By Connie Berry
The 16th annual Journey of Faith — Paths to Discipleship held Saturday, Sept. 25 at the OnCenter in Syracuse featured Bishop Thomas Costello as keynote speaker. This year was especially bittersweet because it was the last Journey of Faith for diocesan director of the Office of Faith Formation, Sister Katie Eiffe, CSJ. She plans to serve in Latham, N.Y., at a retreat and conference center run by her religious community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Sister Katie will leave the Syracuse Diocese in early November.
Journey of Faith is designed to energize and evangelize the catechetical community, although it is also attended by other laity, priests and religious. Many exhibitors participate, including religious education book publishers and other offices of the diocese. Workshops covering topics such as “Forming a Spiritual Child in a Secular World,” “St. Francis and the Canticle of Creatures,” and “Am I a Disciple of Jesus?” and several others took place throughout the day. The keynote speaker, however, is one of the highlights.
Bishop Costello was warmly welcomed by Sister Katie who said, “I’m happy to welcome Bishop Costello who has been an example of discipleship… . He is and always has been our bishop, born and raised in the Diocese of Syracuse. He has been a steadfast supporter of the Office of Faith Formation and catechetical ministry. He has confirmed thousands of young people. He was the keynote speaker for the very first Journey of Faith in 1995. He is, in a word, ‘beloved.’”
Bishop Costello said the learning component of his own path to discipleship began with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet at St. Aloysius Academy in Rome, N.Y. where he received a “formative foundation.” The past 55 years of his journey, he said, included speaking, teaching and ministry.
He was asked to serve as auxiliary bishop on Christmas Day 1977 and has served in that capacity until his retirement. His experience is a lengthy list of service with Catholic schools, social justice ministry, with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and many other areas within the church. The fact that he was never asked to serve as an ordinary instead of an auxiliary bishop has often been a subject of debate and he addressed it early in his presentation.
Bishop Costello said on page 28 of the book, Archbishop: Inside the Power Structure of the American Catholic Church, by Father Thomas Reese, SJ, published in 1989 it stated that Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Costello, Thomas Gumbleton and a few others “are considered too liberal by Rome to ever be given a diocese.”
“All bishops are asked to submit a letter of resignation on their 75th birthday. It took Rome all of 15 days to accept mine,” Bishop Costello said. “On March 9, 2004 I was thanked for my service…. they thought I retired.”
The bishop described his own journey to find his path to discipleship. He said there are two kinds of grace. “One kind of grace is given to make us pleasing to Him, and another kind of grace is a charism, is given for the sake of others, a grace freely given for the common good,” Bishop Costello said. “So the questions I try to face are, With what has the
Spirit graced me? What can I discern? What are my gifts, my charism for discipleship?”
He said that some years ago another priest told him he’d be well advised to prepare a general homily that he could keep in his pocket and use any time he was asked to say a few words.
“I followed that advice,” Bishop Costello said. The notes he prepared begin with a narrative when Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say I am? Who do you say I am?”
Then the bishop asked the members of the audience, “What about you? Who is your Jesus? Whose Son is your Jesus? The Son of Joseph? The Son of Mary? The Son of God? Son of David? Son of Man? Son of the Father? Is He God or is He man? Is He a teacher or a preacher, a prophet, a priest, a king or a servant? Do you think your Jesus is Master and Lord? Redeemer or Savior? Wonder worker? Exorcist? Healer? Who is your Jesus?”
Bishop Costello talked about a priest’s first assignment as being crucial and significant throughout the rest of his priesthood. For Bishop Costello, in 1954 he was sent to Our Lady of Lourdes where he met the church’s pastor and one of his mentors, Msgr. Martin Watley. “He was an orator,” Bishop Costello said, “golden-tongued indeed.”
Msgr. Watley had a weekly radio broadcast and was part of NBC’s “Catholic Hour” from time to time. “People came to Lourdes to hear the preaching,” Bishop Costello said.
He remembered a particularly hot summer day when Msgr. Watley came into the sacristy after preaching and he was soaking wet with perspiration.
“He said, ‘The day you can’t get excited, the day you can’t get enthusiastic is the day you shouldn’t go out there,’” Bishop Costello said.
Bishop Costello reminisced about his 50-plus years as a priest and auxiliary bishop in the diocese and his stories all pointed to discipleship. At one point he said, “To be completely candid, I’ve talked the servant talk but less successfully I’ve walked the servant walk.”
Bishop Costello called on the catechetical leaders to be more than disciples, to be witnesses of the Gospel. “Live in such a way that others see in you a synthesis of faith,” he told them.
He talked about a crisis within the Church today. Bishop Costello said when he was superintendent of Catholic schools in 1964 there were 42,023 pupils enrolled and this fall there are less than 6,000.
“What is happening? Why do we haggle over language in a new missal? Why do we quibble with apostolic visitations among our women religious? Why do we do all this ‘stuff’ and fail to address real issues? There’s a real crisis of conscience in the Church. Look at our empty churches. Only one in four of us participates in weekend liturgy.”
He spoke of his friendship with Sister Katie saying, “I’ve been privileged to be your companion on this leg of the journey. You’ve been more than a companion, you’ve been the tour guide.”
He also helped Sister Katie present the seventh annual Bishop Thomas J. Costello Award to Paul Welch, a Catholic Charities employee who also serves as director of the Office of Social Action Ministry of the diocese. He has a long history of involvement in social justice work at his parish, St. Vincent de Paul, and throughout Central New York. Welch has traveled to the Sudan as part of his connection with the Lost Boys at his parish. Bishop Costello likened him to Msgr. Charles Brady, a well-known priest who served as an inner-city minister in Syracuse for many years.
“Msgr. Brady made the Church of Syracuse credible. It was he who stood in that place,” Bishop Costello said in his introduction of Welch. “He died four days before I was ordained bishop. His place has been taken in places where it [the church] should be represented in the person of Paul Welch. He’s there.”
Welch accepted the award and spoke of social action ministry and people he has crossed paths with over the years. He urged those gathered to attend an upcoming event involving the treatment of prisoners at the Justice Center in Syracuse, and then he highlighted an event on immigration that will take place on the weekend at All Saints Parish in Syracuse. He quoted another social justice activist and award winner, the late Joe Coudriet.
“Joe had the greatest smile in the world,” Welch said. “He had a great tag line, ‘We’re here to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.’”