Father Robert Longobucco, the pastor at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish in Niskayuna.
Father Robert Longobucco, the pastor at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish in Niskayuna.

The Evangelist continues its interview series with Father Robert Longobucco, the pastor at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish in Niskayuna.

Father Bob talks with Mike Matvey of The Evangelist  and is the latest profile in the Catholic Voices series, which features a wide range of women and men and will appear periodically in the paper and online.

The Evangelist continues its interview series with Father Robert Longobucco, who is well-known in the Diocese, and was instrumental in merging St. Helen’s Church and Our Lady of Fatima Church, achieving the goal of Called to be Church with the formation of St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish in 2012.

“Father Bob,” with his distinctive laugh, is also the diocesan Vicar for Faith Formation and Education; he talks with Mike Matvey of The Evangelist about his upbringing, going on a Jesuit mission in Los Angeles and how to reach kids in the digital age. Catholic Voices will feature a wide range of women and men and will appear periodically in the paper and online.

TE: Where did you grow up and how did you make it to upstate New York?

FB: I grew up in Bayville, a small town on the North Shore (of Long Island); had a great childhood. But really I got up here because I got rejected by most of the schools I wanted to go to. Ended up at the University at Albany and loved it up here. By my sophomore year, I knew I wanted to live upstate. Before I knew I wanted to be a priest, I knew I wanted to live here. 

TE: What specifically did you like about upstate New York?

FB: I think my sensibilities fit more up here. I found a gentleness; a retreat from constant competition that I really appreciated. There is a little colony of us “Upstaters” up here, who have a little down-state edge but prefer being up here.

TE: What is your first religious memory?

FB: I had an utter conviction that God loved me and I loved God. This is the first generation after Vatican II and I get that. And they were really trying to feel their way about how to catechize after Vatican II, and there is a lot of criticism for the period. But the one thing I knew, and I don’t know if my parents knew as well, was that God was love and God loved me. And that always intrigued me. 

TE: Campus ministry was a big part of your life in Albany. How did that start?

FB: I wanted to go to a big Catholic school, and I got to a big public school and had the best Catholic community of my life there. It was incredible. My friends from there are still my best friends. And it’s not a small crowd; 20-to-25 of us. We still see each other occasionally and still keep in touch. I think we realize it was a different kind of bond that brought us together… It was dynamic. It was something that we built because there wasn’t a lot of institution there. We had great campus ministers my four years there. It gave me a sense of what Church could be, and it gave me my first leadership experiences in Church, which was great. It’s one of the real values of campus ministry: young people become leaders.

TE: You graduated in 1987 and then did a Jesuit mission?

FB: I did the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, which is the oldest volunteer program in the country. And I taught in South Central (Los Angeles) in a Catholic School, Verbum Dei, and was really immersed in a culture that wasn’t mine for the first time. And really enjoyed it and was challenged by it. And it was really ministering. I was a 23-year-old kid cast in the middle of South Central L.A. I learned a lot. 

TE: Were you thinking about becoming a priest after that year?

FB: It was never out of my mind and it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. And then I remember the first Iraq War praying really intensely that there wouldn’t be a war somehow. And recognizing that my best excuse for not being a priest was that I wasn’t praying enough; and then I realized I was praying enough, so now I have to think about this. There was a lot of discernment with my friends and my family. If the people who knew you best didn’t think you should be a priest, you probably shouldn’t be a priest. So I wanted to really check it out with them. And nobody didn’t think I would be a good priest. So I worked for three years in legislature (in Albany), one year at La Salle (Institute); then I went into seminary at age 27.

TE: Talk about the development of the St. Kateri Tekakwitha parish?

FB: I was originally assigned to St. Helen’s as the pastor; and then the priest for Our Lady of Fatima. And seven years ago, we decided to merge and we really made that decision. It wasn’t the Diocese that said we should look at merger; we had this very organic process. The only question that we had to answer was how best to serve the mission of Jesus Christ. And there was real consensus that grew that doing it together would be the best way. That is how St. Kateri came to be. I think that says a lot about our parish; it really is mission-oriented. It’s a bunch of smart, caring people who know what Jesus wants and want to make it happen in the world.

TE: Tell us about your other full-time job: Vicar for Faith Formation.

FB: Maybe it’s because my mom and my grandparents were teachers, it always seem to be in my way. And I did campus ministry, which is part of faith formation. I went to public school, but I have been pastor of a Catholic school and I was part of the faith formation staff for years as the priest liaison. I love working with young people and I love working with forming faith. That is a primary call that we have especially in times when faith is more challenged; people need great articulation. People need more motivation and people need enough knowledge to fall in love.

TE: How do you reach kids in the digital age and get them involved?

FB: Their life is not at the Church; it’s not the 1950s. Their lives are in the community so, shockingly, you have to go to the community to see them. For example, I try to get to every varsity sport for Niskayuna and Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons; go to a game. I think that means a lot to them. I know it means a lot to their parents. You become a part of their life. It shouldn’t be exceptional that the priest is a part of their life in this community. So I think you have to go to them and then when they come to you, you got to be able to relate to them. That is not just a priest’s job; that is a parish’s job. They have to feel empowered and wanted and valued when they get here. And we really try to do that in all that we do.

TE: Your annual 24 Hours of Reconciliation just happened again. How do you do that?

FB: The first time (2016) was kind of a phenomenon. It was on the radio and there was a TV story and people were coming from all over the Diocese. Kids were breaking curfew and parents didn’t know if you should punish them for breaking curfew to go receive a sacrament. We had 130 people. It was crazy and it was really speaking to a hunger. The Pope recommended doing 24 Hours for the Lord (but) I don’t think he recognized that a lot of us are the only priests at our parish. This chance to have this special space for reconciliation and time to really wrestle with how we can be better and with God’s love has been just precious. And this year I noticed people come in, and even though I will see them throughout the year, this is kind of their chance to say ‘Here’s what happened this year.’ And that’s great. You don’t have that privileged time with the people that you would love to have that time with to really know what is going on in their life, so I am incredibly blessed by it. The only reason I am really able to do it is the Holy Spirit, which holds me tight for 30 hours and (then) tells me to go to bed.

TE: What is your favorite part of your vocation?

FB: I would say the Mass is my favorite part, but it’s not different than interaction with people. My favorite way of interacting with people is sharing Christ. And if you do it well at all, sharing Christ doesn’t end when we say ‘Go in Peace.’

TE: What is your life philosophy?

FB: I think that nothing can prevent God from loving us and that’s our freedom and our joy. I know when I get down, that is exactly what I forget. And I have a great opportunity to tell other people that, so I can remind myself.