Bishop-elect Edward B. Scharfenberger's multicultural appreciation and plans to respond to pastoral needs will be a boon to the Albany Diocese, laypeople told The Evangelist.
"We're very hopeful," said Christopher Lohr, a sacristan and parishioner at St. Anthony of Padua parish in Troy. "He intends to listen and be guided. I expect not a lot of change per se; I don't expect anything drastic or horrifying. I expect him to step in with a nice ongoing stride" in the footprints of Bishop Howard J. Hubbard.
Bishop-elect Scharfenberger's appointment as the 10th Bishop of the Albany Diocese was announced by the Vatican Feb. 11; he was introduced to the Diocese at a news conference that morning at the diocesan Pastoral Center in Albany. The Bishop-elect is currently a priest of the Brooklyn Diocese (see The Evangelist's Feb. 13 issue or go to www.evangelist.org to read more about him).
He will be ordained and installed as Bishop of the Albany Diocese April 10, 2 p.m., at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany.
Mr. Lohr was happy to learn of Bishop-elect Scharfenberger's appointment because of the new bishop's canon law background, the fact that he is being raised to the episcopacy from the priesthood and his multicultural and inner-city parish experience. The Bishop-elect spent 12 years as pastor of St. Matthias parish in Ridgewood, N.Y., a large, multi-ethnic parish in the Brooklyn Diocese.
"We're a small, urban center in upstate New York," he said of St. Anthony's, which has parishioners of Italian, Irish, Polish, African-American, continental African, Nicaraguan, Mexican, Ecuadorian, Peruvian and Puerto Rican descent, among others. "Diversity seems to be increasing literally every month. We have all the problems and blessings of city life.
"I think [his appointment] is a respect for the upstate urban areas," Mr. Lohr continued. He has also heard the Bishop-elect is a great homilist and vocalist and has signaled a sense of collegiality.
"We're all in it together," Mr. Lohr said. "We share the responsibility as a Church."
Monika Drzymalski, a senior biology major at Siena College in Loudonville who plays the organ and lectors for Polish Masses at St. Adalbert's in Schenectady, picked up on the same message.
At the press conference, Bishop-elect Scharfenberger had said that "to be a good learner, you have to be a good listener - so, challenge me to be a good listener, to hear where you want to see the Church go. Give me the guidance and support to take you, as your leader, where God wants us to go."
He was indicating "he needs the support of other people," Ms. Drzymalski said. "I thought that was good, because he's saying he's not going to be the one man for the job. It's nice when you know you're needed by someone who's higher up than you.
"Requiring a little more activity from the parishioners," she continued, "will hopefully bring back people to the Church."
Ms. Drzymalski's whole family is Polish; she was born in America, but learned Polish before English. These days, St. Adalbert's only offers a Polish Mass once a month. She wished the parish could have a full-time Polish pastor to bring parishioners back to church and help keep it viable.
"Maybe the new bishop would help us find other priests," she said in a nod to Bishop-elect Scharfenberger's love for diversity. "He'll know how it's important for native speakers, [and] maybe he could vouch for these multicultural churches to stay open."
Speak to us
There are no more French-language Masses at Our Lady of Hope parish in Whitehall, but the traditionally French community would not object to a spiritual leader who literally speaks their language. Bishop-elect Scharfenberger speaks German, Italian, Spanish, French, Polish and a bit of Russian, and is studying Hebrew and Portuguese.
"I think [his multilingual abilities] are wonderful," said 86-year-old parishioner Mary Rita Gordon. "He seems to be the right one for the position."
Mrs. Gordon's daughter, Rosemary LeBeau, said the ability to speak languages other than English "means a lot to older people like my mother."
Our Lady of Hope also has a large Spanish-speaking population, especially in the summer when Hispanic stone quarry workers visit.
"He'll be able to reach more people," Mrs. LeBeau said. "We're very optimistic for the future of the Diocese. His demeanor seems very easy to approach and I think he'll be very humble to talk to everybody."
Joan Abrams, a Guyanese-American who attends the Black Catholic Apostolate at St. Joan of Arc Church in Menands, is similarly looking forward to a shepherd who can relate to a variety of cultures.
"You speaking the same language to the people - it makes people feel like you're one of them," Ms. Abrams said. "It would be able to bring people together. The apostolate consists of so many different people. He being multicultural will be a nice fit.
"Any time you have changes, you have to have high hopes," she continued. "Everywhere Bishop Hubbard goes, he is being attacked [with questions about the clergy abuse crisis]. This bishop can come and show more healing and get people to understand what Roman Catholics stand for. The Catholic Church, especially the priests - they're not the scandal. We can rise up from that."
Rumor has it
A parishioner at Holy Trinity in Hudson/Germantown heard from downstate relatives who have attended St. Matthias Church in Ridgewood, where Bishop-elect Scharfenberger most recently served as pastor, that the Albany Diocese is lucky to have him.
"They like him very much and they say we're very blessed," said Ann O'Keefe. They say he's "someone who's going to stay within the Church's teachings on attendance at Mass and putting Christ as the center of your life. They said that every one of his sermons are always inspirational."
Ms. O'Keefe's own impression of the Bishop-elect comes from hearing about him on the news.
"He seemed to have joy from inside him," she said. "He was smiling, but not giddy. He seemed to be humble that he was given this job, but willing to accept the challenge from the will of God. I'm hoping he will be able to bring more priests into the Diocese somehow, so parishes will remain open."