GATES — Bishop Matthew H. Clark’s 33-year reign as shepherd of the Rochester Diocese has ended.
On Sept. 21 — slightly more than two months after submitting his letter of resignation — Bishop Clark announced that the letter had been accepted by Pope Benedict XVI effective at 6 a.m. local time that day.
“I begin my retirement today, and will have the wonderful title of bishop emeritus,” Bishop Clark said during a morning press conference at the diocesan Pastoral Center.
Also during the conference Bishop Clark introduced Bishop Robert J. Cunningham, who has been appointed to serve as apostolic administrator of the Rochester Diocese until the diocese’s ninth bishop is appointed. Bishop Cunningham will oversee this diocese concurrent with his duties as leader of the Diocese of Syracuse.
Father Joseph A. Hart, who has served as vicar general and moderator of the Pastoral Center under Bishop Clark, will be Bishop Cunningham’s delegate in the daily governance of the diocese. During the press conference, Bishop Cunningham said he also expects to make weekly trips to Rochester.
Bishop Clark submitted his resignation on his 75th birthday July 15, as church law requires of all diocesan bishops. As the eighth Bishop of Rochester, Bishop Clark had served the diocese since June 26, 1979, marking a tenure second only in length to that of the Rochester Diocese’s founding bishop, Bernard J. McQuaid.
Bishop Clark and Bishop Cunningham both said that they were notified by phone Sept. 7 — two weeks prior to today’s announcement — of the Holy See’s decision to appoint Bishop Cunningham as apostolic administrator.
Although he said he has been preparing for this transition in leadership for the past couple of years, Bishop Clark acknowledged that he “was a bit surprised” that it came about so quickly.
Bishop Clark acknowledged that he kept the news of this development under his hat during his Mass of thanksgiving before 700 people at Sacred Heart Cathedral on Sept. 16 — five days before his retirement took effect.
“Deep down in my soul I was aware not only were we celebrating a jubilee … but also (that) this was another profound change for me. It rather enhanced my appreciation of the Eucharist. It was an experience I never would have forgotten under any circumstances but (knowing of the Sept. 21 retirement) made me extra mindful.”
“I couldn’t agree more with Cardinal Dolan, who told the congregation (Bishop Clark) is a great bishop,” Bishop Cunningham observed, referring to the homily delivered by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at Bishop Clark’s jubilee Mass.
Bishop Cunningham, who participated in the jubilee liturgy, added that he’s looking forward to overseeing “a diocese that Bishop Clark and his team have left in excellent condition.”
A Buffalo native, Bishop Cunningham was ordained a priest of that diocese in 1969. He served as the 13th Bishop of Ogdensburg from 2004 until his appointment as the 10th Bishop of Syracuse in April 2009, replacing Bishop James M. Moynihan, a Rochester priest who had led Syracuse since 1995.
“I assure the good and faithful people in our 12 counties that the governance of this diocese is in excellent hands,” Bishop Clark said. “Now that provision has been made for the pastoral care of our diocese, I am peaceful, and I look forward with lively curiosity to a new phase of my life and ministry after more than 33 years as Bishop of Rochester. I humbly thank God for having lived during this incredible time and for the opportunity to shepherd a beautiful, faithful and inspired people. Words cannot express my gratitude to the people of this diocese, whom I love very much.”
Bishop Cunningham said he doesn’t foresee any major changes taking place during his tenure as administrator of the Rochester Diocese, describing his role as that of a caretaker.
Meanwhile, the selection of Rochester’s next bishop is in the hands of the apostolic nuncio, who is the pope’s representative and ambassador in the United States, and the Holy See’s Congregation for Bishops. Together they will identify possible candidates and make recommendations directly to the pope, who will make the final determination and appointment. Although the process can take several months, Bishop Clark said he hopes the Holy See will move up its timetable for the sake of Bishop Cunningham.
As for his own immediate future as bishop emeritus, Bishop Clark said he hasn’t been able to make too many plans since he only knew two weeks ago that he would retire Sept. 21. Although he said he obviously no longer will be involved in the governance of the diocese, Bishop Clark added that he would be “available for anything Bishop Cunningham needs … happy to do whatever ministry that might be useful.”
“We’ll keep Bishop Clark busy,” Bishop Cunningham replied with a smile.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Bishop Clark is scheduled to celebrate public Masses of Thanksgiving on Sept. 22 at 4 p.m. at St. Alphonsus Church, Auburn; Sept. 29 at 5 p.m. at St. Mary Our Mother Church, Horseheads; and Oct. 13 at 4 p.m. at Sacred Heart Cathedral. Each Mass will be followed by a public reception.Tags: Bishop Matthew H. Clark, Diocesan Appointments