Hello/goodbye brings joy/sadness

By Claudia Mathis
SUN staff writer

Seminarians in the Ogdensburg and Syracuse Dioceses have been   affected by the recent appointment of Bishop Robert Cunningham to his new post in Syracuse.

Father Thomas Servatius, director of seminarian formation for the Syracuse Diocese and administrator at St. Bernard’s Church in Waterville, believes the appointment of Bishop Cunningham will be beneficial to the Syracuse Diocese seminarians. “It will inspire them and give them a boost after a long semester,” said Father Servatius.

Jason Hage attends St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore, Md, along with the other Syracuse seminarians. His home parish is Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Brockport, N.Y. Hage  completed his pre-theology year at St. Mary’s and will be a first-year theologian next year.

Hage said the Syracuse seminarians have been looking forward to the appointment of a new bishop since the end of December. They all received emails at 6 a.m. the day of Bishop Cunningham’s appointment. The entire seminary was aware of the new appointment within hours, Hage recollected. Seminarians from other dioceses congratulated the Syracuse seminarians.

“From that day on, I was filled with excitement in anticipation of meeting our new shepherd,” said Hage. “I am looking forward to meeting with him. I read his interview in The Catholic SUN the week of his appointment and he seems to be a priest close to the hearts of Jesus and Mary. I have been praying for our bishop-elect months before his appointment and I will continue to pray for him as the new leader and shepherd of our diocese.”

Deacon Lukasz Kozlowski has reason to be excited about meeting Bishop Cunningham. The bishop will ordain Deacon Kozlowski June 6. “I’ve heard nothing but good things about him,” said Deacon Kozlowski. “When I heard that Bishop Cunningham had been appointed, I called my friend in Buffalo and he told me that Bishop Cunningham was a very good choice and that they couldn’t have chosen anyone better than him.” A native of Poland, Deacon Kozlowski’s home parish is St. Mary’s in Cortland.

Jamie Schultz is equally happy and excited about the appointment of Bishop Cunningham. “I’ve heard lots of good things about him and I read the interview with him in The Catholic SUN,” said Schultz. “I’m happy to be a part of the diocese and I’m praying for him.”
Schultz’s home parish is St. Malachy’s in Sherburne.

Father Doug Lucia, vocation director of the Ogdensburg Diocese, said that Bishop Cunningham fostered vocations while serving in Ogdensburg. “He had an excellent relationship with the seminarians,” said Father Lucia. “He would personally visit the seminarians and he took an interest in their education and their needs. At least twice a year, Bishop Cunningham would host dinners for them at his home.”

Ogdensburg seminarian Scott Belina was surprised and saddened when he heard the news of Bishop Cunningham’s appointment. He and the three other seminarians from their diocese — Thomas Higman, Nicholas Newtown and Ryan Grant —  received the news as they were eating breakfast after morning Mass at their seminary, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, Pa.

Belina has completed his second year in the pre-theology program and he will be entering the first theology program at the seminary in the fall. He has been a parishioner at St. Anthony’s in Watertown for the last 15 years. “I still remain a bit saddened,” said Belina. “A great father will be taken from us, and will be given to people who need him more at this time. Our Holy Father has made this decision for the good of both dioceses and that will be evident in the time to come.”

The seminarians became extremely close with Bishop Cunningham after the death of one of their fellow seminarians, Deacon Adam Crowe, in January. Belina said that at the time of his friend’s sudden and unexpected death and the period following it, his relationship with Bishop Cunningham changed. Belina began to look at the bishop as a father, searching for strength, guidance and love. “During that time, Bishop Cunningham was a man who looked out for us, and was that beacon of light that shone in the darkness of Adam’s passing from this world,” said Belina. “He even called each of us seminarians over the weeks following the funeral to see how we were doing and to talk to us about the seminary. That was one thing that I liked very much. It was so good to know that he cared for each of us and reached out to make that known.”

“A pastor he is, and proclaim the Gospel he does, as Jesus did,” said Belina. “It was his example that has helped me grow in relationship with Jesus Christ.” Thomas Higman also sees Bishop Cunningham as a father figure. He remembers how Bishop Cunningham showed his concern for him and the other seminarians over Crowe’s death. “He called us frequently,” he said.  “He is tremendously supportive of vocations,” added Higman, whose home parish is St. James in Carthage. “He made it a point to know us personally and to meet our families.
“It’s sad for us to lose him, but it’s a blessing for Syracuse. The seminarians of Ogdensburg wish him well and we encourage the Syracuse seminarians to love him.”

Ryan Grant, a parishioner at Holy Family in Watertown, said he and his fellow seminarians reacted with sadness when they heard of Bishop Cunningham’s assignment to the Syracuse Diocese. “He’s been a close friend to us,” said Grant. “He’ll do anything for us. He‘s a wonderful shepherd. He’s an inspiration to my vocation by the way he loves our Lord and he puts others’ needs before his own.”

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