Diocesan News

Aux. Bishop Massa Vows to Be Strong Mentor to Seminarians

Mass Celebrated to Mark Installation as Rector of St. Joseph’s

Seminarian Juan Herrera (right) said “it’s a blessing” to have Auxiliary Bishop James Massa (left) as rector. (Photos: Paula Katinas)

YONKERS — Auxiliary Bishop James Massa vowed to be a mentor and a guiding light to men studying for the priesthood as he was officially installed as the rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary and College in a special Mass on Sept. 13.

“I hope to strengthen the relationship between seminarians and the local clergy. The priesthood is all about relationships. First of all, there is the relationship with Jesus Christ our savior. There is the relationship with clergy, deacons, consecrated religious and of course, with the community,” Bishop Massa told The Tablet in an interview prior to the Mass.

“It’s so important to build a strong relationship with the community,” he added.

The installation Mass, which included Bishop Massa reciting a pledge and signing an official document, took place in the chapel of the seminary in the picturesque neighborhood of Dunwoodie in Yonkers.

Bishop Massa was appointed rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary by Cardinal Timothy Dolan in mid-July. He succeeds Msgr. Peter Vaccari, who served from 2011 to 2020 and is now president of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

The seminary, which was founded in 1896, trains future priests from the Archdiocese of New York as well as the Dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre. Bishop Massa is the 22nd rector in the 124-year history of the seminary and the fifth bishop to hold the post.

Bishop Massa’s appointment was made by the cardinal with the support of Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Diocese of Brooklyn and Bishop John Barres of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. Cardinal Dolan, Bishop DiMarzio, and Bishop Barres comprise the St. Charles Borromeo Council which oversees the seminary system shared by their three dioceses. All three were all present at the Mass.

Even before the official installation, Bishop Massa was already on the job at the seminary, starting in mid-July to prepare for the new semester and welcoming students at the start of the semester a few weeks ago. In a recent interview with The Tablet, Bishop Massa said he wanted to continue to help seminary students adjust to the conditions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, including social distancing and mask-wearing.

In addition to training seminarians to enter the priesthood, St. Joseph’s Seminary also educates permanent deacons and laypeople. Bishop DiMarzio said religious leaders want to make sure the facility is open to a wide variety of students, including older seminarians and foreign-born students. “We want to make sure we offer a universal education,” he said.

Bishop Massa is an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn and has a background in education — something that should prove to be valuable as he works to strengthen St. Joseph’s Seminary and guide men into the priesthood to meet the challenges of the Catholic Church in the 21st Century.

Bishop Massa is no stranger to St. Joseph’s Seminary. In 2011, he coordinated a merger that brought the Archdiocese of New York and the Dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre together to form a single program of graduate-level study in priestly formation at St. Joseph’s. He served on the faculty there from 2012 to 2015. He is also the former vicar for education for the Diocese of Brooklyn.

“He comes well prepared for this wonderful task,” Bishop DiMarzio said.

Clergy leaders head the procession out of the chapel at the end of the installation Mass.

The choice of Bishop Massa as rector was an easy one, according to Cardinal Dolan. “If you had a group of people sit down and describe the man you would want as rector of the seminary — spiritual intimacy with the sacred art of priestly formation, a man with experience, a man who loves his priesthood and has immense pastoral experience. If you put in a computer, guess whose name would come up: James Massa,” the cardinal said.

Seminarians are eager to study under Bishop Mass as they begin their journeys to the priesthood.

Many of them praised his humility.

“He is very down to earth, very humble, very caring, and very spiritual. And those qualities are so good for our seminarians,” said Tobechukwu Offiah of the Diocese of Brooklyn.

“He is very gracious, a very nice guy. He’s down to earth and very approachable,” said Seminarian Jozef Ukaj of the Archdiocese of New York.

Juan Herrera, a seminarian from the Diocese of Brooklyn, said he admired Bishop Massa’s kindness and “how he speaks to us” in a humble, unassuming manner. “It is a blessing to have him as the rector here,” he said.