"The inevitable is here," remarked Bishop Howard J. Hubbard with good cheer as he looked toward the end of his 37-year tenure as the ninth Bishop of the Albany Diocese and welcomed his successor, Bishop-elect Edward B. Scharfenberger of the Diocese of Brooklyn.

"There's a finality to it when a new bishop is appointed" that isn't quite there when a current bishop simply reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75 but has not yet retired, Bishop Hubbard explained.

Though "I knew this day was coming," he said, it became official when he got home from work the evening of Feb. 3 to find a message from the Vatican's apostolic nuncio to the United States on his private line, asking that Bishop Hubbard please call him.

The nuncio announced who his successor would be and suggested that, if Bishop Hubbard and Bishop-elect Scharfenberger agreed, the official announcement could be made to the public on Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Hadn't met
Bishop Hubbard admitted that his first reaction upon hearing Bishop-elect Scharfenberger's name was, "I've never heard of him." After having been Bishop for 37 years and a priest for 50, he explained, he has met many people from other dioceses.

Although their paths had never crossed before, Bishop Hubbard said he was happy that Bishop-elect Scharfenberger had been appointed: for one thing, "He's a civil and canon lawyer," which is a good background for someone to have who will serve a diocese located in the state Capitol.

In addition, the Bishop said, "it's good for the Diocese. Right now, I'm in lame duck status; I wasn't going to be making any decisions that would have consequences for my successor."

When the two spoke, Bishop Hubbard was impressed; he boasted that Bishop-elect Scharfenberger is "warm, genial, down-to-earth, humble and unassuming."

As the bishop-elect is from the borough of Queens, Bishop Hubbard was happy that "he's a [fellow] Mets fan."

What's next
For the next several weeks, Bishop Hubbard will continue his schedule as usual. The Vatican asks that a new bishop be installed within 60 days of his appointment, so Bishop-elect Scharfenberger's ordination and installation is scheduled for Thurs., April 10, 2 p.m., at Albany's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. That's the week before Holy Week, so the new bishop will be able to officiate at Easter liturgies as bishop.

The rest of the diocesan hierarchy won't change, either, with the exception of Rev. Michael Farano, vicar general and moderator of the curia. Bishop-elect Scharfenberger can choose to re-appoint Father Farano to this position or appoint a new vicar general, his second-in-command.

"Certain things that are on the calendar for the bishop, the new bishop will assume," Bishop Hubbard said - including the ordination of deacons in May and of the Diocese's newest priests, Deacons James Davis and Brian Slezak, in June. He noted that he knew when he went through his calendar last year that it would likely be the last time he'd be a celebrant at certain events.

"That doesn't mean I'm not going to be a participant," he added.

The Bishop mused that "I'm the only priest in the Diocese who isn't retired by the age of 75 now. I have a lot of friends that have moved from being pastors to retirement. I know there's some adjustment in the early weeks, going from having a busy schedule to one that's more of your own making."

Making plans
However, he's beginning to think ahead to vacationing for two weeks in Cape Cod, "spending a little more time with my family, being available to help out with liturgies, maybe working in jails and prisons - but that's aspirational, rather than a set plan."

He recalled a story that his close friend Bishop Emeritus Matthew Clark of Rochester, a native of the Albany Diocese who retired in September 2012, recently shared: Bishop Clark was driving near one of the Finger Lakes and suddenly began to laugh, realizing he was free of the burdens and challenges of leading a diocese.

Many retired priests of the Albany Diocese say the same thing, Bishop Hubbard said: They enjoy no longer having to attend meetings, do fundraising and so on, and instead focus on "being available to help out and do what they were ordained to do" - celebrate the sacraments.

"The challenges that the next letter or phone call you receive might create: That's now somebody else's responsibility," Bishop Hubbard said.