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home : features : people of faith

2/13/2014 1:45:00 PM
Acquaintances describe pastoral, supportive shepherd
People in both the Albany and Brooklyn Dioceses who have known Bishop-elect Edward Scharfenberger say the Albany Diocese is lucky to have him as its new shepherd.

"I've known him for 50 years," said Rev. Thomas Leach of Mary Queen of Heaven parish in the Brooklyn Diocese, a close friend of the Bishop-elect. "He is very, very smart, very kind. He's a pastoral man."

Father Leach said his friend is also "a good cook, well-read and a good theologian."

The two are in a group of priests who get together for prayer every five weeks or so. They've also taken vacations together; Father Leach noted that Bishop-elect Scharfenberger enjoys vacationing in Ogunquit, Maine, though "earlier in our priesthood, we used to spend a lot of time driving around the country, visiting classmates.

"It's still a surprise to me" that Bishop-elect Scharfenberger will be heading to the Albany Diocese," Father Leach said. "He'll certainly be missed."

Tribunal tales
Msgr. Steven Aguggia of St. Margaret's parish in Middle Village, N.Y., worked on the Brooklyn Diocese's Tribunal after the Bishop-elect and was trained by him in the myriad details of how a marriage tribunal works.

"He was a very good teacher," Msgr. Aguggia told The Evangelist. "He's very kind, a very gentle person, a very good listener. He was vicar for our area in Queens, and when he'd make a pastoral visit, he'd listen carefully to situations that were going on in my parish."

Msgr. Aguggia, who also works with the Italian Apostolate in the Brooklyn Diocese, noted that Bishop-elect Scharfenberger "was always a big supporter of and participated in" the apostolate's celebrations, including an annual Good Friday procession.

School supporter
Michael Pizzingrillo came to his position as director of the Albany diocesan Catholic Schools Office about 19 months ago after serving in Brooklyn's central office for nine years; prior to that, he was a teacher and principal there. He described Bishop-elect Scharfenberger as "an intelligent, personable, caring man" with "great vision and leadership skills."

The Bishop-elect is also "a strong supporter of Catholic education," Mr. Pizzingrillo noted. When stationed at St. Matthias parish in Ridgewood, which has a parish school, "He [went] to whatever lengths possible to ensure the school stayed viable."

In that effort, said Mr. Pizzingrillo, he was "the best [pastor] I've ever known."

Many former classmates of Bishop-elect Scharfenberger came forward to say how proud they were that he has been named a bishop.

"He was ahead of me in college [in both Brooklyn and Rome, Italy] by two years," said Peter Avvento, director of religious education and adult faith formation at St. Edward's parish in Clifton Park and former head of the Albany Diocese's Amazing God evangelization initiative. "He was a good singer. He has a sense of humility. I would consider him to be a moderate. He's going to be tolerant of diversity. He's a good communicator; I think he's going to do well with [lobbying] state government."

Classmates and more
Rev. David Berberian, administrative advocate for priests for the Albany Diocese, is another former classmate; he attended the North American College in Rome a year behind Bishop-elect Scharfenberger. The new bishop's "background and experience are going to be helpful for concerns that need to be addressed," Father Berberian said. "They talk about the qualifications [a bishop needs], and he has them all."

"He's a really good guy. You're in good hands with him," reported Ed Wilkinson, a former classmate who's now editor of The Tablet, Brooklyn's diocesan newspaper. Although the Bishop-elect has written many editorials for The Tablet, Mr. Wilkinson said, "He's not someone who looks for a lot of publicity."

Reporter/photographer Antonina Zielinska of The Tablet came to Albany to cover the press conference where Bishop-elect Scharfenberger was introduced. She'd met him before: She was a parishioner of St. Matthias Church, where he spent 12 years as pastor, when she was a teenager.

Ms. Zielinska's family immigrated to the U.S. from Poland. When she was a teen struggling with decisions about her future career, she said, "My mom was like, 'Go to Msgr. Scharfenberger,' when I didn't know what college to go to. He helped me become a journalist. He has a very large presence in the [Brooklyn] Diocese."

"The amount of text messages and calls from my former Brooklyn colleagues filling my phone, congratulating us, speaks volumes," Mr. Pizzingrillo concluded.

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