Bishop on campus sparked conversation of spirituality and being inclusive to all

By Amanda Weber

Griffin Reportermalone

On April 26, 2017, the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, Richard Malone, had a conversation with a group of students in the Science Hall Commons at Canisius. The event was organized by Campus Ministry, with a large effort from Director Mike Hayes. The event was originally supposed to run from 3-4 p.m. Despite a slight delay due to a media crew, Daybreak TV Productions, covering the story, Malone attempted to keep the original time frame of an hour so students could have time for discussion and to ask questions of the Bishop.

Malone wanted the students to feel as comfortable as possible, joking that there was no script that accompanied this talk. One of the members of Daybreak TV Productions reassured students that the discussion was for them, stating that it was “giving [them] the opportunity to have a voice with the Bishop of Buffalo.” She also emphasized the fact that the Bishop chose to speak at Canisius before starting his series of discussions at other local private or public institutions.

Malone decided to begin the discussion with reading his favorite piece of scripture, Mark 10:46-52, which involves Jesus Christ healing a blind man in Jericho. Although one may initially focus on the physical aspect of blindness, Malone wanted to start the discussion by talking about how an individual can experience inner blindness, particularly within their spirituality. He referenced his own personal story about a 93-year-old priest who he was visiting during a summer at a nursing home in Boston, Mass. One day, he asked the priest, “Monsignor, as you grow older, what is it you fear the most?”

The priest answered, “When I grow older, what I fear the most is that I would ever lose my ability to see.” The Bishop originally thought that the priest meant physical sight. However, the old priest elaborated his point.

“What I fear the most is that I would ever lose my ability to see: to look on life, to look on other people, to look on the poor, to look on creation, to look at myself the way God wants me to,” the Monsignor told Malone.

After Malone revealed this personal story that had a large impact on his faith, he asked the students if they could elaborate on how they feel Canisius has allowed them to look on life differently and expand their horizons. Jerrell Lanos, ‘18 answered the Bishop’s questions and discussed the opportunity he had to be a leader on a Kairos retreat on campus. He believes that what made the Kairos experience so powerful for him and his fellow retreatants was the comfort they all felt with each other. Although Lanos had to give a talk about his own personal struggles, he was okay with sharing these personal aspects with “complete strangers.” Malone agreed with Lanos’ point, and noted his selflessness and dedication to those who were experiencing their first Kairos retreat.

When the discussion was opened up to questions from the students, Maxine Osetinsky, ‘17 posed a question regarding inclusiveness. She wanted to discuss how Canisius, specifically Campus Ministry, could further promote ways of including those who do not identify as Catholic in the culture of the school.

Malone gave an example of an organized event that promoted being inclusive when he was a campus minister at Harvard, which involved hosting a spaghetti dinner as soon as students arrived on campus to start the semester. The tagline was, “All are welcome!” John Hollinger, ‘17 went on to mention how Senior Associate Campus Minister, Joseph Van Volkenburg, promotes of being inclusive rather than exclusive. Hollinger never felt forced by JVV, as students call him, to conform to a certain set of beliefs, and agrees that a message of inclusiveness needs to be spread further around campus.

“I think keeping the conversation going and opening it up as much as we can to others will help,” said Hollinger.

The Griffin then asked Malone for his perspective on the “phenomenon” of Catholic school closings in Buffalo, as certain members of the audience had experienced this previously. Malone explained that he empathized with the students and parents of those schools, even the ones that were protesting outside his residence.

As a proponent of Catholic education himself, he did not want to close the schools. However, a decision needed to be made and demographic shifts made this decision necessary. Right now, the Diocese is in the process of a “revitalization process” and instituting STREAM, “a signature feature” of the local Catholic schools that promotes science, technology, religion, English, arts, and math education. Malone stated that the Superintendent of the Diocese is being asked to promote this new way of teaching in other areas because of the success the program has already had. Therefore, Malone hopes that these initiatives allow the current status of Catholic education in the community to remain strong, and he emphasized his commitment to this issue.

“We are committed to do all we can to keep the schools strong and flourishing,” said Malone.

Students then asked an array of different questions, such as if the Bishop ever had doubts in his faith. He was honest and admitted that he had experienced those feelings before, even now as a 71-year-old bishop. He emphasized the fact that priests, bishops, and other clergy members are not free from doubts of faith. For example, it was revealed in a biography that Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, whose whole life was dedicated to service and to the poor of her region, had long periods of her life where she was tempted to call herself an atheist because she did not feel God’s presence whatsoever. Malone had an interesting reaction to this revelation.

“Some people were scandalized by this. I was psyched to hear it,” said Malone.

The last question asked involved was about Malone’s opinion on Pope Francis and what he believes the Pope is doing for the Catholic church. Malone is excited about Francis and believes that his demeanor and way of being are allowing more individuals to be welcomed into the Catholic faith. He believes that Francis is doing a great job with eliminating the stereotypes that tend to be associated with Catholicism. He referenced Francis as being like a pastor, while past leaders of the church, like John Paul II and Benedict, were intellectuals. He likes how Francis encourages priests and bishops to be more involved, asking them to “be pastors, not distant bureaucrats.”

“He is calling us to be all that we’re called to be,” said Malone.

Despite interruptions from the media crew being slightly distracting, Malone promoted discussion amongst the students and was able to have an effective dialogue with those who attended and participated in the conversation.

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