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A New Bishop for Paterson

By Michael Wojcik
PATERSON - The Paterson Diocese this week rejoiced in welcoming its new spiritual leader and shepherd  - Bishop Arthur Joseph Serratelli - who has already forged a close relationship with his new diocese.

At a press conference Tuesday, June 1 at St. John's Cathedral here to announce that Pope John Paul II¹s choice for Paterson's new bishop, Bishop Serratelli said, "I am most happy to make my home along the banks of the Passaic and to give my heart and life to this Bride of Christ: the Church of Paterson." During late morning press conference, which attracted media form the metropolitan area, Bishop Rodimer - who has been spiritual leader of the Paterson Diocese for 26 years - announced that Pope John Paul II had accepted his resignation. He submitted it, as required by canon law, on his 75th birthday, Oct. 25, 2002.

"When I heard that the next bishop would be Bishop Serratelli, I was delighted," said Bishop Rodimer. "I knew what a good bishop he will be." Bishop Serratelli¹s installation as the seventh bishop of Paterson is scheduled for Tuesday, July 6, at the cathedral.

In retirement, Bishop Rodimer said he plans to "spend more time in the temple in prayer. As I am able, I will continue to be of service to the Lord and the Church, especially with the shortage of priests." He also plans to teach this summer at the College of St. Elizabeth, Convent Station, and spend more time with his Morris County-based family, notably his brother John, one of his golfing partners.

A Scripture scholar, Bishop Serratelli, 60, was appointed auxiliary bishop of Newark in 2000. Bishop Serratelli has already cultivated a bond with the people of the Paterson Diocese when he was assisting on weekends at St.Anthony of Padua Parish, Passaic, in 1994.

"I always felt at home in Paterson, and now I'm delighted to be officially part of diocese," said the new bishop, who, in the Newark Archdiocese, was serving as Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, Essex County regional bishop and as rector of St. Andrew's College Seminary at Immaculate Conception Seminary, at Seton Hall University, South Orange, among numerous other positions.

"The people of St. Anthony's are open and lively. They have taken ownership of their parish and give themselves to their parish," said Bishop Serratelli, a Newark native, who also remarked about the considerable growth of the Hispanic parish. Today, church services are vibrant and well attended, the sign of "strength of good parish," he said.

During the press conference, Bishop Serratelli also noted that, in the Paterson Diocese, "The people are many and rich in cultural diversity² and reside in three counties - Passaic, Sussex and Morris - that are an exciting mix of urban, suburban and rural communities."

"I look forward to service as bishop, priest and apostle of the Gospel for the people throughout the Paterson Diocese," said Bishop Serratelli, who has taught Scripture at several seminaries in the area.

"The Paterson Diocese is blessed with dedicated and talented priests who are committed, zealous and religious 9 many of whom I know personally. And there is a strong presence of many religious communities here. With a powerhouse of people like that, the diocese will continue to grow." Fitting with the multiculturalism of the diocese, Bishop Serratelli speaks several languages, including Portuguese, French, Italian and Spanish, which he learned 15 years ago when he traveled to the Dominican Republic.

Head of the Paterson Diocese since 1978, Bishop Rodimer said during the press conference, "I'm happy with my successor. He loves people, the Gospel and the Lord Jesus Christ - just what we needed." A priest for 53 years, Bishop Rodimer called Paterson a "compact diocese" of 360,000 Catholics  - much smaller than Newark Archdiocese's 1.3 million Catholics. Serving a large and ever-growing Spanish-speaking population, the parishes of the diocese have experienced some major expansion over the years, he said.

"I am most grateful to Almighty God for inspiring our Holy Father Pope John Paul II and everyone who had anything to do with bringing Bishop Arthur's name to the Holy Father's attention," Bishop Rodimer said in an official statement. "No matter who they were, it was the Successor of Saint Peter who gave the nod and, at the same time, gave the Church of Paterson an outstanding shepherd." Having learned about the appointment of the diocese's new bishop from Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, apostolic nuncio. Bishop Rodimer called Bishop Serratelli a "good priest, a brilliant scholar and a humble down-to-earth bishop who will be right at home in Paterson in no time." Bishop Rodimer acknowledged the new bishop's service to the St. Anthony¹s community and added: "Bishop Serratelli has had an influence on the lives and spirituality of more people in the Diocese of Paterson than even he knows through the priests of our diocese he has directed and has taught in his Scripture courses in the seminary." Archbishop John Myers of Newark offered his congratulations to Bishop Serratelli, with whom he has been a friend since seminary days.

"Bishop Serratelli moves a short distance to his new diocese, but he will always be close to all of us in the Archdiocese of Newark who know and love him," the archbishop said. "This will be especially true for those with whom he shared his knowledge and love for Holy Scripture both as a professor and in his preaching and conferences. "May the Lord grant him continued good health and length of days." During his more than 30-year ministry in academia, Bishop Serratelli has been a systematic theology professor and Biblical studies professor at Immaculate Conception Seminary and a Biblical studies professor at Mount St. Alphonsus, Esophus, N.Y., in the EPS Program at Trinity College, Washington, D.C.; for the Paterson Diocesan Diaconate program; and in New York Archdiocesan Religious Studies.

He also has taught at St. Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie, N.Y.; Fordham University, N.Y. and at St. Michael College, Vermont. The new bishop was a doctoral thesis mentor for the Graduate Theological Foundation in Donaldson, Ind.

Bishop Serratelli earned a master's degree in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome; a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome; and another doctorate in sacred theology form the  Pontifical Gregorian University.

Ordained in Rome in 1968 at St. Peter's Basilica, Bishop Serratelli was born on April 18, 1944 to Eva (Fasolino) and the late Pio D. Serratelli. His sister, Carolyn Serratelli Distatsio, is married and has three children and four grandchildren.

As a child, Bishop Serratelli attended Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, Newark. He went on to Seton Hall Preparatory School and then Seton Hall University, where he studied philosophy.

For the Newark Archdiocese, Bishop Serratelli's assignments also included: parochial vicar of St. Anthony Parish, Belleville; weekend assistant at Blessed Sacrament Parish, Franklin Lakes; Vicar for Ministries and Vicar General for the Apostolates. He also served on Newark's College of Consultors, Finance Council, Presbyteral Council and Priestly Vocations Board.

In 1998, Pope John Paul II named then-Father Serratelli a Prelate of Honor with the title of monsignor. In 2000, the pope named him as an auxiliary bishop of Newark.  At the time, the new bishop adopted the motto is "To live is Christ" from St. Paul¹s Letter to the Philippians, 1:21, which reads:  "For me to live is Christ. To die is gain." During his long ministry, Bishop Serratelli has served on numerous boards and committees for the Seton Hall, N.J. Catholic Conference, Immaculate Conception Seminary and the Board of Trustees, Assumption College, Mendham. With the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, Paterson's new bishop has been on the following committees: Committee on American College of Louvain, Member (Region III); Committee on Doctrine, Member; Ad hoc Committee for the Review of the Catechism, Member; Ad hoc Committee for the Review of Scripture Translations, Chairman; Ad hoc Committee for the Spanish Bible for the Church in America, member; Committee for Women in the Church and in Society, member; Task Group on Children and the Liturgy, member; and Task Force for the Review of the Lectionary, member.

"May I in some small way measure up to Bishop Rodimer¹s stature especially evangelizing youth," he said at the press conference.

As to the National Review Board and the priest abuse scandal, the new bishop said he would review the Paterson Diocesan policies - which are in line with U.S. bishops' guidelines.

"We must safeguard youth and children, despite failures of the past," he said. "The bishops should listen to laity. The Church must always be reformed. Spirit leads us the right way. The role of bishop as shepherd is to call people to unity of faith and charity." Upon hearing the news, Lucy Colletti -­ a parishioner of Our Lady of Good Counsel, Pequannock and active Columbiette - said, "I am thrilled about the announcement. I like the idea that he is  soft spoken and such a learned man. As an Italian-American I am also delighted that a fellow Italian American has become the leader of our diocese." Joseph Duffy, diocesan secretary of Catholic Charities Secretariat and executive director of Catholic Charities and Family Services, noted that as a Scripture scholar, the new bishop's leadership will be rooted in Scripture message of Jesus. Msgr. Mark Giordani, cathedral rector,  recalled that his connection to Bishop Serratelli was through the visits he made as a fellow priest to Father Hernan Arias, at that time a parochial vicar at the cathedral.

Father Arias, now pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Passaic, had maintained his friendship with the future bishop after having been his student as a seminarian at Immaculate Conception, Msgr. Giordani called the new bishop a "deeply spiritual, great preacher and Scripture scholar." Msgr. Giordani has heard the new bishop give retreats and talks on Scripture that he called "inspiring." "Bishop Serratelli is down to earth, approachable and sensitive to people's needs," the rector said.

Among those commenting on Bishop Serratelli was Gerald M. Costello, founding editor of the Beacon and later of Catholic New York, the newspaper of the newspaper of the New York Archdiocese.  Costello recalled that following his retirement from Catholic New York he had taken several Scripture courses taught by Bishop Serratelli at Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University.

"He was a very engaging teacher, obviously very knowledgeable, of course, but more than that, he made the study of Old Testament Scriptures very lively. He made these things come alive," said Costello. "The classes were small, mostly seminarians with just a few lay people like myself, and he always made us feel completely welcome." In his Beacon column this week, Bishop Rodimer, "I wanted to express my openness to God's will, to be sure, but I did so in the context of hope for the Church of Paterson, of joy in beginning a new chapter in the ongoing story of this fascinating three-county diocese, and of my desire to make whatever contribution I could as Jesus' and the people's "unworthy servant."

After hearing the news about Father Serratelli's appointment, Father Hernan Arias, pastor of St. Anthony's, Passaic, said his parish is "overjoyed." "The people here feel he is one of their own," said Arias, who first met the bishop in 1981; Bishop Serratelli taught Scripture to Father Arias, who is also the diocese's assistant director of vocations, at Immaculate Conception Seminary.

"After I was ordained, we started to become good friends and since then, we have traveled all over the place together - on vacations, on pilgrimages we organized," said Father Arias who noted that the bishop has "helped out" at St. Anthony¹s for 12 years. "He is very much a part of my family now, as I am of his family." St. Anthony's, Father Arias said, is an open and diverse parish - Hispanics, Filipinos, Italian-Americans and now Caribbeans.

"He reaches out to everybody, relates well to everybody and is very comfortable with everybody," Father Arias of Bishop Serratelli. "He is a city man. He loves the city, which is why he loves to come here." Father Arias noted the bishop's ability to communicate in Spanish and his fluency in Italian, as well of the fact that he speaks French and is "learning Portuguese." "And he taught Greek and Hebrew at the seminary. He has a great ear for languages," said Father Arias.

During the press conference, Bishop Serratelli also commented on other challenges that face the current Church: the challenge of preaching Gospel clearly, yet compassionately; the challenge of strengthening family life in our society; and challenge of promoting vocations among the young. The new bishop said that evangelizing young is  among his goals as shepherd of Paterson.

"Bishop Rodimer has admirably and wisely shepherded this diocese in the renewal and growth called for by the Second Vatican Council," Bishop Serratelli said.  "And now I am most happy at the call of our Holy Father Pole John Paul II to whom I am deeply grateful for the trust he places in me." At a meeting of the diocesan College of Consultors on the afternoon of June 1, Bishop Rodimer was elected as diocesan administrator until the installation of Bishop Serratelli as the seventh bishop of Paterson on Tuesday, July 6.


 

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