August 8 will mark the second anniversary of Bishop Douglas J. Lucia’s ordination and installation as the Diocese of Syracuse’s 11th bishop. The Catholic Sun recently sat down with the bishop to look back at the year’s ups and downs and to look ahead at his goals for the months to come. Here are excerpts of that interview, condensed and edited for length and clarity.
Catholic Sun: How would you describe your experience over the last 12 months?
Bishop Lucia: With everything opening up from COVID, it’s been almost like everything has been new. I didn’t realize, really, how much life had been on hold, so to speak, until I started doing a lot of stuff that I didn’t do in my first year. So it was both exciting but also a little bit intimidating in the sense of realizing — all this is part of my schedule that I didn’t know about before.
How has the pandemic affected your ministry as bishop? How have you seen it affect the diocese?
There are different ways of answering that question. On a positive side, I think COVID has made us more sensitive to one another, more conscious of what we might call our practices in life. For me, the big thing [is] being conscious of one’s neighbor and how what I do affects one’s neighbor. For me, that’s been maybe the bigger lesson from it all. When we talk about protocols and everything, for me, it’s all about, “How am I caring for my neighbor?”
One thing I sort of miss, that I thought we were doing a little bit better during COVID, was this idea of trying to slow down a bit. I think the pace has picked up. I don’t know if that’s always a good thing. We seem to like to fill our days, and even our weekends, with so many events and stuff that I don’t know if we really take time for ourselves and for families.
What stands out in your mind over the last year?
I think of Christmas, when I ended up filling in at the Spirit of Hope Catholic Community in Oneida. With COVID, we didn’t have enough priests, so I ended up actually going out to parishes to do Christmas this year, which I thought was kind of neat. Another big event for me, of course, were the ordinations in June. Just to do Holy Week this year, and to do the Chrism Mass during Holy Week — those are all special events for me. Also getting back into doing my parish visits and being able to be attentive to the parishes again and parishes starting to have events again.
Even before your installation, you said getting out to the parishes and getting to know the people of the diocese would be a top priority for you. Have you made progress on that goal?
I have been able to get to more places. I did Mass a couple of weekends ago in Phoenix; this weekend [July 31-Aug. 1] I’m going to do Mass in LaFayette and Tully and Otisco. I’m going to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton [in Baldwinsville] in a few weeks to celebrate their anniversary. I’m getting out there to be able to be present to parishes.
Last year, you said your goal for the coming 12 months was to help the diocese rediscover a vision of church and leadership roles in the church. What progress have you made toward that goal?
That goal will be ongoing. I see it coming particularly into play as we now prepare for the diocesan synod. One of the goals of the synod would certainly be this whole area of our life as church and also the leadership of that church. And of course, I’m looking to expand that leadership.
In the next couple of weeks, I’ll announce my new administrative council, which I’m expanding. They will be the advisors that I meet with on a weekly basis to help me with these goals. I will be appointing new regional vicars and I will be appointing a new college of consultors.
Some of this is in preparation to help with the synod process. Particularly, the regional vicars are going to be helping with the convening of various aspects of the diocesan synod in their own areas.
You announced plans for a Diocese of Syracuse synod in your first pastoral letter, “In the name of Jesus,” which you released in February. Pope Francis has also asked bishops to hold diocesan-level listening sessions in preparation for the 2023 global assembly of the Synod of Bishops. What is a synod? What is the goal?
Synod means assembly, so it’s an assembly of the people. It’s meant to work for the good of the whole diocesan church and to assist me in the governance of the church. There are three areas that I’m really looking at in our diocese. Part of it is our own organization and coordination as a diocese, that we’re working together. Which also brings about the theme of communion, which for me is important, because I realized in the diocese, we’ve been used to regions. Sometimes I think we see them as separate parts. But I look at them more like the Trinity; we’re really called to be one community of love. So how do we bring that about?
Sister Katie Eiffe, CSJ, will return to the diocese later this month to serve as Director of Synodal Planning and Vicar for Religious. What synod work will she begin?
The first part of the process is actually going to be in line with the synod in Rome. We’re going to have listening sessions throughout the diocese this fall and winter. There are some specific questions that are going to come from Rome that they want us to share with people and have people share their insights. But then for me, I also just want to hear … what might be some cares and concerns, along with some positive things. I want to use them as opportunities for people just to share with me where they’re at.
From hearing the people’s needs, I think that’s where we start looking at our goals that we might want to set for the diocese, and then going along with those goals would be action steps.
For me, that’s what the synod is. If we have certain goals, a certain vision that we see for this diocese, the synod is really meant to help. How do we get to this vision? How do we put this into practice?
You opened a diocesan Year of Vocations last November. What are you hoping the faithful will gain from this effort?
First of all, I wanted to focus on the universal call to holiness, which is our call from God. We live out that call in specific ways in the church — as priests, religious, deacons, lay ministers, married. I really wanted to highlight that idea that we all have a call from God.
Then, as it happened, Pope Francis declared a Year of St. Joseph, who we were going to use as our patron — someone who, in his own life, really wrestled with God’s call but also was willing to give his life to God’s call. And so he became the model for us.
It’s been wonderful. I just think the fact that there’s been so much interest, so much attention given to vocations, I think people have a new understanding — when we’re talking about vocations, we’re not just talking priesthood and consecrated life, religious life, we’re talking about, really, each of our calls from God.
Last June, the diocese filed for Chapter 11 reorganization, citing the financial impact of lawsuits filed under the Child Victims Act alleging past child sexual abuse by clergy and laypeople. Where is the diocese in that process now?
At the end of September, we will have our first mediation sessions, which will bring together all the parties involved. We will begin to try to bring about a settlement that is within the means of the diocese but also will be of substantial assistance to those who suffered abuse at the hands of a church employee or volunteer.
How has your experience of this process informed your ministry?
First of all, I have to give high praise and great credit to both Steve Breen and to Danielle Cummings, who are our chief financial officer and our chancellor, who have helped me through this entire process.
I think the most difficult thing has been to come to the awareness of exactly what some people went through. And it, of course, causes me a mix of emotions: anger, frustration, sadness. It’s all there. But at the same time, I do know that we are trying our best to make reparation for what has happened in people’s lives. We can never say we’re sorry enough. But also in this case, we’re not just saying we’re sorry; we’re really trying to do something concrete about it.
In June, the bishops of the United States held their annual spring meeting. During discussion about a proposed statement on Native American and Alaskan Native ministry and recent discoveries of unmarked graves near former Catholic-run residential schools for Indigenous children in Canada, you spoke up and said the Doctrine of Discovery [15th-century Vatican documents that justified colonization, land takeovers, and oppression of Indigenous peoples] should be addressed. Can you explain why that is important for you and for the church?
Truthfully, it’s important for me because it’s important for this local church. When I came to the Diocese of Syracuse, it was one of the concerns brought to me almost immediately when I became bishop. It certainly is an issue of justice. But it’s also an issue of, again, making reparation for past behavior, for past sin that has happened, that the church, in a certain sense, was cooperative in.
That meeting also saw a lot of discussion about and media coverage of a document to be drafted about the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the church. Can you speak about that document and what it means?
We’re looking at a three-year Eucharistic revival in the United States. Next year is supposed to focus on dioceses, the following year on parishes, leading to a third year which will be a national event and possibly a Eucharistic Congress. So really the document is meant to accompany this Eucharistic revival and share why the Eucharist matters in the life of the church.
When they [bishops] were talking originally about this whole idea of Eucharistic consistency, it was really focusing on our disposition when receiving Holy Communion. I think some wanted politics to enter into this, but it’s not meant to be political at all. It is simply, really, meant to represent the church’s teaching on the Holy Eucharist and on reception of Holy Communion.
I think a lot of people were hoping that there would be this statement made by the bishops regarding the practice of Holy Communion by certain people, but canon law is very specific that that is an individual discussion to be had with the local bishop and the local pastor and the person involved.
What is your vision for the next 12 months?
Working on the structure of the synod for the diocese and also working on how we will also be doing this Eucharistic revival in the diocese. I would like to bring greater unity to the diocese, that we not see ourselves as separate regions but that we are one diocese.
Fast facts & quick questions
Bishop Douglas J. Lucia grew up in Altona, in the Diocese of Ogdensburg in northern New York, and was ordained a priest in 1989.
Pope Francis named him June 4, 2019, to succeed Bishop Robert J. Cunningham, who had led the Diocese of Syracuse since 2009. At the time, Father Lucia was pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Waddington and St. John the Baptist Church in Madrid, as well as the judicial vicar, vocation director, and director of seminarians for the Diocese of Ogdensburg.
He was ordained and installed as the Diocese of Syracuse’s 11th bishop Aug. 8, 2019.
Best experience in the last year?
Ordination of five priests. [Father Malachi Clark on Aug. 15, 2020; Fathers Dennis Walker, John Leo Oduor, Brendan Foley, and Daniel Caughey on June 5, 2021.]
Favorite part of ministry?
Still the parishes.