Father Richard Carlino.
Father Richard Carlino.

Father Richard Carlino has been a priest in the Diocese of Albany for almost 42 years, and in addition to his more than three decades as pastor in numerous parishes, some of his most fulfilling moments in his priesthood have come as hospital chaplain in Albany, Troy, and, currently in Schenectady. As pastor at St. John the Evangelist and St. Anthony’s Churches as well as Fire Department chaplain, all in Schenectady, he recently spoke with Editor Mike Matvey about his ordination, anointing the sick during the pandemic and his favorite biblical passages in this latest installment of Father Figures.

TE: When did you first start thinking about becoming a priest?

FC: One of the earliest memories of life is of my dad Frank, soon to turn 96, taking me to our home parish, St. Augustine’s in Troy, for Saturday morning Mass. Then since about my First Communion in 1958, I knew I wanted to become a priest. When I left the high school seminary and later returned, I believe I was one of the few people who left and then go back. I left when I was 18, went to four years of college and one year of graduate school but still pondered my vocation all along and finally decided to return.

TE: What do you remember most about your Ordination day in 1979?

FC: When Bishop Howard Hubbard put his hands on my head at the moment of consecration. It was unquestionably the happiest moment of my life. I had never been as happy as on that day. I was very emotional. I think I cried. I’m Italian, and as most of us know, Italians are very emotional. I am not saying they’re the only ones that are emotional but that they are exceptionally so. I have always said that it is okay for men to cry in public … as long as I am not the man who’s crying!  That joyous emotion intensified within 10 days when I learned that I was going to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for my first assignment. I was there for four years.

TE: Do you recall any memorable events in your parish life?

FC: I have spent 38 years in parishes and four in hospital ministry. What I have loved the most has been the sacramental and pastoral aspects: celebrating the sacraments, visiting the sick and helping people with their painful life issues. I have frequently struggled with the administrative aspects. They’ve been a challenge for me.

TE: How did you come to valuing especially your ministry to the sick?

FC: My first pastor, Monsignor John Jones, went to the hospital every week and encouraged me to do the same. Of all the 38 years I have been in parishes, except when I was ill or on vacation or during the pandemic, I do not recall a week in which I missed visiting the hospital.

TE: What do people receive from you at hospitals?

FC: I think when you go, the people you see are more conscious of their spiritual needs then when they’re not sick. Therefore, it is the time to bring Christ to them, not only in the sacraments of confession, communion and anointing but bringing Him to them also through your own care and comfort. The personal encounter is very important to them.

TE: How about the people who you visit who have been away from the regular practice of their faith?

FC: You always look for and reach out to the lost sheep. Most of the time when I meet people who have been away from going to Mass, I use a bit of humor. That immediately puts them at ease, because they then sense that I am not going to judge them. I say something like, “I would love to see you come back someday. It would be wonderful.” And when they do come back and/or come to confession and say they have been away, many for years, I tell them how happy I am that they are there. It is an evangelizing moment.

TE: Do you think people in the hospital who are not ­conscious can still feel the presence of Christ?

FC: I always presume that they might be able to hear me. Here’s what once happened in the 1980s when I was the homilist at the annual Diocesan Respect Life Mass. I told the story when I had anointed someone in the emergency room who was thought to be in a coma. When I finished the anointing, the person made the sign of the cross. That meant she could hear me. One never knows. It is especially moving when the sacrament means a lot to them. This morning’s anointing at Ellis Hospital was a good example. The patient was a devout Catholic and spoke all about her former pastor, Father George Brucker, and said that he was a wonderful priest. Since Father is a close friend of mine and for 40 plus years I have felt the same as she did, how could I have disagreed with her? When the encounter is with somebody who is really into the faith, it is especially meaningful. But we can’t go solely by that either. We’re there to serve and bring the sacraments to them and we let The good Lord do the rest of the work.

TE: How has the pandemic affected your hospital ministry?

FC: The first call I responded to was in mid-November. I was frightened, especially since I had not yet been vaccinated. In fact, I must have anointed more than 20 COVID patients before I got both vaccinations. As scared as I was, the nurses assured me, “You are going to be okay.” Since I have been fully vaccinated more than six weeks ago, I’m now more at ease. It was initially difficult; but even though I was apprehensive, I felt good that I had responded to the Lord calling me to do it.

TE: Do you have a favorite biblical ­passage that you lean on?

FC: One is for people coming into confession or whenever they can’t seem to let go of past mistakes, even of sins they have confessed: Isaiah 1:18. Come let us set things right, saith the Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet, they may become as white as snow. Though they be crimson red, they may become as white as wool. I memorized those lines years ago, I have used it thousands of times. There are two other favorite ones: Are you not worth more than they? (Matthew 6:26). Jesus is telling us that our worth is from our being created and therefore within ourselves. That one line, Are you not more important than they?  is my favorite passage in the entire Bible. Another passage can be a bit unpopular: We are unprofitable servants. We have done no more than our duty. (Luke 17:10). But I love it, for it reminds us that we are simply to respond to what Christ calls us to do.

TE: What advice would you have for someone thinking about becoming a priest?

FC: I would tell them my absolute conviction that, from my admittedly biased perspective, there’s not a more fulfilling vocation in life. I cannot fathom a more beautiful and meaningful vocation on the face of the earth.