It has been a year like no other for the Most Rev. Mark L. Bartchak.
He went from being a priest to a leader of 94,000 Catholics on April 19, 2011.
As bishop of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Bartchak's life is different in may ways from when he served as a canon lawyer for the Diocese of Erie.
(Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich) Bishop Mark L. Bartchak of the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown has spent the first year since his ordination and installation April 19, 2011, getting to know the people in parishes and schools throughout the diocese’s eight-county area in addition to many official duties.
The day he was installed and ordained is still etched in his mind, although he has not had time to review it by looking at the pictures and videos taken by family and friends.
He recalled entering the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament using a cane because he was still recovering from foot surgery and leaving holding a staff.
"I walked in as a priest and walked out as a bishop," he said.
Ordinated a new priest and deacons: June 4, 2011
Bishop's conference in Seattle:
June 13-17, 2011
Met with pope in Rome:
Presided at Mariah Celebration in Johnstown:
Oct. 16, 2011
conference) in Loretto:
Oct. 21, 2011
Bishop's conference in Baltimore:
Ad Limina visit to Rome: Nov. 29 to Dec. 11, 2011
Mass of Thanksgiving at merger forming Holy Spirit Parish in Lock Haven: Jan. 9, 2012
Junior High Youth Day: March 25, 2012
Bartchak had little time to adjust to his new role.
"It was Holy Week. I had to go to work," he said. "The Chrism Mass was happening in a couple of days."
At the Chrism Mass, the bishop blesses the oils used in the sacraments for the next year. It is attended by priests from throughout the diocese.
About six weeks later, Bartchak presided at the ordination of a new priest and deacon.
He made two trips to the Vatican to meet with Pope Benedict XVI, one in September for new bishops worldwide and one in November/December for the Ad Limina, a time set aside for bishops to give an account of the state of their dioceses.
He also made trips to Seattle in June and Baltimore in November for meetings with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In his role as a bishop, Bartchak spoke out for religious liberty in relationship to the mandate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, requiring employers to pay for contraception as part of their health benefits. Although churches are exempt, the mandate includes church-affiliated hospitals and universities.
He participated in the March for Life in Washington, D.C., and returned to celebrate the funeral Mass for Penn State football coach Joe Paterno the next day.
At times his schedule can be demanding, but Bartchak still makes it a priority to get to know the Catholics in the diocese.
A few weeks ago, he finished visiting all of the Catholic grade schools and high schools in communities as close as Altoona and Hollidaysburg and as distant as Lock Haven and Somerset.
"The school visits are enjoyable, the enthusiasm of the children, especially grade school children, is contagious," he said.
He said he recently confirmed 102 teenagers and had an opportunity before the liturgy to meet with them and their sponsors.
"They were genuinely excited and enthusiastic. It was a really good experience," he said.
Bartchak also has visited about one-third of the parishes in the diocese. He said he makes it a point to visit parishes that are celebrating milestone anniversaries or holding novenas or special feast days.
Occasionally, he will just pick a parish and go visit. He said he attended a Saturday evening Mass in the fall at St. Joseph Parish in Renovo, encountering snow showers along the way.
"The people were happy that I came to experience their town and community," Bartchak said. "It was an enjoyable evening."
He said he is appreciative of how Catholics see their lives.
"They will share their day-in and day-out concerns, their challenges and what inspires them," he said. "I welcome and enjoy that experience."
Bartchak said they may share an antidote or a concern, such as a family member being in the hospital and may ask him to say a prayer.
"It's very significant to be able to say a prayer for them," he said.
He said people tell him they have felt a renewed experience about being Catholic.
"I am happy for them," he said.
He also has become acquainted with the diocesan staff, the priests and the members of the religious orders working in the diocese.
He is actively working with the priests and the office of vocations to help men discern a call to the priesthood.
Although three men are attending seminary, no new priests are expected to be ordained for the next six years.
"It's a little bit of a gap," Bartchak said
But in the past year about 30 young men have expressed an interest in the priesthood, and four men are in different stages of discernment with two expected to begin studies in the fall.
The referrals are coming from the parish priests, and its important that they do this because the priests know the young people in their parishes, Bartchak said. He added that young women are considering the religious life with two in their first year of formation.
Bartchak still has about 60 parishes to visit and is not proactively looking at merging churches. Two churches did merge in Lock Haven in January at their own request.
"We will assess going forward," he said.
Bartchak said people who live in the diocese know the demographics.
"The young people move away for job opportunities, the population is aging. We have very few areas of growth," he said.
Overall, he believes the Catholic faith is strong.
"The people are so proud of their parishes," he said.