People of many faiths recall interactions with Bishop Clark - Catholic Courier
Two men lean over a table to sign documents. Bishop Matthew H. Clark is on the left and Dr. Muhammad Shafiq on the right. Bishop Matthew H. Clark (left) and Dr. Muhammad Shafiq sign the Muslim-Catholic Agreement of Understanding and Cooperation on May 5, 2003. (Courier file photo)

People of many faiths recall interactions with Bishop Clark

Members of the community offered the following remembrances of their interactions with the late Bishop Matthew H. Clark.

‘Wonderful way of remembering names’

“He had such a wonderful way of remembering people’s names. I wish I had that gift,” said Deacon Joe Placious, whom Bishop Clark ordained to the permanent diaconate in 2005 and who currently serves at Charlotte’s Holy Cross and Greece’s Our Mother of Sorrows parishes. “He was a wonderful support to us (deacons).”

Deacon Placious noted that Bishop Clark was well-known for his dedication to fitness, and he was seen around many parts of Rochester while going on jogs.

Bishop remembered as ‘a gentle shepherd’

Father William Coffas, pastor of Charlotte’s Holy Cross and Greece’s Our Mother of Sorrows parishes, noted Bishop Clark’s humility.

“He was a gentle shepherd,” said Father Coffas, whom the late bishop ordained to the priesthood in 2004. “He would remind us that we are all a work in progress and he, as a bishop, was a work in progress.”

Father Coffas said he felt the pastoral qualities Bishop Clark displayed as bishop were honed through his several years of giving spiritual direction in Rome.

“He never left the ministry of being a spiritual director,” Father Coffas said.

‘Great compassion and care for people’

“During Bishop Clark’s time as bishop of Rochester, he seemed to lead us forward, never shying away from the issues that confronted us as a church,” said the bishop’s close friend Sister Patricia Schoelles, SSJ. “Questions of women’s role in the church, diversity of ministries among us, inclusion of gay and lesbian Catholics in our communities, interfaith and ecumenical relations in the Rochester and wider communities are only a few of the areas where Bishop Clark demonstrated true leadership and led us to new depths of engagement. I will be grateful to him for all these inroads for the rest of my life.

“He has also been for so many of us a man of great compassion and care for people — often the very people perceived to be at the “bottom” of our social strata.

“As a minister of the church and as a human being, Bishop Matthew Clark will remain a beloved friend and example to the Diocese of Rochester.”

Bishop’s ‘kind, gentle presence’ blessed sisters

“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, congregational president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester. “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.”

Bishop Clark was never alone in final days

“I have been hearing some nice stories (at the SSJ motherhouse) about these days leading up to his death … he was never alone,” said Dawn Gruba, director of mission advancement for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester. “They had a schedule with shifts. Sister Marie Suzanne Hoffman, chaplain at Monroe Community Hospital and motherhouse resident, would come in the evenings and sing to him because he loved music. Others would pray.”

Remembered as ‘welcoming to all’

“He was so compassionate and attentive, especially to our youth,” said Sister Laurie Orman, RSM, middle-school religion and social studies teacher at St. Mary School, Canandaigua. “He knew their names, and when you spoke with him, he was focused on you and nothing else around him. He was down to earth and loved to laugh and learn. I also found him to be welcoming to all.

“Our gatherings for the Chrism Mass and other functions allowed for all to participate and really allowed representation of our diocese as a whole. Many times I was given the gift of serving at a Mass for him, and he was so gracious. For me personally, I found Bishop Clark to be a humble man, and I have carried that through my parish ministry and even now as I teach in a Catholic school. Bishop Clark gifted us all with his presence, his prayerfulness and his love for Christ.”

Clark a bridge builder and peacemaker

“Bishop Matthew Clark was a great person and a holy leader,” said Dr. Muhammad Shafiq, executive director of the Hickey Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue at Nazareth College and one of the signers of the 2003 Catholic-Muslim Agreement of Understanding and Cooperation. “He was a bridge builder, he was a peacemaker, and he believed in peaceful coexistence. He made a big change within his own diocese in terms of how people can think about interfaith (cooperation). …

“The Catholic-Muslim Agreement that was signed was unique. It had never been signed by any other diocese. It was after us that it was taken for a model for other communities. It was something unique that was done here, and we were doing something great. … I personally have a lot of respect and admiration for him. I learned a lot from him, and we had a really friendly, cordial relationship.”

Stood with Rochester’s Jewish community

“The Rochester Jewish community lost a friend of the State of Israel and of world Jewry,” said Eli Futerman, past president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester. “Bishop Clark visited Israel with our federation and when I was president, he led a visit to the Vatican where we met the pope. … Bishop Clark stood with our Rochester Jewish community and ensured antisemitism was not tolerated in his diocese or anywhere in the world. My wife and I considered him a friend, and we mourn with our Catholic friends on this sad loss. May he rest in peace.”

Agreement had historic impact

“The Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester offers its deepest condolences on the passing of Bishop Emeritus Matthew Clark,” said Karen Bresson, director of marketing and communications for the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester. “The Federation had a close working relationship with Bishop Clark over the years, including an historic agreement with the rabbis in Rochester, the first one ever in the United States. It changed the way Catholic institutions taught Judaism and increased education about the Holocaust in Rochester Catholic schools.”

‘Trailblazer’ bishop leaves lasting legacy

“Bishop Clark leaves a lasting legacy. He was a trailblazer who devoted his life to the ideals of his faith. May his memory be for a blessing,” said Mona Friedman Kolko, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester.

Catholic, Episcopal covenant ‘continues to shape us’

“Although I did not know Bishop Clark personally, I met him several times and was sometimes in his presence as a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester,” said Bishop Stephen T. Lane, provisional bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester. 

“Bishop Clark and Episcopal Bishop Robert Spears were friends and colleagues and established a strong relationship around issues of common interest, particularly social justice issues. Their relationship continued into the episcopate of Bishop Spears’ successor, Bishop William Burrill. 

“Bishop Clark and Bishop Burrill crafted a covenant between our two dioceses, which was adopted in 1988. It continued to be observed for more than a decade. The covenant called for us to promote healing and reconciliation between our two traditions, to pray for our bishops and for the clergy of our two dioceses, to give special preparation to Episcopal-Roman Catholic couples, to accept mutual responsibility for social-justice issues, and to share facilities and resources at the local and diocesan levels. It also invited us to get to know one another and to consult with one another in our communities. I remember several occasions when priests of the two dioceses came together for joint retreats and mutual support.” 

Bishop Lane noted that he was “very much shaped by the covenant,” which resulted in him him getting to know a Catholic priest serving in Palmyra while he was rector of Zion Episcopal (1985-2000). 

“We shared a number of community efforts, including, for several years, a joint observance of the Great Vigil of Easter,” he said. “Later, when I served as Episcopal bishop of Maine, I developed relationships with the bishop of Portland and the diocesan Ecumenical Officer. I have always valued those relationships.”

“Serving now as the Bishop Provisional of Rochester, I’ve discovered that some of our Episcopal churches continue to pray for the Roman Catholic bishop of Rochester and his diocese. The covenant continues to shape us,” he said. “I’m grateful for Bishop Clark’s ecumenical outreach and for his enlarged sense of the church. I believe his impact on our communities will be lasting.” 

Tags: Bishop Matthew H. Clark, Interfaith Relations
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