By Connie Berry
The Diocese of Syracuse was officially founded Nov. 26, 1886. Pope Leo XIII confirmed a rather reluctant Albany priest with almost 14 years of experience as vicar general, Father Patrick Ludden, as its first bishop in a consistory on Dec. 8 of that same year.
This year, on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2011, Archbishop Timothy Dolan will join the diocese at a 2 p.m. anniversary Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. A reception will follow at the OnCenter just blocks away in downtown Syracuse. Admission to both events will be free but tickets will be required with each parish receiving an allotment.
Bishop Ludden’s formal installation was a gala event with a reported 10 other bishops and nearly 100 priests in attendance. Bishop Ludden was consecrated at the Franciscan Church of the Assumption, the only church large enough at the time to accommodate the ceremony. He chose St. John the Evangelist Church as his cathedral. Two thousand people paid one dollar each to attend the ceremony, undoubtedly a large sum at the time.
Approximately 60,000 Catholics made up the diocese at its inception. There were 70 priests to serve the faithful back then, and today the total number of priests is 140 serving an estimated 285,000 Catholics.
The Syracuse Diocese was carved from the western reaches of the Albany Diocese. With the Rochester and Ogdensburg Dioceses already in place, the western area of the mother diocese was known as a bit of a renegade locale with some priests openly bristling under the far-away bishop’s authority. Bishop Ludden was well versed in confronting such matters and respecting the hierarchy of the church. A quote from The Catholic Sun, then in its infancy, noted in the book that chronicles the history of the Syracuse Diocese, Faith and Friendship, by David O’Brien reads, “The Bishop is Rome, Rome is the Church, the Church is God, whom we are bound to obey in all things.”
The conditions the early priests found as they ministered in the territory likely contributed to their sense of independence. The Erie Canal had brought a population boom and the priests were miles from their bishop in Albany. It didn’t take long however, before Bishop Ludden’s keen ability to lead and organize began to shape the Syracuse Diocese.
His legacy today includes a high school named in his honor and a diocese with faith-filled laity educated and catechized by countless teachers — lay persons, clergy and religious. The ministries available today are too numerous to mention. The diocese has undergone the same changes and faces the same challenges as other dioceses across the U.S. From Maine, N.Y. to Forestport and Norwich, the Syracuse Diocese stretches across seven counties. Bishop Ludden’s goal to bring all the Catholics together to form a united church likely hasn’t changed for today’s Bishop Robert Cunningham.
In that vein, the plan is for the diocese to spend some time, a lot of time, celebrating its anniversary. The year is designated as a year for rejoicing and coming together, whether parish by parish or by attending larger diocesan events.
An anniversary committee was organized for planning purposes, including the kick-off event in November. Every parish is asked to create a banner no larger than four feet by six feet reflecting its parish community. The banners will be carried by a representative of each parish at the OnCenter celebration. There will be an historic display and a festival chorus. Regional Masses will likely be celebrated. The Catholic Schools Office and the Office for Faith Formation will work together to develop lesson plans highlighting the history of the diocese, which can be used in schools and parishes. The new logo shown on the cover of the newspaper will be utilized in every capacity.
Ginnie Lostumbo and John Marshall are co-chairs of the anniversary committee with Father Jim Lang, Vicar for Parishes, serving on the committee with them. Lostumbo said she was very honored to be asked to be part of the committee. An unabashed lover of all celebrations, Lostumbo has years of experience planning liturgies. “This is a celebration of faith, hope and charity with all members of our faith community working together to proclaim our history as we move into the future,” Lostumbo said.
Marshall, a parishioner of Our Lady of Pompei/St. Peter’s Church along with Lostumbo, said he brings organizational skills to the group. He also said, “When you receive a call from your bishop asking to work on a project, how can you say ‘no’ to your bishop?” Marshall said the Nov. 6 celebration is only the beginning of the coming together of people all across the diocese to celebrate the milestone.
“We were charged with developing the concepts of celebrating where our diocese has been as well as where we are headed in the future,” Marshall explained. “The celebrations will be well beyond the Mass and reception at the Cathedral on Nov. 6. It will encompass our Catholic schools, regional celebrations, individual parish celebrations, musical concerts, an historical presentation at the Onondaga Historical Association and many other activities.”
Father Lang noted that this initial celebration kick-off is just the beginning of a celebratory year with many updates of events coming down the road. More than anything, the year will be one filled with joy and hope for the future of the diocese, he said.
Help with planning and implementing events is welcome, Father Lang said. Pastors can contact him with names of volunteers by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.