Bishop Salvatore Matano's eight-year tenure as shepherd of the Diocese of Burlington was marked by significant transformations and improvements in such areas as pastoral planning, vocations, Catholic schools and catechesis, safe-environment programs, finances and care of priests.
Yet Bishop Matano told the Catholic Courier that all these concrete achievements are tied in to a single, spiritual goal.
"The dominant theme has been to help the people understand the centrality of the Eucharist in our lives ... the importance of Mass. And that flowing from that, to do everything possible to ensure that the faithful have Mass available to them," he said.
Despite the many responsibilities that occupied Bishop Matano's time -- including his work in shepherding the Burlington Diocese through numerous legal and financial challenges related to the priestly sex-abuse crisis -- Father Daniel White said he feels Bishop Matano carried out his duties remarkably well.
"While a bishop is charged with a threefold office -- to teach, to sanctify, and to govern -- the varied challenges posed to the Diocese of Burlington have required Bishop Matano to spend monumental time and energy in the governance of the diocese," said Father White, who has served in Vermont as Bishop Matano's vice chancellor and moderator of the curia. "Yet this did not hinder his ability to teach the truths of the Catholic faith with conviction and compassion, and to sanctify the faithful through the sacraments and his own personal prayers."
Among notable accomplishments in the Burlington Diocese under Bishop Matano:
Promulgating a pastoral plan
Bishop Matano brought to fruition a pastoral plan that had already been in development when he became Bishop of Burlington.
"We have merged parishes together to maximize the resources of these parishes which by themselves could not sustain themselves," Bishop Matano said. "But it has also created a cooperative spirit among the faithful to realize we are really one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. And that by contributing as one community of faith from several communities, we are really strengthening ourselves."
Bishop Matano added that he has "been blessed with wonderful, talented laypeople in the reorganization of the diocese. I can say to a person, in each of the departments that help with our parishes, we have wonderful laywomen and laymen who are a true support to me and who work in a very cooperative, collaborative manner to assure that all the different needs of the parishes and the different areas of parochial life can be met."
Father White said a pastoral plan was necessary because "like many dioceses in the northeastern United States, Burlington was faced with major population shifts, declining participation in the faith life of the parishes, aging physical plants, fewer priests and fewer people." He said the plan has allowed faith communities to share resources but "avoided the pains of mass closures."
In another key area of restructuring, Bishop Matano said he is "very pleased with the reorganization of Vermont Catholic Charities, where we have outstanding councils who understand what the church teaches and are able to incorporate the message of the Gospel in their outreach to people who come to them in any number of circumstances, and we have been able to increase the help that we give to those who come seeking assistance for reasons known to them and to those who meet with them."
Attracting priests from outside the diocese
During Bishop Matano's tenure, religious-order priests from the Fathers of the Divine Vocation, the Heralds of the Good News and the Capuchin Franciscans have all begun serving in various parts of the Burlington Diocese, which covers the entire state of Vermont.
"These priests have come to enrich the presbyterate and to ensure that the sacramental life of our people will continue," Bishop Matano said.
Father White observed that the Burlington Diocese has many extern priests from other countries that "were once beneficiaries of missionaries from the United States and are now experiencing a flourishing of vocations and are generous in sending missionaries to us."
Stressing Catholic identity in diocesan schools
Bishop Matano said he called for regular evaluations of the Catholicity of each school -- "to reinvigorate in our Catholic schools a sense of the importance of their Catholic identity," with religious themes woven throughout the curriculum. For example, he said that in math, numbers represent the infinite and triangles can represent the Trinity. He also noted that some of the greatest scientists have been priests and some of the world’s best music has been the Mass set to music.
Bishop Matano stated that "every class should have that Catholic spirit, that mission spirit," yet also stressed that "our Catholic schools are not private schools which become havens to avoid our brothers and sisters who may be different from us, because those are the ones we also want in our schools."
Father White noted that in Bishop Matano's governance of Catholic schools, he "was able to strengthen the funding model, add additional sources of funds, offer more direct assistance to school administration, and ensure that there is closer collaboration between the schools and parishes."
Bishop Matano emphasized that "also we must remember our wonderful children in religious-education programs, and that same identity has to be present in religious-education classes" as in Catholic schools.
"We just don’t come together to talk about God. We come together to learn about God so we can love God. Instruction is very important in that area," he added.
To help bring that about, Bishop Matano initiated a successful accreditation program for catechists. He explained that "it's necessary that they update themselves, that they come to a full and more complete understanding of the faith," pointing out that teachers of other disciplines participate in continuing education and that the same should go for catechists, "who are so generous with their time in transmitting the faith to our young people."
Fostering priestly vocations
Father White said the number of seminarians has remained constant over Bishop Matano's time in Vermont. Yet he also pointed out that "numbers are not the only criteria to be used in a vocations plan," noting that "amidst the prevailing struggles of a secular society, the caliber of young men who have been accepted by Bishop Matano is very edifying."
Current seminarians "largely saw in Bishop Matano a father figure with a clear priestly identity," Father White observed. However, Bishop Matano remarked that the responsibility of vocations awareness is not his alone.
"I think we are more conscious now in the (Burlington) diocese, I hope, of the need ... for all of us to encourage vocations, beginning with the bishop and his priests, and then the whole community of faith," Bishop Matano said.
Implementing safe-environment measures
Bishop Matano created an Office of Safe Environment programs, and the Diocese of Burlington has been found to be in full compliance with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
According to Burlington's diocesan website, "The Vermont-wide diocese has been focused on implementing measures in restoration of persons injured by clergy abuse, awareness education for adults and children and screening of volunteers and employees to establish safe environments for children and adults in all diocesan functions and activities."
Father White said these strong safe-environment initiatives are "a non-negotiable aspect of ministry in our world today" and that "Bishop Matano’s vigilance and leadership is unwavering in this area."
Establishing parish charitable trusts
In 2006 all of Burlington's parishes and missions, all formerly incorporated in the name of the Burlington Diocese, became titled under their own names with the bishop as trustee. This move was guided by Bishop Matano in order to safeguard the parishes' and missions' assets in the event of possible settlements from lawsuits related to cases of priestly sexual-abuse -- "to protect these parish facilities from unjust attack," the bishop wrote in a letter to all diocesan Catholics.
According to Father White, the formation of these trusts "ensured that the gifts and patrimony of the parishes were protected and would be used in accord with the wishes of the donors." This type of financial support, he observed, extends over a number of decades "and, in some cases, centuries."
Improving funding levels for priest benefits
Bishop Matano implemented an annual special collection in all parishes to strengthen the Priests' Benefit Fund -- a trust from which senior priests in the Burlington Diocese receive their pensions. He also included this trust as a beneficiary of the annual Bishop’s Fund Appeal.
Father White remarked that under Bishop Matano, "the fund has been significantly strengthened and is better able to care for the well-being of the priests who have served so selflessly for many, many years."