Bishop Gregory J. Studerus has observed an increased willingness among priests to collaborate and support one another – something he says is especially important right now in the face of a pandemic.
“The priests of Hudson County have great, challenging work to do,” he said. “What I find in the priests is real dedication, creativity, willingness to try to figure out a way to respond.”
Bishop Studerus is one of three new auxiliary bishops appointed by Pope Francis in February to the Archdiocese of Newark. Since being ordained three months ago he has been getting to know the people as well as the priests of Hudson County where he is assigned. He hopes the increased spirit of collaboration amongst Hudson’s parish communities will carry forward, and towards that end, he is planning a series of interactive forums for priests and lay parishioners.
At a recent meeting with the seven Deans of the county, the group discussed topics such as Mass attendance and the future of virtual Mass.
“It was a very, very good discussion coming from a lot of different viewpoints,” he said. “We had lunch together and then an open-ended conversation about how their parishes are dealing with the pandemic. Dealing with Mass attendance or not attendance, opinions about virtual Mass and the continuation of that. The possibility maybe we have to discontinue that.”
Bishop Studerus was raised in West Orange and spent nearly four decades as an archdiocesan priest serving in Hudson County. In 2015, he was appointed as the county’s Episcopal Vicar. Prior to being named bishop in February, he had been serving since 2005 as pastor of Saint Joseph of the Palisades in West New York, the largest Hispanic parish of the Archdiocese and among the largest overall.
“My role with the Hispanic community still remains and it’s important, but I think right now my role has been mostly helping and supporting the priests themselves over a number of different issues,” Bishop Studerus said in discussing his new position. “I have felt very good about my ability to effectively stand by the side of pastors who are dealing with troubling issues. At present, that’s where my focus has been mostly. Knowing the parishes better and knowing the pastors of all the parishes better is my next big challenge.”
While he is familiar with Hudson County, there is still more to learn, he said.
“I’ve been in Hudson County all my priesthood, but I was focused on my parish. Even when I was the Vicar, I was still also pastor, so my focus was mostly on my parish. Now it’s much broader.”
Auxiliary bishops support the archbishop in the pastoral care of the archdiocese. Each of them is assigned as a regional bishop in a particular county. In the past, auxiliary bishops also served as pastors, but that has changed under Cardinal Joseph Tobin, C.Ss.R., Archbishop of Newark.
When Cardinal Tobin first introduced them in February, he referred to the auxiliary bishops as “the principal partners of the archbishop.” He said he wants them to be “free to know the people of their county in a particular way” and to experience “the problems and joys of working in the vineyard.”
He also said that because each of the auxiliary bishops has special gifts there will be diocesan-wide responsibilities they will assume. Bishop Studerus said he was recently asked by the Cardinal to collaborate with the Office of Clergy Personnel. Details of the assignment are still in development.
“I think Cardinal Tobin is driving at the specific idea of increasing priest morale, increasing priests’ sense of being supported across the board, and I look forward to that,” Bishop Studerus said. “That’s exciting to me. It will demand me getting to know a lot more priests throughout the diocese.”
While many aspects of his new role have come into focus, Bishop Studerus, along with the other auxiliaries (Bishops Elias R. Lorenzo, O.S.B., Manuel A. Cruz, D.D., and Michael A. Saporito) are further developing the new aspects of their roles. He and the other bishops meet weekly with Cardinal Tobin, and went on retreat together recently in Mantoloking. The three new auxiliaries also went on a canonical retreat at Seton Hall prior to their ordination. The retreats are an opportunity for the bishops to pray and celebrate Mass together, reflect on their ministries, and develop their relationships with one another.
Bishop Studerus praised the Cardinal’s new vision for the role of auxiliary bishop, an approach last seen 40 years ago under Archbishop Peter L. Gerety.
“This is new and I just think it’s exciting,” he said. “It’s important, and necessary. The Cardinal has called us together, he calls us together regularly, he has expectations of us, and he expects us to be able to say that each of us know what’s going on in the county that we’re responsible for. He has been sharing the issues of the diocese with us. He’s been very graciously open to us and to our comments. So, it’s been a great experience.”
Bishop Studerus said the pastors and deans who he’s met with have been extremely gracious and lovely to him. He was recently invited to celebrate an outdoor Mass at Our Lady of Czestochowa in downtown Jersey City on a pier overlooking the Hudson River with a spectacular view of New York City as the backdrop.
“It was a beautiful, beautiful experience,” he said, adding that he is looking forward to more invitations from pastors to celebrate Mass together.
“I’m hesitating to just sort of impose myself,” Bishop Studerus said. “In the next weeks and months, I think that’s one of the things I need to do. I’ve been a little cautious about overdoing things because of the pandemic.”
This article is the second of a series featuring the four auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese of Newark.