastened by his media announcement that he planned to donate Rochester’s St. Bridget Parish to the federal government to be used for affordable housing — a plan that he had not discussed with St. Bridget’s pastor or parishioners. After significant outcry, Archbishop Sheen rescinded the offer and chose to retire about a year later in 1969, several months before his 75th birthday.

Bishop Joseph L. Hogan

He was succeeded by Msgr. Joseph L. Hogan, a Rochester priest, who had spent much of his time in the academic world as a teacher at St. Andrew’s Seminary, principal at DeSales High School in Geneva, professor of fundamental dogma at St. Bernard’s Seminary, and a theology professor at St. John Fisher College and the Sisters of St. Joseph Novitiate.

The first local priest to head the diocese in four decades, Bishop Hogan was born in Lima, where he grew up in St. Rose Parish.

Ordained in 1942, Bishop Hogan served as a parish priest and also was the first rector of Becket Hall, which at the time was a residence for college-level seminarians attending St. John Fisher College, and which today is the diocesan house of discernment. After King’s Preparatory School closed in 1970, Bishop Hogan chose its facility to house the diocesan administrative offices.

He authorized Saturday-evening Masses, lay lectors and extraordinary ministers of holy Communion and Communion in the hand, and he also took an active role in ecumenical and interfaith relations. He helped found Genesee Ecumenical Ministries, and worked with Rabbi Judea Miller on social issues. He also played a key role in a successful boycott of a clothing manufacturer that was accused of treating its workers unfairly, according to Father McNamara’s diocesan history.

He helped to expand the role of the laity called for during Vatican II, created the Office of Black Ministry, established a diocesan Pastoral Council, and gave the laity more say in diocesan and parish decisions. He appointed women religious and laypeople to serve as pastoral assistants. A month after New York decriminalized abortion in June 1970, he wrote a pastoral letter that condemned it as immoral. He also visited diocesan missions and started a sister-diocese relationship with the Mexican Diocese of Tabasco.

Bishop Hogan is most known for his 1975 pastoral letter, “You are Living Stones,” which received national acclaim and was noted for its post-Vatican II vision of laity and clergy working hand in hand. The document also prompted the establishment of the permanent diaconate program in the diocese.

Bishop Hogan resigned in 1978 due to ill health but remained in the Rochester area teaching at St. John Fisher College, among other roles. He died Aug. 27, 2000.

Bishop Emeritus Matthew H. Clark

Bishop Matthew H. Clark, who was appointed in 1979 at the age of 41 as the eighth Bishop of Rochester by Pope John Paul II, went from serving as spiritual director of the North American College in Rome to shepherding more than 350,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Rochester.

A native of the Diocese of Albany, Bishop Clark was no stranger to the Diocese of Rochester, having studied at St. Bernard’s Seminary in Rochester from 1957-59. Bishop Clark was the second-longest-serving bishop in the Diocese of Rochester, surpassed only by the diocese’s first bishop, Bishop McQuaid.

Bishop Clark elevated laypeople into key leadership roles and closed churches and schools. His 1982 pastoral letter “The Fire in the Thornbush,” gained national attention for promoting women’s participation and inclusion in church and society. That emerged as a key priority of a diocesan synod that took place in 1993. He also strongly promoted the participation of young people and the development of interfaith relations, signing historic agreements with Jewish and Muslim leaders in 1996 and 2003, respectively.

Among his other accomplishments were piloting the annual Catholic Ministries Appeal (formerly Thanks Giving Appeal) and several capital campaigns, as well as overseeing the major renovations at Sacred Heart Cathedral and the evolution of St. Bernard’s Seminary into St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry.

In 1986, he expressed his support for diocesan priest Father Charles Curran, who was removed from a position teaching Catholic theology at the Catholic University of America. Bishop Clark also presided at a controversial Mass of Healing in 1997 for gays and lesbians and their families and friends.

In 1998, he removed Father James Callan as administrator of Rochester’s Corpus Christi Parish for repeated violations of church teachings. Some members of Corpus Christi eventually formed the schismatic church Spiritus Christi.

Bishop Clark also removed many priests from ministry due to allegations of sexual abuse of minors, including six in one day in 2002.

A steady decline in priest availability led to parish closings and consolidations, and the decline of women religious in Catholic schools was one of the factors that led to closings of many Catholic schools during Bishop Clark’s tenure. In 2008 alone, 14 schools closed.

Bishop Clark submitted his resignation upon his 75th birthday on July 15, 2012, and it was accepted on Sept. 21, 2012, when Syracuse Bishop Robert J. Cunningham was appointed apostolic administrator. Bishop Clark was later diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He died Jan. 22, 2023.

On Nov. 6, 2013, his replacement and the ninth Bishop of Rochester was announced: Bishop Salvatore R. Matano, who had been ninth Bishop of the Diocese of Burlington since 2005. The Providence, R.I., native was installed as Rochester’s bishop Jan. 3, 2014.

Tags: Bishop Matthew H. Clark, Bishop Salvatore R. Matano
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