ALBANY, N.Y. — Thursday is the 75th birthday of Bishop
Howard Hubbard, a milestone by any standard, but even more so because the Albany
diocese leader has to send a resignation letter to the Vatican.
The spiritual leader of a few hundred thousand Catholics in 125
parishes, Bishop Hubbard is an articulate, compassionate man who has spent 50
years serving in the very diocese he grew up in.
This native son of Troy began his life as a priest at 25, and
at 38, he became the youngest bishop in the country when a telegram told him to
send a secret code if he wanted the job!
“The telegram should read the New York State conference will
address the matter,” he said. “I sent the coded telegram back to Washington.”
When asked if he believed his successor will receive a coded
message, he laughed and stated he believed they had moved past coded messages. In
fact, it will be a phone call –just one of many changes the bishop has seen
through the years.
Another change he witnessed was the exodus of people from
the cities to the suburbs and the shortage of priests, which led to his closing
of 33 parishes –an agonizing time.
“I had to close my home parish, my home school, and I know
when something like that happens there are feelings of anger and betrayal and a
feeling of being abandoned by the church,” he said.
And cases of priest sex abuse across the nation and here at
home were also troubling years for Hubbard, but the bishop believes the new
pope may bring many back to their flock.
“His tone and his style are just extraordinary, and I think
people have just fallen in love with him. He is so simple so humble, so down to
earth,” he explained.
Humble, down to earth, also terms used to describe Bishop
Hubbard, a grass roots leader who fought for social justice from abolishing the
death penalty to founding the residential treatment center Hope House.
And he hopes to continue that work long after a new bishop
has been appointed.
“I hope in a special way to work in nursing homes and in
jails, so I would like to reach out to those who are falling through the
cracks, so to speak,” he said.
It's not unexpected from the humanitarian, but now the only
question is when will his replacement come?
“It could be two weeks, two months, 6 months, a year, so you
are sort of in a state of limbo for a while,” he explained.
But the bishop is comfortable with limbo, he knows it could
be a while before the pope appoints a new one, and so he will stay and lead the
flock, just as he has done for years.