New Seminary Rector a Familiar Presence


The storied history of St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, begins a new chapter this semester, welcoming a new rector, Bishop James Massa, as it enters its 125th anniversary year.

We congratulate Bishop Massa, an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, whose installation Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Dolan Sept. 13 at the Dunwoodie Chapel.

His appointment, announced by the cardinal in July, is a homecoming of sorts. And with his impressive experience and background, he’s the right man for the job.

As a Brooklyn priest, Bishop Massa was a guiding force nearly a decade ago in establishing the unified seminary system of which St. Joseph’s is a major part, having served as coordinator of the merger of the priestly formation programs of the three downstate New York dioceses: the Archdiocese of New York and the Dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre.

As the combined system got under way he joined the faculty at Dunwoodie, serving as a professor of dogmatic theology from 2012 until 2015, when he was ordained an auxiliary bishop of the Brooklyn Diocese. He also has taught at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington and the Pope St. John XXIII Seminary in Weston, Mass., and has served in top administrative posts in his home diocese and in Washington, D.C., at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

As rector of St. Joseph’s, Bishop Massa succeeds Msgr. Peter Vaccari, a fellow priest of the Brooklyn Diocese who was the first rector of the merged system. Msgr. Vaccari is now president of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association based in Manhattan.

Father William Cleary, an archdiocesan priest who was interim rector during the spring of 2020, will serve alongside Bishop Massa as vice rector.

Bishop Massa’s appointment was made with the approval of the Holy See, and with the support of Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Diocese of Brooklyn and Bishop John Barres of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, who together with Cardinal Dolan, make up the St. Charles Borromeo Council, which oversees the shared seminary system.

Founded in 1896 in the Dunwoodie neighborhood of Yonkers, St. Joseph’s was once called the “West Point of Seminaries” for its thorough education and strict discipline. It built a reputation as one of the most prestigious and theologically orthodox Roman Catholic seminaries in the United States. Five of its rectors, including Bishop Massa, have been bishops.

Notable alumni include five priests who went on to be elevated to cardinal—including Cardinal Terence Cooke, archbishop of New York, 1968-1983—and Father William Lombardy, a 1957 World Junior Chess Champion who later tutored World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer.

Two reigning popes—John Paul II and Benedict XVI —visited St. Joseph’s during pastoral visits to the archdiocese.

We’re rooting for Bishop Massa as he gets started. He certainly has his work cut out for him, something he acknowledged in remarks at his installation Mass.

This is “a time of historic challenges,” he said, due to the coronavirus pandemic and the “renewed calls in our country for racial justice and respect for human life and dignity everywhere in society.”

Challenges, indeed. He has our prayers and support.