As I am a Catholic, I was persuaded by my editors — told, really — to cover the ordination and installation of Monsignor Edward B. Scharfenberger on Thursday.
These editors might think I know plenty about the faith, as I shamelessly promote noble St. Bonaventure University and stately Aquinas Institute high school in Rochester — spent a lot of time in both — every chance I get. And I am a former altar boy. Doesn’t make me an expert on the “promise of the elect,” the “litany of supplication” and the “anointing of the head.”
I did have a pretty good idea about the Bishop’s ring, mitre (tall hat) and crosier — the wooden “shepherd’s staff” that is the sign of pastoral office.
Anyway, I was at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at Eagle Street and Madison Avenue at 1 p.m. The service was scheduled to begin at 2, but I wanted to snare a parking spot that wasn’t three miles away. And I kind of wanted to see the pre-ceremony show.
Got a bunch of nice little stories and quotes that didn’t make the Friday morning edition of the old Gazette. Space was kind of tight Thursday night, as we say in the newspaper biz, thanks to those Union College hockey ruffians beating Boston College and grabbing a spot in the Frozen Four. You can read about them in other blogs, probably. This blog is about religion!
Have also managed a few photos ... one our Patrick Dodson snapped of me Thursday, chatting up the bishop. And one snapped by my mother or father in 1962 ..when I briefly considered a career in the church.
Here are a few things that did not make our five-star final:
* There were 200 priests, well over 100 deacons and 34 bishops at the ceremony — all in vestments.
There were also Catholic civilian groups: The Knights and Dames of Malta were there, men and women in black gowns with cross-like insignias on the fronts. The Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem checked in, and its members were also in black. And with distinctive black hats.
The Knights of Columbus might have scored the best gig. Twelve members, in black suits, chapeaus (feathered hats) and red, purple and white capes lined the railings for the center steps leading to the church entrance.
“One of the guys was saying that this was the most significant thing he would do as a Knight,” said Sean Quinn of Schenectady. “I would agree with that.”
* Rev. Kevin Mullen, president of Siena College is a jolly guy, and often a candid interview subject. He was dressed in his brown friar’s robes — they wear the same outfits at St. Bonaventure — and offered his take on the whole ceremony ... which we understood would take close to three hours. I caught Father Mullen just after 1 p.m., on his way in, and he concluded his remarks with a sly observation on the long ritual ahead.
“It’s filled with symbols that have deep meaning to the church,” he said. “It’s the passing of the leadership, so it’s a key moment for everyone and you want to stop and pause and think about it ... and they give you enough time to do that, too.”
Mullen was smiling when he said the last bit.
* Like a rock star, Jerry Jennings showed up at about 1:30 p.m.
Albany’s former mayor, who retired on Dec. 31 after 20 years on the job, always has a few lines for the press. I swear he must rehearse.
“This is the first time I’ve had a shirt and tie on since I left,” Jennings said, kidding around with some reporters who he thought were asking dumb questions.
“Hey, you can’t say that to me,” I said. “I went to Aquinas.”
“Oh, a suburban school,” former high school administrator Jennings answered. I’m sure he well knew the fabled “L’il Irish” come from the city of Rochester.
Anyway, Jerry looked and sounded good. And he moves fast. After the ceremony was over, he was on the street fast enough to offer his best to both retired Bishop Howard J. Hubbard and to Bishop Scharfenberger.
* Nice that the Bishop’s parents — Edward and Elaine Scharfenberger — were able to see their son attain such high office. They’re 94 and 93, respectively, and had seats in the front pew. I thought it was a nice touch for Scharfenberger to leave the altar during the “sign of peace” segment of the mass to embrace his parents, who live in Warwick, Orange County.
I talked to Mr. Scharfenberger after the ceremony.
“My impression is very simple,” he said. “There are people who attended this event today who will never be the same for having come here. They’ll all be elevated ...this is the stuff that memories are made of.”
* I’ve actually had experiences with high-ranking bishops before. I’m sure my editors never realized this, but I played Bishop Lawrence B. Casey of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Rochester in a kindergarten play in 1962. I got to wear the pink and black outfit and the red ring. I never got the crosier, though. Probably thought I would belt the kid playing Father Zimmer in the show.
Casey eventually became Bishop of Patterson, N.J. After he left Rochester, the powers that be sent Bishop Fulton J. Sheen to Rochester. Sheen had been a pretty popular television and radio bishop and author ... as well as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New York. The famous Sheen had made enemies in the church, and it looked like his move to Rochester was really kind of a punishment.
Anyway, as an altar boy, I served a mass with Bishop Sheen at good old Sacred Heart, and got him to autograph one of his books for my parents.
* The neatest and funniest things happened after the ceremony ended at 4:30 or so. Bishop Scharfenberger was the last clergyman out of the cathedral, and had waves for the faithful assembled outside. I was able to get kind of close to the new bishop, and was amazed when he walked to the left, toward Madison Avenue, instead of following the procession right, toward the Immaculate Conception rectory. There was a lone patrolman standing there, traffic and safety guy, and the bishop shook hands with the cop, and talked with him for about 10 seconds. Then he resumed his march to the rectory, said thanks to members of the Albany police mounted unit and kept moving. A couple TV and radio reporters interrupted my exclusive ... but all I needed was a quick quote on the long ceremony. All the while, the diocese public relations guys were trying to move the bishop along. The last thing they wanted was a 15-minute press conference in the street.
Scharfenberger finally broke free. A reporter from a New York City station had set up her camera near the entrance to the rectory and asked if the bishop had anything to say to Brooklyn — his hometown.
“I just want to say ‘Thank you, Brooklyn,’” Scharfenberger said into the camera. “Thank you for all you made me and for all the prayers that go with me ... my prayers remain with you, I will never forget my Brooklyn roots.”
He was almost inside. But I had to ask him about the power that came with holding the pastoral staff. “It’s very light, to tell you the truth,” he said. “It’s actually not mine ... it was Bishop Joe Sullivan’s, who was the auxiliary bishop who passed away a year ago. I inherited it.”
That was it, the guys made sure Scharfenberger got inside. I went back to the cop, who told me he was kind of shocked and surprised the bishop had singled him out. “I wished him good luck,” the cop told me.
By then, some other police officers came over. And, with typical cop humor, kind of dismantled the poor guy’s story.
“It wasn’t anything like that,” one patrolman said. “The bishop just sensed that this guy was evil!”
And everybody laughed. I’ll bet the bishop would have laughed too.