Witnessed bishop living his motto
"God’s love endures forever." While giving testimony to God’s fidelity this psalm verse and Bishop Clark’s episcopal motto is a reminder to me, throughout the ups and downs of life, to take the long view, keep perspective and acknowledge, especially to myself, that we all live and work in the mystery of God. Having been asked what Bishop Clark has meant to me, I find I can best answer by reflecting on his motto as I saw him live it.
In the years I served as secretary to the bishop I often accompanied him to parishes for various ceremonies. One Sunday morning the mother of a young altar server came early to say her son was nervous about serving the bishop and told her "it was the greatest day of his life." When the boy arrived Bishop Clark spoke gently with the child and humbly suggested the boy would likely have many great days in his life. This scene struck me for its wisdom, kindness and encouragement to look forward. Our bishop gave me a lesson that day on healthy perspective regarding self, life and God’s continuing goodness to us.
It was not unusual for Bishop Clark to accept 50 or more parish confirmations per year on his calendar, usually at evening liturgies. He celebrated each ceremony as if it was the only one in his entire schedule, speaking to each confirmand, honoring the reality that it would be her/his sole confirmation. His respect for every individual and their moments together in the confirmation rite trumped all other personal considerations of time or tiredness even to the last snapshot. He showed me and others how God’s love and fidelity are lived in commitment to service and commitment to our vocation.
During those years in his office it was my responsibility to provide him with the documentation needed for meetings. A group had sent him advance materials for their meeting that he gave me to add to their folder. On the day of the meeting I could not find what they had recently sent. I kept searching and apologizing for my error while he waited nearby. With a smile he calmly said: "It’s all right. No one died of it." Time and again I learned from him not only perspective but also what a grace humor and forgiveness can be.
In my next assignment as pastor of urban parishes I grew to understand the truth of what he often said at gatherings of parish ministers. We all repeatedly were encouraged to try to bring to our work generous amounts of faith and prayer, openness and courage, humility and love. And these were not simply nice words from our bishop but a summary of what he believed important for him and for us, namely a spiritual perspective on our lives and ministry. He urged us to be guided by such virtues in exciting times like the synod as well as difficult times like the sex-abuse crisis and all other times as well.
A very painful experience to all were the rounds of school closings. Those charged with developing a plan for our schools worked diligently and desired to keep open as many schools as possible but the data pointed to significant reductions. In those difficult times I often saw how Bishop Clark was concerned about the people being affected and where could they go. And over the years in other matters and meetings as well he always raises concern for the people being affected by the projects or decisions. That is a perspective for us all to imitate.
Bishop Clark gave us all such lessons as we shared life together, including the lesson to learn from one another. For all this and more I am very grateful.
Father Tomasso was one of the first priests ordained by Bishop Clark in 1981. He served as the bishop's secretary from 1986-96, and he currently is pastor of Our Lady of Peace Parish in Geneva and the diocese's director of seminarians.