Father Hart made mark as Pastoral Center moderator - Catholic Courier
Father Joseph A. Hart (left) and Bishop Salvatore R. Matano (right) react to words of praise for Father Hart during a June 3 reception honoring the priest for his 17 years as moderator of the diocesan Pastoral Center. Father Joseph A. Hart (left) and Bishop Salvatore R. Matano (right) react to words of praise for Father Hart during a June 3 reception honoring the priest for his 17 years as moderator of the diocesan Pastoral Center.

Father Hart made mark as Pastoral Center moderator

When he became diocesan vicar general and moderator of the Pastoral Center in 1998, Father Joseph A. Hart wasted no time in rolling up his sleeves.

His first task was to help address a growing crisis involving Rochester’s Corpus Christi Parish, where leaders’ disagreements with the diocese over several church teachings eventually would lead to a schism that garnered national headlines. Also that year, Father Hart began overseeing implementation of a pastoral plan that led to a major reconfiguration of parishes and Pastoral Center operations.

The ensuring years saw Father Hart carrying out important and often difficult decisions in such areas as renovations, capital campaigns, budgets and staffing.

"It’s a job that has to be done," he said. "You’re working in operations, trying to accomplish what needs to be done, trying to do so in a cost-effective way."

Father Hart’s tenure at the Pastoral Center concluded June 30 when he began as pastor of St. Thomas More and Our Lady Queen of Peace parishes in Brighton. His replacement as vicar general and moderator of the Pastoral Center — also known as moderator of the curia — is Father Paul Tomasso, who had led Greece’s Our Mother of Sorrows Parish since 2013.

Father Hart, who turned 70 on July 16, was ordained to the diocesan priesthood in 1973. He has an extensive academic and theological background that includes a licentiate of sacred theology and a doctorate in sacred theology, the latter of which he attained summa cum laude from Rome’s Gregorian University in 1981. He also logged many years of teaching at St. Bernard’s Seminary and St. Bernard’s Institute, now called St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry.

Yet Father Hart said his organizational work as director of the diocesan Synod from 1990-93 likely led Bishop Emeritus Matthew H. Clark to consider him for the positions of vicar general and moderator of the Pastoral Center. In the moderator role, Father Hart succeeded Father John Mulligan, who had held that position since 1988 and continued as a vicar general until 2012.

The moderator of the curia functions as the equivalent of a chief operating officer of a diocese. According to the Revised Code of Canon Law, No. 473, this person, "under the authority of the bishop, is to coordinate those things which pertain to the treatment of administrative affairs and to take care that the other members of the curia (diocesan staff) properly fulfill the office entrusted to them. This person is usually a vicar general."

Although the Pastoral Center operated under a deficit budget in his first year, Father Hart noted that it hasn’t run a deficit since. Attaining such fiscal efficiency required him to make staffing cuts that saw the Pastoral Center staff shrink from 127 employees in 1998 to the current total of 83, he acknowledged.

In making such cuts, he said the question to be asked was: "What are the ministerial needs while working within a budget? Here is the bottom line, the pot of money we can work with, and what’s the best use of it."

Father Joseph A. Hart concelebrates a June 3 Mass at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Gates. Father Hart’s tenure as diocesan vicar general and moderator of the Pastoral Center concluded June 30.

Father Hart also has been involved in decisions regarding the consolidation of parishes, closing of schools, major renovations at Sacred Heart Cathedral and the Pastoral Center, and the construction of a new Pittsford facility for St. Bernard’s.

"In each case you’re trying to minimize the negative while always moving toward the positive — what is our mission, how does this advance preaching of the Gospel," he said.

Father Hart said he believes many positive steps have occurred over the past 17 years: "I can’t sit here and say I did this all by myself. It’s really been a wonderful team of people, directors who have made hard decisions with you," he remarked.

His efforts are appreciated by Bishop Salvatore R. Matano, who observed that "Father Hart served as vicar general and moderator of the Curia for 17 years with dedication and enthusiasm. The effects of his leadership can be seen throughout our diocese. I know the faithful at St. Thomas More and Our Lady Queen of Peace will benefit from his knowledge and pastoral experience."

On June 3, the Pastoral Center hosted a send-off luncheon for Father Hart, during which Bernard Grizard, diocesan director of Parish and Clergy Services, commented that Father Hart "has transformed the Pastoral Center and the local church of Rochester for the better."

Bishop Emeritus Matthew H. Clark, meanwhile, described Father Hart as "an extraordinary minister."

"We’re going to appreciate the depth and breadth of his contributions more and more in the years ahead," Bishop Clark added. "He really has been the best."

Bishop Clark said he considered Father Hart one of three key right-hand men during his 33 years as bishop, the others being Father Mulligan and the late Auxiliary Bishop Dennis W. Hickey.

"Each one gave their heart and soul for the good of the diocese," he said.

Father Hart’s new assignment at Our Lady Queen of Peace/St. Thomas More is actually not so new in some respects. He has resided at Queen of Peace since 1995, when he began a three-year pastorate there. He continued on at Queen of Peace as assisting priest as well as at St. Thomas More while working in diocesan administration.

"There’s never been a time I haven’t been involved in parish ministry some way or another," he said. "I look forward to returning to full-time ministry."

 

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