When friends describe Bishop Howard J. Hubbard, they often seem to be talking about two people: the insightful administrator and the down-to-earth jokester who loves a good laugh.
Rev. Kenneth Doyle, diocesan chancellor for public information and pastor of St. Catherine's parish in Albany, vividly recalls a time when he and fellow seminarian Howard Hubbard were counselors at Camp Tekakwitha, a former diocesan boys' camp in Lake Luzerne.
"I'd fallen asleep with the window open, and he and now-Bishop [Matthew] Clark [of Rochester] came by and threw a bucket of water on top of me through the window," Father Doyle recounted. A heavy sleeper, he wasn't roused by the dousing, and "an hour later, I woke up and went to them and said, `It must have been a thunderstorm!'"
Having known the Bishop since their days at Mater Christi Seminary in Albany (since closed), Father Doyle says his friend hasn't changed over the years.
"His interests are the same -- his basic attitude, his sense of humor," he stated. "He's a gentle person, but very much a skilled administrator with his finger on everything the Diocese is doing."
The latter may be evidenced by Bishop Hubbard's participation in a support group for priests of the Diocese. Rev. Anthony Diacetis, pastor of Our Lady of Grace Church in Ballston Lake, has been in the support group since its inception.
"We relate to each other as friends and share our own personal journeys: where we're at emotionally, spiritually and physically," he explained.
With that mentality, Father Diacetis has learned to relate to the Bishop as a friend. He noted that at a recent day of reflection for priests held at St. Edward's Church in Clifton Park, he noticed the Bishop was in pain from ankle surgery. "I felt comfortable enough to go up to him and say, `Go home,'" Father Diacetis said.
Another member of the group, Rev. Peter Sullivan of the diocesan Tribunal, said that his own time in the group and traveling to Confirmation ceremonies around the Diocese with Bishop Hubbard has deepened their friendship.
"I can say anything I want to him, and he will give me his play on it," the priest noted. "Very often, there are aspects of an issue that I don't know that he does. He has a fuller picture, always, because of his reading.
"He is vulnerable like everyone else," he said. "When something happens in the Diocese that affects a church, school, priest or whatever, he really feels it."
The trio of priests all remarked on their friend's sense of humor. Father Sullivan related a story about getting lost while driving Bishop Edwin B. Broderick, Bishop Hubbard's predecessor, to a Confirmation ceremony and arriving an hour and a half late. To this day, he said, Bishop Hubbard will occasionally ask "if I've read any good maps lately."
His friends enjoy teasing the Bishop. Father Diacetis confided that whenever the support group meets, Bishop Hubbard is such a fan of things Italian that "we always have to go to an Italian restaurant, and he always has to get linguini with red clam sauce -- and he always sprinkles Parmesan cheese on top, which is a mortal sin in Italy, and he knows it!
"I've always described him as `vacuuming in the spaghetti,'" the priest said. "One fell swoop and it's gone. I don't know if he knows this, but whenever he's not able to join us for dinner, we go to a non-Italian restaurant. Last week, we had Chinese!"
On a more serious note, Fathers Doyle and Sullivan both remarked on the Bishop's generosity in sharing his priests' talents, even as there are fewer and fewer priests available for service in parishes. In the 1980s, for example, Father Doyle was allowed to work for Catholic News Service in Rome and for the U.S. bishops in Washington, D.C.
Father Sullivan added: "To have three full-time priests in the Tribunal is a big deal. The Bishop says, `People who have gone through the trial of a failed marriage need what we can offer them.'"
The trio all described the Bishop as very intelligent. "He's an exceptionally brilliant and equally pastorally sensitive person," said Father Sullivan. "There are few bishops in the U.S. who have his intellectual capacity, but he is not in some stuffy, bookish tower."
Father Doyle noted that whenever he travels, he often meets people who've heard of Bishop Hubbard -- and approve of him.
"When I say I'm from Albany, they say, `That's the place you have that great bishop,'" he remarked. "He's well-known for his sense of vision."