ROCHESTER -- From a side entrance of Sacred Heart Cathedral, Bishop Matthew H. Clark gazed thoughtfully at a long stream of priests and deacons -- a great many he has ordained -- processing down the center aisle as the Diocesan Festival Choir sang "All Creatures of Our God and King."
Finally Bishop Clark took his place at the end of the line behind fellow diocesan leaders from around the state. On this day, even Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan -- the Archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops -- went first, giving the man of honor his just due.
Thus began a Mass of Thanksgiving to honor Bishop Clark's 75th birthday, 50 years as a priest and 33 years as Bishop of Rochester as he prepares to enter retirement. The cathedral was packed with approximately 700 family members, friends, community members, diocesan and parish representatives, more than 100 priests, nine bishops and auxiliary bishops from around New York state, Cardinal Dolan, and Cardinal Edward M. Egan, archbishop emeritus of New York City.
Only a couple of minutes into his homily, Cardinal Dolan, who noted that all were gathered "to salute a great Bishop of Rochester," got to the prevailing sentiment of the occasion.
"Why don’t I just say it, what’s in all our hearts. Matthew, we love you very much," Cardinal Dolan remarked, setting off thunderous applause that became a standing ovation.
The special liturgy wrapped up a busy weekend for Bishop Clark. One night earlier he was the guest of honor at a banquet attended by 300 at the Burgundy Basin Inn in Pittsford, during which Rochester Mayor Thomas Richards and Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks issued him proclamations.
"I feel great. I'm thrilled with this day, for all it means in my life," Bishop Clark said just prior to the Sept. 16 Mass. "I’m just deeply mindful of how those in our church today have shaped my life."
One of those folks is Cardinal Dolan himself, who has been a friend since Bishop Clark served as the future cardinal's spiritual director at North American College in Rome in the early 1970s. Bishop Clark recalled looking forward to their meetings decades ago because of the seminarian's lively personality, and said that's still the case in 2012.
"Tim is the most famous, well-known priest in this country. But even with his incredibly multi-tiered responsibilities, he brings the same Tim Dolan into the room that he did 40 years ago," Bishop Clark remarked at a press conference prior to the Mass. "I got up this morning and said the same thing: 'Oh, it’s going to be a good day, Tim’s coming.'"
Cardinal Dolan offered similar praise for Bishop Clark, saying he "was a great spiritual director" and that it was during his seminary years that he first began to cherish Bishop Clark's many positive attributes.
"He would exude an interior calmness, patience, wisdom and prudence," Cardinal Dolan said, remarking that Bishop Clark "knows me very, very well" and was excellent at handling such personal issues as homesickness, discouragement, confusion and anxiety.
"I would always find in him a calmness, never by denying the problems but always by staring them in the eye," Cardinal Dolan said, adding that such qualities -- combined with a deep, unwavering faith in his God -- have served him well since becoming Bishop of Rochester in 1979.
The gregarious Cardinal Dolan incorporated substantial comedy into his homily for the jubilee Mass. He purposely began with a description of Bishop Clark that became increasingly inaccurate before quipping that he thought he was there to honor another bishop of Rochester, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen; commented that he hadn't seen so many priests assembled in one place since a Notre Dame football game; and noted that another traveler on his flight to Rochester informed him that Bishop Clark is the "second-most famous thing in Rochester."
"Would someone tell me what a Nick Tahou’s Garbage Plate is? I’ve got a feeling I’m going to find out," Cardinal Dolan remarked, sparking loud laughter at the mention of Rochester's local fast-food favorite.
Cardinal Dolan, who as Archbishop of New York City governs the ecclesiastical province comprising all eight New York dioceses, said at the press conference that he has not yet been consulted for input regarding Bishop Clark's successor, but expects that he will be soon. He described Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the papal nuncio -- or Vatican ambassador -- to the United States as the "quarterback" in this process, who will seek observations from Cardinal Dolan and many other church leaders about the Diocese of Rochester's strengths and weaknesses, and the kinds of leadership qualities that might fit it well. He added that the process could take from six months to a year or more. In compliance with church regulations, Bishop Clark submitted his resignation on his 75th birthday this past July 15.
Although the Sept. 16 liturgy was by invitation only, 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.