WEBSTER — Bishop Matthew H. Clark hung right in there, patiently answering question after question from a highly inquisitive press corps. Many of the interrogators bore smiles when all was said and done, indicating their satisfaction at his honest, detailed and frequently humorous responses.
Then again, it probably helped that the “media” were actually elementary-school students, and the questions were perhaps a tad gentler than a professional reporter’s might be.
The lively exchanges came during a March 4 presentation by Bishop Clark on his life as a bishop. More than half of St. Rita Church was filled with fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders, as well as parents and staff, from faith-formation programs in the Webster-Penfield Catholic Connection parishes of St. Rita, Holy Trinity, Holy Spirit and St. Paul.
Bishop Clark opened the event by presenting an oral autobiographical sketch, from his childhood in Albany up to his 1979 installation as Bishop of Rochester. He then spent a few minutes detailing his duties as bishop before sailing into a question-and-answer session involving 21 youths who emerged from front pews, one by one, and stepped up to a microphone.
Some of the queries provoked chuckles from the audience, such as, “How do you pay your bills?” and, “If you had a choice, would you rather be able to fly or be invisible?” Bishop Clark often responded with humor of his own: Asked if he has any siblings, he said he has one sister who “was always, and is now, an absolute sweetheart.” After a pause, he added, “I’m the annoying one.” A bit later the 71-year-old bishop was asked, “If you couldn’t be a bishop, what other job could you do?” He quipped, “I’m not sure I could get a job,” before noting that as a young adult, he had considered becoming a teacher or lawyer.
Other questions and responses included:
What do you do in your spare time? The bishop enjoys attending Rochester Red Wings baseball and Buffalo Bills football games. He’s fond of reading, spending time with family and vacationing each summer in Cape Cod with the same friends: “Most of you would probably be bored to tears. We just hang out, read books, exercise, pray, just enjoy each other’s company.”
What sports do you like? Bishop Clark has enjoyed playing basketball, baseball, football and racquetball. These days his exercise routines involve riding a stationary bike, walking and weight training.
Do you have a pet? He had a couple of Dalmatian dogs growing up, but has not owned any pets as an adult.
Do you drive your own car? The bishop said he usually drives himself in his Buick Lucerne and enjoys doing so — although some people have told him they were surprised that, as bishop, he doesn’t have a limousine and/or chauffeur.
What was your favorite book when you were my age (9)? Robinson Crusoe.
When you were a teenager, did you want to go to Mass? “I really did. I think that’s because I always found Mass to be a place where I felt close to God, to my family, to other people in the parish. In all honestly, I never missed Mass as a teenager unless I was sick or something,” he said, adding that for those who drift away from regular Mass attendance, “I really think that’s shortchanging yourself, I really do. I think it’s taking you away from a real treasure.”
What saint do you admire the most? The bishop rated Teresa of Avila as his favorite female saint — “it wasn’t easy for her, but she had immense courage” — and St. Francis of Assisi and St. Ignatius of Loyola among his top favorite male saints.
Do you confess your sins, and if so, how? “Yes, and the same way you do.”
What do you do on a normal day? “No two days are ever the same,” he said, noting that most are a blend of meetings, writing, visiting people who are sick or in prison, and receiving priests, deacons, women religious and other people wishing to see him: “It’s very exciting; you can’t predict (what will happen.)”
How long is your normal work day? Bishop Clark said he still logs the occasional 12- to 14-hour day, but “I used to do that more often in earlier years.”
Are you hoping to become a cardinal? “No, I’m perfectly happy to be where I am and who I am.”
What’s the most fun part about being a bishop? “Things like this (event).”