Albany bishop relates well to people, embraces simplicity, says family
Catholic News Service photo
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger leaves Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Albany, N.Y., April 10 after his episcopal ordination and installation as the new head of the Albany Diocese. Co-consecrators were Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, N.Y., and r etired Albany Bishop Howard J. Hubbard. The new bishop was a priest in the Brooklyn Diocese.
Catholic News Service
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — It is not every day that an altar boy from Ridgewood in the Brooklyn Diocese grows up to be a bishop.
And when that boy-turned-bishop is a humble, hard-working monsignor, it is a blessing, not only for the Catholic Church but also for the people closest to him.
The "boy" is Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, whose episcopal ordination and installation as Albany's new bishop was April 10 at Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Albany.
In February, when Pope Francis named the then-monsignor to succeed Bishop Howard J. Hubbard, the appointment astounded the priest's close-knit family, now largely based in Warwick in the New York Archdiocese. And perhaps no one was happier than his parents, Edward, 94, and Elaine, 93, of Warwick, who were blessed to have their first-born son share the news in person.
"I was stunned," his father said on a recent afternoon from his home. "To this day, I get up in the morning and wonder, 'Is this real?'"
His wife of 68 years assures him it is indeed real and true. "We were overwhelmed, and we still are. This is new to us," Elaine said. "We are all very excited and grateful to God."
On the morning of the official announcement, Elaine shared the news with the Brooklyn-born bishop's four younger siblings: Miriam Muse, Dennis, James and Lois Sheptuck.
"I was speechless," said Miriam Muse, who is one-and-a-half years her brother's junior. The new bishop will be 66 years old May 29.
"My mother called and said in a measured tone, 'I have some news,'" recalled Muse, who also lives in Warwick. "She quickly added, 'but it's not bad. Your brother is going to be the bishop of Albany.'"
Muse hoped he might be named an auxiliary bishop one day but never imagined he'd become an ordinary with his own diocese.
While she knows her brother is "extremely qualified" for this office, she was surprised by his appointment because he is one of the "least ambitious" people -- much like Pope Francis, whom he admires.
"I think he's very much going to model his bishopric on Pope Francis," she said. "He wants to have simplicity in his example."
Simplicity characterized the bishop's life growing up in the 1950s and '60s in Queens. His family attended Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church, Ridgewood. He and his siblings went to the parish school and saw their parish priests as role models.
"Our lives were centered around our church, family and community," Muse said.
"We always went to church as a family," remembers Lois Sheptuck, the bishop's youngest sibling. "We wouldn't miss a Sunday for anything."
For the Scharfenbergers, faith was more than just something practiced at church and at school.
"Faith was an ever-present part of our life," Sheptuck said. "With everything, we learned to either thank God or ask for his assistance."
At home, the family often gathered to pray the rosary around a statue of Mary and listen to Bishop Fulton Sheen on the radio.
"We always strived to be a good example," his father said, "to live the lessons of Christ."
Surrounded by a loving family and encouraged by parish priests, young Edward was able to consider a vocation from an early age.
As a child, "he liked to play that he was a priest," his mother told The Tablet, newspaper of the Brooklyn Diocese. "He'd celebrate Mass, and he'd get his brothers and sisters to be parishioners."
He was an altar server in his youth, attended the high school seminary and answered phones in the rectory.
During his teenage years, the future bishop would use the wages he earned in the rectory to take his little sister Miriam on cultural adventures in Manhattan. On weekends, they'd go to the opera, plays and ethnic restaurants.
She said her brother still enjoys traveling, plays, music and food. Not only does he like sampling cuisines, but he's also "a good cook" with Thai and Brazilian dishes in his repertoire.
Ordained for the Brooklyn Diocese in 1973, then-Father Scharfenberger was named a monsignor in 1995.
His appreciation for different cultures and peoples as well as his facility with several foreign languages are just some of the qualities that his family knows will serve him well in Albany.
"Edward is enormously good at reaching out to people," his father said. "One of his best qualities is relating to people one-on-one."
A listening ear and a compassionate heart are two of the bishop's greatest strengths according to his younger brother, Dr.?Dennis Scharfenberger.
"Edward is very insightful," his mother added. "He has a good mind and thinks things through and makes good decisions."
"Knowing my brother, he's going to put his heart and soul into his ministry in Albany," Sheptuck said. "He's very personable, articulate, a good communicator and he has a good sense of humor."
She believes her brother is happiest when he's able "to serve, to be a model of the faith and to minister to people.
"He's such an intelligent, talented individual," she added. "I admire him very much."
While it may be difficult to leave his native diocese, Sheptuck says her brother "understands that part of being in service to the Lord is moving from place to place. I think he's going to embrace this opportunity to nurture the faith in Albany."