An interview with The Most Reverend Nicholas Dimarzio. Ph.D. D.D.

by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.


Dr. Quinn Knight: Could you tell us about your call to the priesthood? How did your academic work inform your priesthood?


Bishop Dimarzio: The formal church structure. My doctoral dissertation was on the profiling of undocumented immigrants in the New York Metropolitan area in social and workplace characteristics. Again, this enabled me to apply for the position at the United States Catholic Conference, as it was known then, as the national director for migration and refugee services. My education served me well during those years.


These two academic experiences were very helpful, especially in the secular university of Rutgers where I was confronted with a different set of values than which I was accustomed. I found many like-minded people, however, among the professors and students and learned a great deal about the contemporary society of that time by being outside of the formal church structure. My doctoral dissertation was on the profiling of undocumented immigrants in the New York Metropolitan area in social and workplace characteristics. Again, this enabled me to apply for the position at the United States Catholic Conference, as it was known then, as the national director for migration and refugee services. My education served me well during those directors for migration and refugee services. My education served me well during those years.


Dr. Quinn Knight: You seem to enjoy your ministry as the Bishop of Brooklyn. What sustains and supports you in this challenging task?


Bishop Dimarzio: I do enjoy my ministering in Brooklyn, especially since it is a multi-ethnic situation, something for which I was prepared for all during my priesthood, academic years and service life. The Diocese of Brooklyn has many challenges. We have the poor and the rich. We have the advantaged and the disadvantaged. Trying to strike a balance by providing services and pastoral care for all is a tremendous challenge, but a good challenge.


Dr. Quinn Knight: What are the issues in your diocese that are of primary importance at this time in the history of the Church?


Bishop Dimarzio: Many issues are facing the Diocese of Brooklyn. Right now, unfortunately, we are spending an inordinate amount of time dealing with the sex abuse crisis and its aftermath, which includes the settling of abuse cases, reconciling with victims and trying to find the capital to sustain this program of reconciliation.

Dr. Quinn Knight: Have you worked in other dioceses before you started your work in Brooklyn. Tell us about the diocese.


Bishop Dimarzio: I began my ministry in the Archdiocese of Newark where I was ordained to the priesthood. In 1996, I was the Archdiocese of Newark, I began my ministry in 1970 following my ordination serving as a parish priest and then was assigned to Catholic Charities to establish the migration office. Here, my responsibilities included assisting with the influx of the new Vietnamese refugees, as well as Cuban and Haitian entrants. From there I was assigned to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops where I served for almost six years as director of their migration and refugee services. Upon my return to the Archdiocese of Newark, I was assigned to Catholic Charities as assistant executive director and then as executive director and Vicar for Human Services, until I was nominated as an auxiliary bishop in 1996.


In my first years as a parish priest, I developed a ministry to migrants which as continued to this day. When I was Ordained to the Episcopacy, I served in the Archdiocese of Newark as auxiliary bishop for three years. In 1999, I was named Bishop of Camden in southern New Jersey. It is the largest geographical diocese in New Jersey; however, it is also very diverse with cities, suburbs, farming area, and recreational shore areas. The diversity of ministries in the Diocese of Camden was also quite challenging to bring together a diocese with such diverse needs such as ministering to migrant farmworkers, as well as assisting with the influx of summer tourists to the shore areas. In each of my assignments, I have found my ministry to be exciting and never boring.


Dr. Quinn Knight: As Bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn what part of your ministry do you most enjoy?


Bishop Dimarzio: The part of my work I enjoy most in the Diocese of Brooklyn is my ability to celebrate the Eucharist with a different parish throughout the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens each week and to be able to engage the parish councils and leadership in direct discussion after these weekend Masses.


Dr. Quinn Knight: I am part of the RCIA program and I often reflect on how we can assist the next generation in being good Catholics. How does your diocese engage the young adults of your diocese?


Bishop Dimarzio: In general, besides this type of crisis management, the diocese provides many special opportunities for evangelization. This is especially true among the newcomers, be they immigrants or young people from all over the United States who have made Brooklyn and Queens their destination. We have established a special outreach program for these new internal migrants calling it the Mission of San Damiano, where we seek to renew their image of the Church; some of which being Catholics and others being non-Catholics who we are reaching out to in this way.


Dr. Quinn Knight: The Catholic School system in our archdiocese is struggling to figure out the use of our resources in the best way. What has your diocese done to alleviate the burden of cost to the local community?


Bishop Dimarzio: The Catholic school system is a big challenge. First financially, but also to enable us to keep a Catholic identity. This task is a difficult one. We raise about 10 percent of the annual cost that is given out intuition, which is almost $10 million out of the $100 million that it costs to run the Catholic school system. This is not enough. But at the same time people today are not willing to make the sacrifice for Catholic school education. On the other hand, many poor cannot afford a Catholic education. The more affluent families are moving out of the diocese. Last year, we saw a 30 percent reduction of people who moved out of the City of New York.


Dr. Quinn Knight: The social media of this day and age has provided some wonderful aspects of communication as well as drawbacks. How can we use social media to assist others in knowing/loving/serving God?


Bishop Dimarzio: Social media gives us a tremendous opportunity for extraordinary communication. Much of the social communication regarding the Church is not favorable, nor is it true. The only way we can counter this is by dealing with communication ourselves in a very positive way. We are very fortunate in the Diocese of Brooklyn to have the DeSales Media Group which has a cable television station that produces its programs, as well as a daily news program called Currents. DeSales also oversees our Internet presence with our diocesan webpage and Facebook page. Also, we have a weekly newspaper, The Tablet, which is a great asset to the diocese.


Dr. Quinn Knight: You have very impressive academic degrees do you have time to read what appeals to you?


Bishop Dimarzio: Although I might have impressive academic degrees, I indeed have less time than I would like to read some of the literature that would stimulate my mind. In my retirement which may come in the next year or so, I will, fortunately, have more time to dedicate to reading, especially migration issues. Currently, I serve at the president of the board of the Center for Migration Studies in Manhattan, and I am going to give them some of my time in helping them develop their programs and sustain the Center using my knowledge of the past too, I hope, good advantage.


Dr. Quinn Knight: What part of your past ministry has been meaningful to you?


Bishop Dimarzio: The part of my ministry that has been most meaningful to me has been the ability to attract vocations to the priesthood and religious life. I have given much time to this in attending meetings with young people interested in ministry, giving a yearly retreat and keeping in close contact, through my vocation director, with those discerning ministry to the priesthood and religious


Dr. Quinn Knight: What are your hopes for the future of the Church in light of the abuse scandal?


Bishop Dimarzio: The abuse scandal certainly has for some people become a stumbling block in their understanding of the credibility of the Church in some many areas. It is very difficult to convince others of the true picture of what happened. I would say that most of the abuse, unfortunately, was not known to the Church and cover-up would be impossible since the abuse was unknown. Unfortunately too, when the abuse was known it was not handled properly. Since the early 1990s and especially since 2002.


Dr. Quinn Knight: You are assisting in the process of canonization for my great-uncle Msgr. Bernard John Quinn. Can you tell us a bit about this process?


Truly, Msgr. Bernard Quinn has been a role model in my ministry in the Diocese of Brooklyn. Through the great work of Msgr. Paul Jervis, Postulator for the Cause, who wrote an extensive biography on Msgr. Quinn, I came to know and to understand the meaning of this great priest of the diocese for the past and the future. Msgr. Quinn sustained unbelievable hardship in trying to serve the African-American community of his time. Most difficult was the internal difficulties he suffered within the Church, notwithstanding the external difficulties of the Klu Klux Klan and others who were out and out racists. Monsignor Quinn has become for us in the diocese a role model in trying to deal with the remnants of racial discrimination that still exists in the Church and certainly in our society today.


As I mentioned at the ceremony in which we completed the diocesan phase of investigation for his Cause for Canonization, I feel that I received favor from Msgr. Quinn when truly I was at the point of death having blood clots in my heart and lungs during recovery from quadruple bypass surgery. There was no reason why my attention would have been focused on Msgr. Quinn at that time when I was clearly near death. His presence that I felt assured me that I still had work to do. One of the things that I wanted to do was to advance his Cause to sainthood, as I do believe that he is a saint.

I thank you for this opportunity to express my feelings and thoughts on the goodness of your great-uncle Monsignor Bernard John Quinn.

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