Benedictine beginnings

Father Robert Hyde’s vocation is rooted in his education and spiritualityBenedictinebeginnings

By Connie Berry
SUN editor

Father Robert Hyde’s path to the priesthood didn’t follow the usual course. His father was an executive in the beer brewing business and his family lived in some of the premier communities in the country — Grosse Pointe, Mich. and Darien, Conn. — before settling in the quaint village of Cazenovia outside of Syracuse. His father worked for both Strohs and Rhinegold breweries but as Father Hyde noted, “Strohs made ice cream, too, and that was what I cared about at the time.”

Father Hyde is the second oldest of five siblings. His father died not long before his ordination in June of 1988 and he is still very close to his mother and all his siblings. “I have five nephews and two nieces,” he said. He said his parents were very supportive of his vocation but cautious about making sure the decision was his and not an attempt to please them.

His father eventually acquired a beer distributorship and the family moved to Cazenovia in 1976. Father Hyde attended boarding school at Portsmouth Abbey School in the Narragansett Bay area of Rhode Island but he spent summers at home. His school days meant the influence of the English Benedictine tradition and his summers were influenced by Father A. Robert Casey, his pastor at St. James Church in Cazenovia.

The monks at Portsmouth Abbey lived in an enclosure and taught at the school. Father Hyde became familiar with them and said he prayed the office and enjoyed the spirituality of the monks. He said he really felt a calling while he was in high school there but wanted to be sure.

“I thought that maybe I wanted to be a monk,” Father Hyde said. “Then I thought to myself that maybe it was because I was there that I was thinking along those lines so I decided to go to a secular university. I went to St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York.”

His desire to become a priest wasn’t abated by his choice of schools however and Father Hyde became involved with the Newman Center on the campus and also with the Christian Fellowship program. He went to Spain during his junior year at university and there he more fully began his discernment process.

“During that time I decided I was hearing a call and I talked with the abbot at the abbey where I had gone to school. We talked and I decided my vocation was for the diocesan priesthood,” Father Hyde explained.

His next step was knocking on the door of the chancery on New Year’s Eve 1981. Father Fred Daley worked in the vocations office at the time and he was there to answer the door.

“I was convinced Father Fred lived in the chancery because he had let me in,” Father Hyde laughed.

Back then the diocese had Aquinas House, a house of formation for the diocese. Father Hyde studied pre-theology at Le Moyne College. He went to seminary at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. and spent summers working at national parks where there was a program for seminarians to serve as chaplains. His clinical pastoral education took place at a hospital setting at Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island. His early diocesan experience included mentors such as Deacon Lynn Monnatt, Msgr. Michael Meagher and Msgr. Jim McCloskey. Father Hyde said he was happy to get started with parish work during his pastoral year at St. Brigid/St. Joseph’s Church in Syracuse.

“I had been going to school since kindergarten and for the first time, I wasn’t studying and shuffling papers. It was wonderful,” he said.

He was ordained to the transitional diaconate on Thanksgiving weekend in 1987. That occasion was one of the last times he would see his father healthy, Father Hyde said. A double blow was delivered to Father Hyde’s family as his grandfather and father died within days of each other just months before Father Hyde’s ordination.

“Bishop O’Keefe celebrated my father’s funeral and I preached,” Father Hyde said. “The priests of the diocese were very supportive of me and I was still a deacon at the time.”

A brighter day came along shortly after Father Hyde’s ordination when he celebrated his sister’s wedding.

His first assignment was to Holy Family Church in Fairmount. The parish was the largest he had ever experienced, and he enjoyed the early days of the parish’s youth group. Father Jim Kennedy was pastor, he said, and Father Joseph Clemente was there as well. “He was first associate, as we used to call them,” Father Hyde said. “He taught me how to sing. While I was there he became pastor. Father Mike Minehan was in residence while he worked at the tribunal then and we got to talking and he convinced me that I should study canon law.”

Father Hyde studied for his licentiate in canon law during the summers while he was serving as parochial vicar at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Vestal. Finally, the diocese decided that they might want to move his studies along a little faster and Father Hyde left for Catholic University once again.

“I enjoyed the studies very much, more so than seminary,” Father Hyde said. “I was already a priest and there were so many different things to study in seminary and with canon law it was more specialized and very interesting. It was a great experience, and I got to know priests from all over the country.”

He worked in the chancery at the tribunal  office after completing his canon law degree. During that time he lived at St. Joseph’s Church in Camillus while the parish transitioned two different pastors in a short period of time. “That was a tough time spiritually,” Father Hyde said. “The people had a lot to deal with and I was working at the tribunal at the same time.”

In 1997 Father Hyde was named pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Whitney Point and his tribunal hours were reduced. “That was a great little parish,” Father Hyde said. “I was there seven years and had a marvelous time.” Plans began to take shape for a merger with another parish and Father Hyde said he thought it might be a good time for him to make a change so that the new pastor or administrator could come into that situation with objectivity.

It was at this point that Father Hyde’s understanding of the diocesan priesthood underwent even more clarification. He said priests take the vow of obedience when they are ordained and he took that vow seriously when the opening for a chaplaincy came up. Hospital chaplaincy had not been something Father Hyde thought he would want to consider.

“The bishop and the priest personnel committee usually tries to give a priest the assignment he wants because they know you’ll do your best with it,” Father Hyde said. “I was fairly certain that if I applied for the chaplaincy at Crouse Hospital I would get it. I prayed about it and I thought, ‘I know I can do this.’”

He said he never imagined he’d want the role of chaplain but Father Hyde said he was surprised by how much he liked the work.

“I was very, very surprised at what a good assignment it was,” he said. “You deal with sickness, yes, but most people get better. There are the calls at 2 or 3 in the morning but you know that you are needed and that is very affirming.”

During this assignment, Father Hyde got to know Father Dan Muscalino while they both lived at St. John the Baptist rectory in Syracuse. The two are still great friends. By this time the caseload at the tribunal had decreased and Father Hyde’s next move in 2008 was to his current parish, St. Margaret’s in Mattydale. There is an elementary school there and he is happy once again to be working with young people. “The school is wonderful,” Father Hyde said. “It is a wonderful group of people at St. Margaret’s and a great staff.”

His decision to follow his vocation is one he wishes more men would consider because it has afforded him such a varied experience. “There are so many things you can do as a priest,” Father Hyde said.

From the abbey to the national parks to the hospitals to the classroom, Father Hyde’s vocation has led him to discover more about himself, the church and the people he serves.

He still prays the office, goes back to the Rhode Island monastery for retreats and admits he is very Benedictine in his spirituality.

“My prescription for a happy priesthood is a good prayer life,” Father Hyde said. “You have to pray consistently and you need good friends, good priest friends. And, it is very important for priests to go to confession. It’s the one sacrament where the priest is just like everyone else. It’s non-clerical and brings you back to reality.”

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