Evangelizer of the Year

April 29-May 5, 2004
Evangelizer of the Year
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
Through his Faithful Service, Bishop Costello Garners First-Time Award

During his 50 years of service to the people of the Syracuse Diocese, Bishop Thomas Costello has worked tirelessly to spread the Gospel and strengthen the faith of those around him. His fortitude and strong faith and spirit have inspired religious and lay people alike. “His sense of kindness to all human beings is the first thing that would attract people,” said Father Vincent Kilpatrick, recently retired pastor of Our Lady of Good Council. “His sense of humor never failed.”

That kindness and humor are just a few of the reasons why Bishop Costello will be honored with the first Evangelizer of Year Award being presented by the Good News Foundation on May 5. Kathy Poupart, director of the Good News Foundation, said that she and the committee voted unanimously to honor Bishop Costello with the award. “There is a real spirit within him of sharing our faith in Jesus,” said Poupart. “He has always looked for opportunities to do that, in visible, tangible, and sometimes, challenging ways.” Poupart said that when the committee developed the criteria for the award, they were looking for a community member who exemplified an evangelistic spirit. “Bishop Costello was the perfect first recipient. Not only because of his 50th anniversary in the priesthood, but because of his incredible service to the diocese throughout his life,” she said.

Father Kilpatrick served with Bishop Costello at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Syracuse many years ago. He, too, recognized the bishop’s commitment and service to others. Father Kilpatrick has fond memories of their times together. “We used to walk all the way down South Ave to Midland Ave and back,” he said. He shared another memory. “Msgr. Watley had a dog. Bishop Costello let it out and it never came back,” said Father Kilpatrick. The priests interviewed told similar stories of Bishop Costello’s humor and kindness and unflagging support of them as people and ministers. Father Paul Mathis, pastor of St. Bernadette’s and St. Mary’s Parish said that it was due to people like Bishop Costello that he went into the army. “Bishop Costello supported us as chaplains,” said Father Mathis. “When I was in the war, he wrote to me often and told me he was praying for me.” Father Mathis said that Bishop Costello was known for cutting people a break. “He interviewed me when I was entering the seminary,” said Father Mathis. “Let’s just say, I didn’t work to my fullest potential in high school. Bishop Costello took one look at my transcripts and said, ‘Your first year in the seminary will either make you or break you.’” Father Mathis said that Bishop Costello and Father Kilpatrick used to tell him he had gone a long way on a quarter tank of gas. “They were right,” said Father Mathis. “God didn’t give me great intellect, but he gave me a big heart to use to open doors.”

Father Mathis said that ministry was Bishop Costello’s thing. “I have great respect for him. Thank God for bishops who give their priests to the military,” said Father Mathis. “The Syracuse Diocese has always been very generous with giving 10 percent of their priests to the military.” Father Mathis said that Bishop Costello respected him because he took the stand to serve in the military for 31 years. “He told me that because of my time in the military, I would have military people follow me wherever I went. He was right. I had a military person show up at the rectory this morning. He made a trip all the way to Syracuse to talk to me,” explained Father Mathis. Father Joseph Champlin, rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception expanded on Bishop Costello’s kindness to others. “When I was a young priest and had no family and no parish, Bishop Costello would invite me to his home in Rome for Christmas presents and dinner,” said Father Champlin. “When Bishop Costello was a young priest, he used to go over every day and help a homebound person with breakfast,” Father Champlin recalled.

The stories told about Bishop Costello reflected the same theme of respect and admiration. Father Sean O’Brien, pastor of Christ our Light Parish in Pulaski, also served as a military chaplain. “Bishop Costello has known me since I was 14,” said Father O’Brien. “He confirmed me first and then five or six years later, confirmed my sister. Since I was a teenager, Bishop Costello has been a steady presence in my life. While he may not have known me well when he confirmed me, he remembered me years later when he confirmed my sister.” Father O’Brien shared Father Mathis’ admiration for Bishop Costello’s support for military priests. “He wrote to me when I was in Iraq,” said Father O’Brien. “He made sure I was on all the diocesan mailings. He told me, ‘We are your family. We support you,’” he explained. Father O’Brien said that both Bishop Moynihan and Bishop Costello have been very good to him. “I dealt with a lot of chaplains in the military who never heard from their bishops. That wasn’t the case with the Syracuse Diocese,” said Father O’Brien.

When asked for how he felt about being honored with the award, Bishop Costello said, “I’ve experienced firsthand the good works that the Good News Foundation has done over the years. I am particularly honored to be the first recipient of the Evangelizer of the Year Award.”

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