Catholics who came out for Bishop Howard J. Hubbard's 50th anniversary Mass last weekend said he'll be remembered as a "people's bishop" who prioritized interfaith relations and meeting the needs of society's most vulnerable.
As he processed into the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany for the special liturgy, Mass-goers broke into spontaneous applause; when he reached the altar, the roar that echoed through the sacred space evoked a home run at the World Series. His homily brought a standing ovation.
Rachel Jablonski of St. Joseph's parish in Dolgeville lauded Bishop Hubbard for helping the poor in her rural community "probably in ways we didn't even realize." Under his leadership, she explained, Catholic Charities served single mothers and domestic abuse victims, among other populations.
Bishop Hubbard's trademark, Mrs. Jablonski said, has been "just trying to help people that are without. That's what faith is all about."
Her husband, Joseph, agreed: "He's been a real good bishop. We're hoping for somebody new who's just as formidable."
A group from Sacred Heart parish in Castleton told The Evangelist that Bishop Hubbard's legacy will be found in his "striving for the poor and disenfranchised," as well as his peace and justice and ecumenical work.
He "tried to bring understanding [of other faiths] at times when we were very suspicious," said Dan Forget, parish nurse at Sacred Heart.
Katherine Monty, Sacred Heart's youth minister and faith formation coordinator, gushed about "what he gives to the teens" at confirmation: He's known for his personal, informal conversations with candidates at the altar.
Bishop Hubbard confirmed Ms. Monty in 1979. Today, "he's exactly the same," she said. "I remember being so afraid and then, when I saw him, I wasn't afraid. [I tell confirmands], 'He's just like you and me.'
"He's treated each one individually," she continued. "He always has time for them. It gives me hope; it gives me life. He just is a breath of fresh air."
Dan Kawola, who goes to St. Pius X parish in Loudonville and is related by marriage to the Bishop, also pointed to Bishop Hubbard's "personal touch.
"He went to every edge of the Diocese to do confirmations," he noted. "Previous bishops sent auxiliary people to do it. He touched a lot of young people."
Like many other laypeople interviewed, Mr. Kawola compared the Bishop to Pope Francis.
"He took one vacation a year and that was it," he said of Bishop Hubbard. "He did all his own driving. He emulates all the things that Pope Francis has espoused."
The Bishop will be remembered for his "kindness and inclusiveness," Mr. Kawola said. "He never judges people. He treats everyone the same. [He] was all about Vatican II [and] it helped with his ecumenical ability to bring different faiths together."
Maggie Kirwin, interim president of The College of Saint Rose in Albany, said Bishop Hubbard's support of organizations that serve people with disabilities, the homeless and people struggling with addiction "matches what our new pope is interested in returning to.
"His legacy as a street priest is very impressive," Dr. Kirwin continued. "That has informed his entire tenure."
Called to change
Greg Connors, a parishioner of All Saints on the Hudson in Mechanicville/Stillwater, said "parish priest" and "the people's bishop" are the best ways to describe Bishop Hubbard's episcopacy.
"He's an exemplary model," he said. "He has led us in good times and difficult times. He's confronted the issues of the Church head-on."
Mr. Connors respected the way Bishop Hubbard handled the multi-year "Called to be Church" pastoral planning process, which led to the closing or merger of 35 parishes - including Mr. Connors' community.
"Change is difficult for anybody," he said. "To have to close a church has got to be terrible. In our parish, we look to him for guidance."
Even when a successor is chosen, Mr. Connors said, Bishop Hubbard's presence will still be felt in the Diocese he will continue to call home: "I don't think he's going to be going too far."