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Bishop Bootkoski gives thanks for milestone anniversary
September 21, 2017
METUCHEN — “Today is a Mass of Thanksgiving, not only for my vocation, but for all of you,” said Bishop Emeritus Paul G. Bootkoski during a Mass to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his episcopacy, held Sept. 10 in the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi. “I thank God for the gift of all of you.”
Bishop Bootkoski served as principal celebrant of the joyful liturgy to mark two decades of service as a bishop before a congregation filled with family, friends, diocesan staff, priests, deacons, religious and faithful from the four counties of the Diocese of Metuchen. Concelebrating the Mass were the diocese’s current episcopal leader, Bishop James F. Checchio; Abbot President Elias Lorenzo, OSB, abbot president of the American-Cassinese Congregation, and a number of priests of the Diocese. Reflecting the Bishop’s close relationship with the Knights of Columbus, Robert E. Hatler, N.J. Knights of Columbus State Deputy, read the first reading; his support of Catholic education was symbolized as Sister Lisa D. Gambacorto, director of Mount St. Mary Academy, Watchung, read the second reading. Deacon Stephen Kern, who is diocesan director of the Office of the Diaconate and serves in St. Magdalene de Pazzi Parish, Flemington, proclaimed the Gospel. Bishop Bootkoski’s sister and brother-in-law, Annette and Fred Wagner, presented the gifts of bread and wine.
The Cathedral choir, under the direction of Thomas A. DeLessio, led the music for the liturgy celebration and sang a version of the “Magnificat” composed by the Felician Franciscan Sisters of Lodi. Bishop Bootkoski admitted his 20 years in the episcopacy had gone by “in a flash,” and acknowledged many individuals had an impact on his vocation, none so much as the Holy Fathers that had served the Church over the course of his life. “I want to share with you from my vantage point the seven Popes that have served during my lifetime,” Bishop Bootkoski, born in 1940, said in his homily. Beginning with Pope Pius XII, elected 1939, he described each one in turn:
• Pope Pius XII: “Very reticent, prayerful, almost a prisoner of the Vatican, and influenced by what he had to encounter.”
• Pope John XXIII: “Sensitive, close to his people, a humorous approach, within a few short years he stole our hearts.”
• Pope Paul VI: “Great intellect, enacted the changes of Vatican II because this is what the Church wants.”
• Pope John Paul I: “A man of great joy and intellect. Thirty-four days later, God called him home.”
• Pope John Paul II: “This man touched our hearts and minds. We are so blessed he established us as a diocese, he inspired so many. I had lunch with a saint!”
• Pope Benedict XVI: “A man that stood by his side, an older man, a beautiful writer. I give him such respect; he realized he could not handle [the papacy with his health problems] and so he resigned.”
• Pope Francis: “He takes us on a whirlwind, there is something very special there. He taught all of us that we need a conversion of heart, when Jesus is accepted in our hearts, it is not a one shot deal, but a constant journey.”
“These are the influences in my life,” Bishop Bootkoski concluded. "When you have difficulties, just think what they have gone through.”
The Bishop asked the congregation to examine the prayer card that was tucked into the program. A picture of a smiling Pope John XXIII was on the front and an excerpt from the late pontiff 's journal was printed on the reverse. “O Lord, do not let us turn into broken cisterns that can hold no water, do not let us be so blinded by the enjoyment of the good things of earth," it read in part, “that our hearts become insensitive to the cry of the poor.”
Bishop Emeritus Paul G. Bootkoski was born in Newark on July 4, 1940, to the late Peter and Antoinette Bootkoski. Ordained to the priesthood on May 28, 1966, for the Archdiocese of Newark. He was assistant vice president for student affairs at Seton Hall University, his alma mater, for three years beginning in 1980. In 1983 he became pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Elizabeth and became an honorary prelate (Monsignor) in 1991.
While serving as pastor at St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Saddle River, then Pope John-Paul II named him auxiliary bishop of Newark on July 8, 1997. He was ordained bishop on September 5 of that year. Then Archbishop, now Cardinal, Theodore McCarrick appointed Bishop Bootkoski vicar general of the archdiocese. When Archbishop McCarrick was named to succeed Cardinal Hickey in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., the College of Consultors elected Bishop Bootkoski to serve as administrator of the archdiocese until Bishop John Meyers of Peoria was appointed the next Archbishop of Newark. The pontiff named him as the fourth Bishop of Metuchen on Jan. 4, 2002, and he was installed on March 19, 2002. He chose as his episcopal motto “God’s Grace Suffices." Bishop Bootkoski administered the diocese until the episcopal ordination of Bishop James F. Checchio in 2016, and today serves
as N.J. Knights of Columbus State Chaplain. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in classical languages from Seton Hall University; a Master of Divinity degree in theology from Immaculate Conception Seminary, and a Master of Arts degree in education from Manhattan College and an honorary Doctor of Divinity which comes with episcopal ordination.
A light reception was held in honor of Bishop Bootkoski in the CYO Hall of Saint Francis Cathedral Parish.
By Christina Leslie, Correspondent at The Catholic Spirit