When news came this past Tuesday that Msgr. Ed Scharfenberger had been chosen to be the next Bishop of Albany, N.Y., most people were surprised. Not because of the choice of him as a bishop but because of the when and where.
Whenever pundits sat around and talked about what priest might be selected as a bishop, Msgr. Scharfenberger’s name always was in the mix. But most assumed that he would be an auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn because he is so much part of the fabric of our diocese here in Brooklyn and Queens.
Msgr. Scharfenberger is one of us and so we thought he always would be here with us.
I first met him in high school. We were classmates at Cathedral Prep, Brooklyn. When the Elmhurst branch of Cathedral was built, Eddie was moved there for his junior and senior years. The class was reunited for our first two years at Cathedral College, which was located at that time in Brooklyn at Washington and Atlantic Avenues.
When the Douglaston site of the college was completed, we all moved to Queens for our junior and senior years. We were members of the first class to graduate from the Douglaston campus in 1969.
On my computer’s desktop, I keep a photo that reminds me of our Douglaston years. In senior year, we put on a production of the play “Andersonville,” the story of a Civil War prisoner of war camp. I had a bit part in one of the more dramatic scenes. The photo shows me standing with three other cast members, one of whom was Eddie Scharfenberger, who incidently was one of the stars who carried the show.
As one of the brighter members of the class, he was selected to pursue his seminary studies at North American College in Rome. We should have known right there that his was not going to be a typical priesthood.
After his first parish assignment at St. Ephrem’s, Dyker Heights, he went on to further studies in moral theology and law, both canon and civil.
As the diocese’s Officialis and Judicial Vicar, he oversaw the workings of the Marriage Tribunal. Later, he ministered as a pastor at St. Matthias, Ridgewood, which he told a press conference Feb. 11 was the most important position that will serve him well in being a bishop.
“Nothing is more important to me than the time that was given to me to be a pastor,” he said.
When asked how he felt about being a bishop, he simply said, “It’s a little overwhelming. It took me totally by surprise.”
During his initial press conference, he was asked about his priorities. “Bringing the love of Jesus to everyone in some way,” he said, adding “I’m most concerned about people who feel alienated from the Church.”
People who know the new bishop will tell you that he is exactly as he comes across. Gentle, honest and kind. When he says he’s interested in hearing from the people about the needs of the diocese, he means it.
When he says he does not want to close churches, he’s serious. He also points out that the Church is not about buildings but about people.
When he says he sees his role as healer, listener and reconciler, you can take that to the bank.
Bishop Howard Hubbard, the retiring Bishop of Albany, praised Bishop-designate Scharfenberger as “such a gifted leader.”
He made a great first impression in Albany this week. But the best is yet to come.