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Bishop Fisher eager to meet the diocese

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Bishop Michael W. Fisher has six weeks before his installation as the 15th bishop of Buffalo, and he can’t wait to get here. Already he is making calls to get to know the people he will work with and get a feel for his new home.

The first call went to Father Peter Karalus, vicar general for the Diocese of Buffalo. The two spoke on Dec. 2, the day after the announcement that Bishop Fisher would come to lead the diocese.

“He seems very open. He seems very energetic. He’s antsy to get here,” Father Karalus said.

Bishop Mike, as he likes to be called, would like to visit the Nickel City before Christmas.

Father Karlaus said the bishop’s personal comments echo the public comments he said during a press conference with local media.

 “He’s coming to Buffalo with a pastor’s heart and a pastor’s perspective,” Father Karalus said. “Obviously, he really wants to get to know the diocese, get to know its parishes, get to know its priests, its religious, its lay people. It doesn’t seem like he just wants to sit in an office. He wants to be on the ground and get to know people. He wants to know who’s who and all the resources we have and how we can work together with them.”

The two talked about the Jan. 15 installation, when Bishop Mike officially becomes the ordinary of Buffalo. “He said, ‘This is not about me. This is about the church of Buffalo. It’s about the people of Buffalo.’ He said, ‘Yes, I’m the shepherd, but I’m not doing this alone. We’re all doing this together,” Father Karalus explained.

 Taking a look at the CV of the new bishop, Father Karalus sees how his experience in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., as well as his education make him a perfect fit for Buffalo. The bishop has a business degree. The diocese is in Chapter 11 reorganization. He served as vicar of clergy in Washington. Buffalo priests struggle with low morale due to the priest abuse crisis. Washington has already faced an abuse crisis.

“My impressions are excellent. I think the pope made a great choice,” Father Karalus said. “I think, from just this conversation, he is a very active listener. So, I think he’ll fit right in, because he just wants to listen and learn. He’s not coming in with any fixed agenda of ‘I need to do this in the first three weeks or three months.’ I think he wants to learn about what we have, our resources and talent and people, what kind of ministries are going on and bring a new perspective to us, help us renew those.”

The bishop also made a surprise call to Msgr. Paul J.E. Burkard, who just began serving as interim director of Priest Personnel, to ask about the state of the clergy. Bishop Fisher had served as vicar for clergy in the Archdiocese of Washington.

“He was very interested in the situation with priests in general, and wanted to know a couple of things about priest personnel in the area here,” Msgr. Burkard explained. “He said one of his first cares and concerns is for priests. He said it was one of the things he liked to do the most in his priestly ministry. He asked about priest morale here in the Diocese of Buffalo and the things we could do to bring the priests together once he got here and settled in.”

During their 10-minute conversation, Msgr. Burkard found his new shepherd to be “very pleasant, very friendly, very down to earth.”

He agrees with Father Karalus’ thoughts that the new bishop is what the diocese needs right now.

“From what I’ve seen and read about his credentials, and what I gathered from our brief conversation on the phone, I think he’s a good fit,” he said. “His background, especially his financial background, and also his work with priests at various levels in the Archdiocese of Washington, I think he hits two of the major concerns here in Western New York. How we’re going to make it through the bankruptcy, and also how we’re going to shore up to work and ministry of priests here in Buffalo.”

The third call came to Sister Mary McCarrick, OSF, chief operating officer for the diocese. He called to thank her for her service to the diocese. The two spoke about social services the diocese provides. She found him “very relational.”

“He said he was disappointed that this was in a time of Covid because his greatest interest would be in getting out to different areas of the diocese to meet the real parishioners and members of the diocese. He recognizes the limitations of being able to do that at this time. That’s a disappointment. He’ll certainly do that as soon as he can. But that’s not in his control,” she said.

Sister Mary has served under four bishops in various roles as provincial minister for the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance & Charity, diocesan director of Catholic Charities, and COO for the diocese.

“I’m looking forward to connecting with his enthusiasm and helping him in his big transition here,” she said.

Bishop Michael W. Fisher will be installed as the Diocese of Buffalo’s 15th bishop at St. Joseph Cathedral on Jan. 15, 2021. Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

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