For a day that began in less-than-ideal fashion for Holy Family Elementary School, Lorie Brink couldn’t imagine it turning out any better.
Bishop Salvatore R. Matano, the new Bishop of Rochester, was due to preside at a 9 a.m. Mass on Jan. 28 honoring Catholic Schools Week. But poor weather had forced a two-hour local bus delay and cast doubts on whether Bishop Matano could even make the journey from Rochester to Elmira.
He did arrive safely and on schedule — and as an extra bonus, after the liturgy at St. Mary Southside Church he thrilled the student body by visiting all of Holy Family’s classrooms.
"It was perfect," stated Brink, Holy Family’s third-year principal.
This marked Bishop Matano’s first official appearance in Chemung County, coming less than a month after he was installed Jan. 3. It happened thanks to the initiative of Joe Kosmicki, the school’s development director, and Mary Montanarella, liturgy coordinator at St. Mary Southside, who together had sent a letter of invitation to Bishop Matano around Thanksgiving while he was still overseeing the Diocese of Burlington, Vt.
Brink recalled the buzz when the school found out Bishop Matano had accepted its offer to visit: "I can’t tell you how exciting that news was for me, the staff and the kids. It was such a nice feeling."
On the early morning of Jan. 28, Bishop Matano traveled to the Southern Tier with Matthew Jones, a diocesan seminarian and Elmira native. He celebrated a Mass in which Holy Family students filled several liturgical roles; for example, sixth-graders Patrick Finnerty and Elyse Bell proclaimed the readings. Both said their duties went smoothly despite being first-time lectors — in front of a bishop, no less.
"It was really scary, but at the same time it was very exciting," said Patrick, 11.
"It was a great experience and a lot of fun," added Elyse, 12.
After Mass Bishop Matano ventured over to Holy Family School, located on the St. Mary campus. Brink observed that his tour was especially meaningful to several students who, due to the bus delay, had missed seeing him at Mass.
"He was delightful in every classroom," she said, noting that he "immediately engaged with every student, from our 3-year-old pre-K all the way up to sixth grade." She emphasized that "he didn’t just walk in and say hello and move on. Every room he had something delightful to say and something meaningful; it wasn’t just a canned statement. I was just so amazed how they were hanging on his every word, raising their hands and wanting to talk to him."
Patrick and Elyse were among those who came away impressed by Bishop Matano’s words of wisdom for their sixth-grade class.
"What stuck with me is that he said Jesus Christ is in all of our subjects, no matter what it is. He can be in math, he can be in language arts, and he can be in art and music," Elyse said.
"I really kind of liked the part when he said that Jesus is always going to be with us — that we’ve reached the top of a mountain, and now we’ve got to climb up a new mountain next year at Notre Dame and that Jesus is going to help us," added Patrick, who along with Elyse are among the Holy Family students who will continue their Catholic education at Elmira Notre Dame High School in 2014-15.
"I thought he was such a nice man," Elyse remarked. "He made me feel comfortable around him; he just made me smile whenever I looked at him. He was great."
"He could be really funny but he also got right to his point and made a lot of good points. He really guided us and it was very special," Patrick said.
Brink had already gained a favorable first impression of Bishop Matano before Mass, when she chatted for a few minutes with him in the church rectory.
"I’ll tell you, immediately I felt like I was in the presence of a very close relative that had just come in for Christmas," she said. "He said, ‘It’s so good to see you’; he had that warmth and was very, very down to earth. I felt like I could talk to him about anything. I wanted to sit with him and talk with him all day. I think he’s going to do great things for the diocese."
Already, in her opinion, the bishop has done great things for Holy Family School simply through his endearing presence.
"It brought us all to thinking, ‘This is what we’re here for. We love our Catholic school.’ I feel like it brought us to a new level," Brink said Feb. 4. "Even today, a week later, that feeling hasn’t left. It was still that special a visit."