Guest Columnists

To Know Bishop Paul Is to Feel His Goodness

by Father James Cunningham

The appointment of Bishop Raymond Chappetto and Bishop Paul Sanchez as Auxiliary Bishops of Brooklyn makes perfect sense. Anyone who knows these two great priests also knows that they are the best. You couldn’t find in Brooklyn two priests more highly respected and admired.

I came to know Bishop Sanchez when I was a senior at St. Francis Prep. He was assigned as the new assistant at my parish, St. Sebastian’s, Woodside. I was working in the rectory in the afternoons and evenings and in the sacristy on the weekends. Little did I know how my life would change because of his presence and example.

I had been thinking about the priesthood and discerning a vocation for a number of years. I first felt the call in the seventh grade. I always felt inspired by the many holy and happy priests who had served in my parish. They all were hardworking and dedicated. They all were prayerful and generous. But then this new priest came along and was different from all the rest.

St. Sebastian’s is a huge parish with Masses being celebrated in those days on the hour every Sunday. The volume of people is overwhelming. Day after day as I worked in the office or in the church, I was able to watch Father Sanchez be a priest. He was always available. There was never a problem or an issue that a person had that was too small or insignificant. People would line up at the sacristy door to speak to this kind and gentle priest who would help them with their problems, absolve them of their sins and love them without condition.

That is who Bishop Paul Sanchez is. What you see is what you get. It is goodness, complete and total goodness. He was never in a rush. He never seemed frustrated by the number of messages or demands made on his time. He served people with an open and loving heart and changed so many lives because he was always there.

As time went on, I knew that this is someone whose life I wanted to emulate. I knew for sure that I was being called to the priesthood but wondered if I could ever be half the priest that he was. Bishop Paul, I believe, is such a great priest because of the love and example that he received from his beautiful parents. Deacon Larry and Elizabeth Sanchez raised their three children in a home filled with love. They shared with them their deep faith and love of God and the Church and encouraged them to love each other and to appreciate family. I am sure that they are so proud in heaven of all three of their children today who have always followed their example.

As I moved through college and was studying business at St. John’s University, I had many more opportunities to spend time with Bishop Paul. I came to know his many priest friends, who I think also recognized that he was unique. Their priestly fraternity was a great influence on my own vocation.

It was at Our Lady of Mercy (where comedian Ray Romano was a member of his teen club), St. Michael’s, St. Sebastian’s, St. Agatha’s, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and Resurrection-Ascension where Bishop Paul was able to bring the loving presence of Christ to all those he encountered. To this day, there are hundreds of people that still seek him out. He is always there to bless a home or a family, to celebrate a baptism or a wedding, to listen to a problem and to encourage someone who is down and out. That is what Paul Sanchez does so well. This is why God called him to be a priest and now calls him to be a successor to the Apostles as a bishop.

A little less than two years ago when my father was dying, my family and I were all amazed that as my father’s dementia accelerated, he only seemed to know his immediate family. The only exception was Bishop Paul. As the cloud of dementia came in, he always knew and rejoiced when Bishop Paul came to see him.

A friend of mine remarked to me that true holiness is impossible to forget. That was certainly true. As the Church celebrates the ordination of our new bishops, I join with countless others in thanking God for sending into my life a friend, a model of priesthood and a hero who inspires me each day to love the Lord and His people with a generous heart that never counts the cost and always is there for those in need.

May God bless Bishop Ray and Bishop Paul because they are truly the best.

 

Father Cunningham is the administrator of Holy Name parish, Park Slope.

 

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