Bishop James Massa, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, has officially settled into his new role as rector at St. Joseph’s Seminary and College. He was appointed to the position by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, mid-July, and succeeded Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari, who served as rector for the last nine years.
After completing his first week as rector in late July, Bishop Massa reflected upon how impressed he was with the seminary’s response to the coronavirus pandemic as it unfolded throughout the spring semester. Since this is not his first time being at St. Joseph’s Seminary — having previously served as an associate professor of dogmatic theology and the director of assessment and accreditation from 2012 to 2015 — he is excited to be back in the Dunwoodie section of Yonkers.
“It is a kind of homecoming and to be living in a seminary community, in many ways, suits my personality,” Bishop Massa said. “I love not only the theological teaching and learning but also the prayer life of a seminary community. We gather several times a day in the chapel and help others draw closer to the heart of Jesus.
“The joy that pervades the seminary is a great sign of spiritual vitality in the life of the church.”
Though New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to announce school reopening procedures in early August, St. Joseph’s Seminary already has a plan in place for the fall. At the moment, the seminary intends to welcome back the seminarians living on-campus and to enforce social distancing while they attend classes in a traditional, in-person format. The permanent deacon candidates and the laymen and women in the Master of Arts in Theology program will continue to be taught remotely.
Bishop Massa said one of his goals for this academic year will be continuing to help seminary students adjust to the conditions for seminary education while learning and living in the age of COVID-19. He also plans to continue building upon the collaborative partnership between the Archdiocese of New York, the Diocese of Brooklyn, and the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
“To me, it’s very exciting to see the cooperation, to strengthen that, and to build on what’s already there,” he said.
Additionally, Bishop Massa hopes to help create an environment where seminarians begin to form, within themselves, qualities that are necessary for leadership in the church today. Those important values, he said, are transparency, accountability, and a capacity to engender trust.
“Those are challenges I think facing Catholic Church leaders across the board,” Bishop Massa continued. “My mentor as a graduate student [at Fordham University] was Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., and he proposed famously different models of the church. The last one he promoted in his later years was that of a community of disciples, which captures what a seminary is about — forming a community of disciples.
“A seminarian, before he becomes a priest, must be a disciple of Jesus, and he must be someone capable of forming a community of disciples in the parish which he is assigned.”
In the same vein, Bishop Massa said he will be taking the experiences he has had from being pastor at Holy Family-St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, since June 2018, with him as he embarks on this new journey.
“Being a pastor is a tremendous basis for seminary leadership. I was not only directing others there, but I was being formed anew in my faith and dedication to the ministry,” he continued. “The parish is the heart and soul of Catholic life.”
Bishop Massa is the 22nd rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary and one of five bishops who have served in this role.