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Former Holy Cross superior general now ministering in Bennington, North Bennington parishes

Holy Cross Father Hugh Cleary admits he did not like school when he was a child. It seemed everything was about memorization, and he just was not good at it.
           
But when he was in a sophomore English class as a seminarian at Stonehill College in North Easton, Mass., his teacher called on him for an answer even though he had not raised his hand. The teacher praised his student for his comments on the meaning of something they had read.
           
“From then on, I was on the Dean’s List,” said Father Cleary, now parochial vicar at Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church in Bennington and St. John the Baptist Church in North Bennington.
           
His current assignment has brought him full circle to this southern Vermont community where he spent a year of his seminary training in the Holy Cross order’s novitiate, once located in Bennington. Between stops here, he has been a parochial vicar, inner city pastor, novice director, provincial of the Eastern Province, Rome-based superior general of the worldwide order for priests and brothers and chaplain for the Monastic Family of Bethlehem of the Assumption of the Virgin and of Saint Bruno.
           
He moved to North Bennington to begin his current ministry in August.
           
“I love parish ministry in general,” said the 70-year-old priest who grew up in Queens, N.Y. He appreciates being able to share all of life with people, from the good times to the bad, from celebrations to mourning. “You get to know your parishioners. They have the strength of humanity. It all harkens back to that English class. What is literature but an expression of humanity’s joys and struggles?”
           
He feels privileged to be a priest. “People open up their heart to you. You gain so much strength from their heroic virtue lived every day,” he added.
           
The son of a New York City police officer and a stay-at-home mother, Father Clear has a single younger brother and an older sister who has five children and 16 grandchildren.
           
He always wanted to be a priest. “It was always in me,” he said during an interview at the Bennington parish center. “I can’t remember wanting to be anything else.”
           
His family life revolved around Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament Church in Bayside where he became an altar boy shortly after his First Communion. He attended the parish school through eighth grade then walked a mile to attend Holy Cross High School in Flushing.
           
He had thought about becoming a diocesan priest in New York, but in high school one of the Holy Cross brothers suggested he consider the Congregation of Holy Cross.
           
He was ordained in 1973 at Holy Cross Parish in South Easton, Mass.
           
Father Cleary – who grew up in a family in which education was emphasized – has earned five degrees: a bachelor’s degree in English from Stonehill College; a master’s in theology from Notre Dame University in South Bend, Ind., a master’s in counseling psychology from Loyola University in Chicago; and a master’s and doctorate in formative spirituality from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
           
For him, education is a way to help one think and reflect on life.
           
When he was in the novitiate in Bennington, one of the changes that came about after Vatican II was that the seminarians did not have to earn their undergraduate degree in philosophy. So he and three other members of his class of 35 seminarians decided to major in English. “I thought it would be easier,” he recalled with a smile.
           
So with a nod to their future English degree, the four seminarians snuck out of their rooms one night to sleep on the grave of poet Robert Frost in Old Bennington. “We thought we’d do better in English with him than without him,” he added with a twinkle in his eye.
           
A former marathon runner, Father Cleary now enjoys walking and hiking, and besides his sacramental, Catholic school and visitation ministries, he is working with parents and sponsors of confirmation students in both parishes.
           
Fluent in Spanish thanks to a Maryknoll language school in Bolivia with experience ministering to migrant workers, he would like to resume that type of work if there is a need for it in southern Vermont. 
 
  • Published in Parish

Ordained to the Priesthood and Transitional Diaconate

Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne ordained two men to the priesthood and one to the transitional diaconate at a special Mass June 18 at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington.

The celebration was part of the diocesan commemoration of the Year of Mercy and its Jubilee for Priests and Seminarians.

During the more-than-2-hour Mass, the bishop ordained Fathers Curtis Miller and Matthew Rensch and Deacon Joseph Sanderson.

"These three men – Joseph as a transitional deacon and Curtis and Matthew as priests – have been chosen by God through his holy Church to go forth, appointed and anointed through the sacrament of Holy Orders to spread the Good News that Jesus Christ is Lord of all and the bearer of salvation to [the] entirety of creation," the bishop said in his homily. "You are called forth from the community to serve that same community and the wider Church as servants of the Church. What an honor and what a responsibility."

He told the men that they were taking on an awesome responsibility and he encouraged them and the members of the congregation that filled the co-cathedral: "In all Christian vocations – marriage, the single life, parenthood, widowhood, consecrated and religious life – if we do not place ourselves in God's hands and rely on his mercy and love, we shall fail. But when we do [fail], he shall lift us up on eagle's wings."

Bishop Coyne emphasized that all things are possible with God. "When we rely on God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – when we say 'it is not about me' but about him and his people, then our lives – but most especially the life of deacon or priest – are built on a solid foundation," he said. "This foundation is built of the bricks of daily prayer, especially intercessory prayer for the needs of others, the Liturgy of the Hours, the reading of Scripture and the celebration of the sacraments, the font and summit of which is the Eucharist, all of this being centered on Christ, relying on him who alone is our rock and our fortress."

The Rite of Ordination included a Litany of Supplication in which the Church invokes the intercession of the saints and martyrs in heaven to intercede for the candidates and the entire pilgrim Church on earth, asking for God to pour forth his grace and mercy. During the litany, the candidates lay prostrate at the foot of the steps in front of the altar.

The bishop then placed his hands on the head of each candidate. Through this Laying on of Hands by the bishop and the prayer of ordination, the gift of the Holy Spirit for the diaconal office was conferred on Deacon Sanderson and the gift of the Holy Spirit for the priestly office was conferred on Fathers Miller and Rensch.

Deacon Sanderson received the diaconal stole and dalmatic, signs of the office of deacon, and Fathers Miller and Rensch received the stole and chasuble, signs of the office of the ministerial priesthood.

In the Handing on of the Book of the Gospels, Deacon Sanderson knelt in front of the bishop who prayed, "Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach."

The bishop anointed the new priests' hands with sacred chrism and later placed in their hands the bread and wine – on a paten and in a chalice, respectively – pointing to their duty of presiding at the Celebration of the Eucharist and of following Christ crucified.

Father Miller was born in St. Johnsbury, the son of Edward and Judy Miller.

"We're ecstatic," Mr. Miller said, adding that his son will be a "great priest because he's a great person."

Father Miller's first priestly assignment will be as parochial vicar of Corpus Christi Parish in St. Johnsbury, Lyndonville and Danville.

When he was young, the family moved to Colchester where he grew up and attended public schools and Our Lady of Grace Church.

He heard the call to priesthood when he was in high school on a retreat with the opportunity to spend time with the Lord in prayer, especially in Eucharistic adoration. He said yes to the call because he believes it is what God is asking him to do and trusts that God is leading him on the path on which he can best serve God and the Church and be truly fulfilled.

Father Rensch was born in Binghamton, N.Y., the son of William and Margaret Rensch.

"This is the proudest day in my life," Mrs. Rensch said before the Mass. "It's so joyful. I'm so grateful."

The Rensch family moved to Vermont when he was five; his home parish is Immaculate Heart of Mary in Williston.

His call to priesthood was influenced by the close relationship of his family to their parish and the former pastor, Father Donald Ravey, and attending daily Mass. "Another key moment was reading C.S. Lewis' 'Mere Christianity' in high school; he was a true witness of Christ to me," Father Rensch has said. "Then in college the witness of the professors and the continued spiritual life helped to clarify the call."

He has been appointed temporary parochial vicar of St. Monica Parish in Barre.

Deacon Sanderson, born in Middlebury, is the son of John and Jennifer Sanderson of Conversion of St. Paul Church in Orwell.

"I feel blessed," Mrs. Sanderson said after the ordination, adding that she thinks what her son is doing in becoming a priest is "beautiful."

Pope Francis inspires Deacon Sanderson to get out of his comfort zone and to seek out those who are suffering, lost or estranged from Christ and his Church in any way. "I look to the example of the pope and pray for the courage to take up this task," he said.

This summer he will be assigned to parish work in Swanton and Highgate Center.

Article written by Cori Fugere Urban Vermont Catholic staff writer.

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