As people of the diocese gathered June 11 to celebrate Bishop Thomas Costello’s 50th anniversary as a priest, they affirmed all priests. Before the Mass began, Bishop Costello walked by the front pews greeting some of those who came to honor him for his years of service. He said hello to brother priests who had come to pay him tribute as well. There were well over 100 priests at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, including classmates and other priests celebrating jubilees this year.
Two women who work closely with Bishop Costello, Danielle Cummings, Director of Communications for the diocese, and Liz Delaney, Bishop Costello’s secretary, proclaimed the readings after Bishop Costello opened with “Hello everybody. Peace be with you.” The mood at the liturgy varied from solemn to exuberant. Sister Laura Bufano, CSJ, visited from Latham, N.Y. and helped with the liturgy at the celebration.
Bishop Costello was joined at the altar by Bishop James Moynihan and Bishop Robert Cunningham of the Ogdensburg Diocese. At the beginning of the Mass, the retiring auxiliary bishop recited the names of all his brother priests who are celebrating anniversaries this year and then he mentioned Father John Kurgan who, at that point, had been a priest all of six days. He then introduced Bishop Cunningham and recognized that he had been an ordained bishop for 25 days. With typical humor, Bishop Costello also thanked Bishop Moynihan for “letting me use his chair,” telling the crowd, “It really is the best seat in the house.”
In his homily, Bishop Costello spoke about the joy priests feel at ordination and told about how Jesus must have felt upon returning to his hometown, Nazareth. He talked about how newly-ordained priests return to their home parishes to celebrate their first Mass. Jesus came back to Nazareth at a time when his friends and neighbors were aware of His celebrity. “When He came back to Nazareth, the villagers were agog,” Bishop Costello said. The townspeople would have remembered Jesus as a quiet, unassuming young man who worked as a carpenter alongside His father. He was different when He returned home. “We came home to inaugurate our own ministries,” Bishop Costello said remembering ordination. “Then we could truly say, ‘The Spirit of God is upon me.’” Along with the memories of the joy of ordination, now comes the need to face the abuse scandal, Bishop Costello said. “We’re trying to deal with it and we’ll continue to try to deal with it,” he said. “But let us not even for a moment entertain the slightest bit of pessimism.” The priesthood, Bishop Costello explained, cannot be compared to a profession or a career because it is neither. It is, he said, “a life.”
“Priesthood has never been easy,” Bishop Costello said. “If by human standards the life and death of Jesus were folly, so will some aspects of the priesthood appear as folly. Priesthood is neither profession nor career. It is a life. It is His life and in any other context it makes no sense.” The life of a priest is unique, he said, one subject to subtle temptations such as satisfying one’s hunger to love the world too much, to embrace its values and to make the Lord “our servant.” “He made the rules,” Bishop Costello said, “and we willingly bought into that.” He said if the priests risk temptation, they risk forgetting that “our way of life is supposed to be outrageous.” Bishop Costello thanked the people of the Syracuse Diocese for facilitating the priesthood of all the priests in the diocese. At the end of the homily Bishop Costello said, “Holy people of the wonderful church of Syracuse, continue to pray for our priests. They are good men.”
The altar was decorated with yellow roses noting the bishop’s golden jubilee. Youngsters brought the gifts forward and a roof-raising vocal version of the “Our Father” nearly brought the retiring bishop to tears. The cathedral was full and the lines for Communion were long. After Communion, Bishop Costello stood and said, “I read your being here as affirmation of each and everyone of our priests and I thank you for that.” The crowd rose and applauded loudly. Bishop Costello was the last to process back down the aisle and he couldn’t help but smile and raise his silver staff in salute to the crowd.
Many people walked the short distance from the Cathedral to the bishop’s reception at Syracuse’s OnCenter after the Mass. The evening’s emcee, Dan Cummings, told the crowd that there were over 700 people in attendance. Four diocesan employees had used digital cameras to record the day’s events. The photos were projected onto two screens in the OnCenter so the party-goers could look back and enjoy reviewing the events. The amateur photographers also managed to capture staff photos during the course of the work day. The music department of Bishop Grimes Jr./Sr. High School entertained before dinner. The school’s principal, Father George Sheehan, had a seat close to the musicians. Father Thomas Ryan, pastor of St. James Church in Johnson City and vicar for the Southern Region, opened the dinner with a blessing but first jokingly thanked everyone for coming to his 25th anniversary celebration.
Bishop Moynihan spoke about Bishop Costello and read aloud quotes from many people who had reflected on his many years of service, including Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard, newly-announced principal of Rome Catholic, Christopher Mominey, and Father John Fenlon. He told the audience about his own ordination as bishop of the Diocese of Syracuse nine years ago. At Bishop Moynihan’s ordination, Cardinal John O’Connor had said, “Bishop Thomas Costello, you are a singular man,” Bishop Moynihan remembered. When he looked up the definition of “singular,” Bishop Moynihan said, the description was “one of a kind, unique, exceptional, extraordinary, remarkable,” he said. “Tom Costello, you are all of those things.” There were excerpts of proclamations read of “Bishop Thomas Costello Day” from the City of Syracuse, the County of Onondaga and the bishop’s home County of Oneida. Later, Bishop Costello quipped that he was glad to see the mayor of Syracuse and the county executive agree on the proclamation.
Msgr. Charles Fahey, a life-long friend of Bishop Costello’s, spoke from the podium about his friendship with the bishop. “I’ve been admonished by Tom, ‘For heaven’s sake, don’t tell certain stories,’” Msgr. Fahey said. From the foyer of the OnCenter, Msgr. Fahey said, he saw face after face of persons who should have been up on the stage telling about all they had shared with the bishop. This reminded him, he said, of community and that all those gathered are part of a larger community. He spoke about the past and Bishop Costello’s time as superintendent of schools, Friday nights in the parochial league, the times reflected in the anti-war days of the Berrigans, and issues of racism, poverty and “white flight” that affected the diocese during Bishop Costello’s priesthood. Msgr. Fahey told the audience about Bishop Costello’s time at “672 West Onondaga Street” when he lived with Msgr. Charles Brady. “Charlie Brady was one of the most inarticulate people you’d ever want to meet,” Msgr. Fahey said. “He stammered, it was difficult for him. Yet, his line for confession went out the door.” When he spoke about oppression, however, Msgr. Brady’s language became “eloquent” Msgr. Fahey said. He spoke about the respect and admiration Bishop Costello garners from people across the country, not just those in the diocese. Msgr. Fahey explained to the audience the impact Msgr. Brady and Msgr. Martin Watley, the first pastor the young Father Costello worked with, had on Bishop Costello.
A video compilation of the major events in Bishop Costello’s life played across the two screens as some people could be seen rubbing tears from their eyes as they remembered events and heard Bishop Costello describe in his own words what his service has meant to him over the past 50 years. Bishop Costello called his father a “sentimental Irishman” in the video, and then said this “transmits to progeny as well.” He described the influence Msgr. Watley had on his ministry saying, “I think there is something of our first pastor in each one of us.” At the end of the video, Bishop Costello addressed the audience saying that he had experienced hundreds, thousands, of good days. “Any time you can go to the altar,” the bishop said with tears in his eyes, “it’s a good day.” The video presentation featured friends of the bishop’s including Father Joseph Champlin, rector of the Cathedral, and Father Vincent Kilpatrick, recently retired pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Warners. The evening ended with Bishop Costello thanking everyone and joking that he was happy that federal employees had the day off in honor of his anniversary. He thanked all those who put the event together, particularly Liz Delaney and Danielle Cummings, admitting that he was not a willing participant in the planning. “I came kicking and screaming almost like a kid coming into confirmation class,” Bishop Costello joked. He described the earlier liturgy as “an awesome celebration.” He thanked Jim Funson from Catholic TV for coming up with some of the footage needed for the video.
“It has been a great 50 years,” Bishop Costello said. “A bump here and there, but satisfaction, fulfillment, excitement, gratification. And you made it possible. Thank you so very much.” But, perhaps Mary Osada, a friend for 30 years and administrative assistant at the diocesan Catholic Charities Office, said it best in the video and spoke for everyone when she ended her reflection with a shrug of her shoulders and the words, “I love him.”