Bishop Emeritus Matthew H. Clark, shepherd of the Diocese of Rochester for more than 33 years, died Sunday morning, January 22, 2023, at the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse in Pittsford. He was 85 years old.
“Bishop Clark was one of the finest and most well-rounded individuals I have ever known: loving, prayerful, learned, engaging, lighthearted, well-spoken, forward-looking, interesting,” observed Father Joseph Hart, pastor of Brighton’s St. Thomas More/Our Lady Queen of Peace parishes. Father Hart served as diocesan vicar general and moderator of the curia under Bishop Clark from 1998-2012.
“He was just such a wonderful gift to all of us and a gift we will treasure. I think most of us will spend the week (leading up to his funeral) with many happy memories, because that’s what he gave us and wanted us to have,” added Father John Mulligan, a senior diocesan priest who was moderator of the curia from 1988-98 and diocesan vicar general from 1988-2012 under Bishop Clark.
“Another saint in heaven,” remarked Father James Lawlor, another senior diocesan priest, whose friendship with Bishop Clark began in their seminary days.
Early connection to Rochester Diocese
Matthew Harvey Clark was born July 15, 1937, and grew up in the Town of Waterford near Albany. He attended Catholic Central High School in Troy; Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass.; and Mater Christi Seminary in Albany.
He formed an early connection to the Rochester Diocese as a seminarian at the former St. Bernard’s Seminary, which he attended from 1957-59.
“He was very much a part of the life of the seminary,” said Father Lawlor, noting that the bishop was a good student and athlete. “He didn’t stand aloof; he was very friendly.”
However, he said he didn’t detect any early signs that his classmate would someday become bishop. “In those days you don’t think of being a bishop,” he remarked. “You’re just trying to survive and be ordained.”
Father Lawlor said Bishop Clark was “such a gracious individual. He just had a real interest in each person, and took each person seriously.”
Bishop Clark served diocese for 33 years
The future bishop completed his priestly formation at the North American College in Rome and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Albany on Dec. 19, 1962, at the Church of Christ the King in Rome. Over the next decade, then-Father Clark served as a teacher, parish priest, vice chancellor and priests’ personnel director in the Albany Diocese. He also earned licentiates from Gregorian University in sacred theology (in 1963) and canon law (in 1966).
Father Clark served from 1972-79 as assistant spiritual director and later spiritual director for seminarians at the North American College.
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York, became his friend in the early 1970s when Bishop Clark was his spiritual director at the college. The cardinal was scheduled to serve as celebrant and homilist at Bishop Clark’s funeral Mass on Jan. 30.
In a Jan. 22 letter to Bishop Salvatore R. Matano, Cardinal Dolan wrote:
“While, given the fragile state of his health these recent years, we realized that he would soon be going home, his death still leaves a void in our lives, as we have savored and counted upon his gentle, wise, holy presence for decades, myself since I met him in 1973. Like you, I praise God for his person, his vocation, his long life, and ask the Jesus he loved and served to embrace Matthew for all eternity.”
On April 23, 1979, Bishop Clark was named to lead the Rochester Diocese by Pope St. John Paul II, who ordained him a bishop in St. Peter’s Basilica on May 27 of that year. At only 41 years old, he was installed as Rochester’s eighth bishop on June 26, 1979, continuing in that role until his 2012 retirement at age 75.
Bishop Clark’s tenure was the second-longest in diocesan history, second only to the 40-year reign of founding Bishop Bernard J. McQuaid.
A gentle, humble dignity
Father Paul Tomasso, current diocesan vicar general, was one of the first priests ordained by Bishop Clark in 1981 and served as the bishop’s secretary from 1986-96.
“Bishop Clark was someone who listened and encouraged others, especially children and young people, when visiting schools, colleges or on the church steps after a parish celebration. He believed we all can enrich one another by using our talents and blessings for the community. He easily brought warmth and respect into every meeting,” Father Tomasso said.
“Bishop Clark was a very compassionate and prayerful person, personally pained by the violence, suffering and poverty that seems to never go away,” Father Tomasso added. “Aware that these are big problems, he encouraged hope and effort just the same.”
“He could listen intently and respond with sincerity and compassion, even when imparting bad news,” Father Hart said. “He was loyal to the church, and was formed and reformed by the documents of the Second Vatican Council. He accepted disappointment and even pain with a peaceful resignation to the will of God.”
“He was never awed by his ecclesial status,” Father Hart added, noting that Bishop Clark would often quote St. Augustine: “For you I am a bishop; but with you I am a Christian. The former is a duty; the latter a grace. The former is a danger; the latter, salvation.”
Father Mulligan echoed Father Hart’s comments about Bishop Clark’s humility.
“He often just introduced himself as Matthew Clark. He would not put that ‘Bishop’ (title) on top of it,” Father Mulligan noted. “When he would attend a wake, he would wait in line for an hour. I’ve seen him do it. I would say, ‘Do you want me to move you up, tell people you’re the bishop?’ He’d say, ‘No, I’ll stay in line.’”
Bishop Clark ‘preferred to be in the parishes’
Father Kevin McKenna, pastor of St. Theodore Parish in Gates, said that he knew Bishop Clark well from their work together at the Diocese of Rochester’s Pastoral Center, where Father McKenna served as diocesan vice chancellor (1984-88), chancellor (1992-2001) and director of legal services (1991-2001).
“He greatly depended on his office staff for administrative support, since he much preferred to be in the parishes and interacting with the pastoral staff and parishioners,” Father McKenna said.
Father McKenna also resided with Bishop Clark at Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral, where Father McKenna served as rector from 2008-21.
“I always admired and appreciated that when he came back from the office, no doubt after several difficult meetings or appointments, he never complained or pouted. He was always gentle and even keeled, curious to know about our day, always with a wonderful wit and sense of humor,” he said.
“I also greatly admired his love for his family — I came to know them through their many visits to the rectory and Bishop Clark’s obvious love and affection for them — and them for him,” Father McKenna added.
Father McKenna noted that he also admired Bishop Clark’s long-running “Along the Way” column in the Catholic Courier: “He wrote with a human and often humorous touch.”
“My only regret is that I never could convince him to support the Toronto Blue Jays instead of his beloved Yankees,” Father McKenna quipped. “It was always the source for good-humored bantering between us. He always took time to call me or send me an email after a game, before I lived with him at the cathedral, in case I had missed a victory of the Yankees over the Jays.”
A source of support
Father Robert Schrader, a senior diocesan priest, served as diocesan director of priest personnel from January 1986 until December 1991. He noted that Bishop Clark placed an emphasis on strengthening programs to support priests.
“We worked very well together,” he said of Bishop Clark. “He was very good at delegating. He felt that if you had the job, it was yours to do, and elements of that showed in the people he appointed.”
Father Mulligan recalled Bishop Clark’s general air of calm as an administrator, saying, “Whenever some upsetting thing would be happening and I was fretting away, he’d say, ‘Now, don’t let that problem become your problem.’”
Ordained the Diocese of Rochester’s first permanent deacons
Deacon Edward Giblin, diocesan director of the permanent diaconate, noted that Bishop Clark ordained the diocese’s first class of permanent deacons in 1982.
“Both personally and professionally, Bishop Clark was always very supportive of the permanent deacons, their wives and families,” said Deacon Giblin, who was ordained in 2000. “He ordained many of the deacons who are serving today, along with those on senior status and those who have returned to the Lord. Our community joins the rest of the faithful in mourning his passing and commending him to the loving arms of the Servant Christ.”
Bishop emeritus leaves a legacy of love
In retirement, Bishop Clark immersed himself in leading retreats and missions. In 2019, he announced that he had been diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease and, a year later, he moved to the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse.
“Even in the last few years, he never lost that smile. He had that wonderful smile. That was just an indelible part of him,” Father Mulligan remarked.
“It was such an honor and privilege to have Bishop Matthew Clark stay at our motherhouse and be with us in his final years,” said Sister Eileen Daly, SSJ, congregational president. “His kind, gentle presence was a blessing for our sisters. He was a cherished friend. We are grateful to have walked with him during his time as bishop to witness his leadership, grace and compassion and to be at his side as he journeyed home to Christ. God bless our dear friend.”
Sister of Mercy Mary Ann Binsack began in 2001 as administrator of Bishop Clark’s office and has remained in that role ever since, handling his correspondence and official business.
“I have listened to many stories in the last few days from sisters, priests, family and friends who came to pray for and thank the bishop. They were all stories of how, in one way or another, he had touched them through listening to a concern, writing a note of encouragement, confirming a daughter or son, visiting a sick relative, or enjoying a meal at their home,” Sister Binsack said. “The stories went on and on. To me, these stories summed up his life as one lived as a man of deep faith and integrity who ministered with and for his people with abundant love and care.”
Bishop Clark’s episcopal motto was “God’s love endures forever.” He referenced that theme in an interview for a 2012 Catholic Courier story, giving a hushed, emotional response when asked about the legacy he hoped to leave as shepherd of the diocesan faithful.
“I would like to be remembered as someone who loved them,” Bishop Clark said.
Bishop Clark is survived by his sister, Helen (James) Early; nieces, Grace E. (Mark) Boss, Jane F. Early, Mary Ellen Early, Margaret H. (William) Warner and Kathleen L. Early; great-nieces and nephews, Shannon Hastings, Julie (Luke) Cullinan, Megan Neff, Patrick and Andrew Esposito, Liam and Sean McMahan, and Kevin and Jennifer Grignon; and several cousins.
Following Bishop Clark’s Jan. 30 funeral Mass, interment was set to take place at the bishops’ crypt at Rochester’s Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.Bishop Matthew H. Clark, NY Catholics