Bishop-Elect a Proud Alumnus of St. John’s University

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April 27, 2020

When Rev. Kevin J. Sweeney ’92C received word that Pope Francis appointed him the next Bishop of Paterson, NJ, he was taken aback by the news but knew his path was clear.

“You are given 24 hours to pray on it and consult with a spiritual director,” Bishop-elect Sweeney recently observed. “But just like discerning a call to the priesthood, you have to be ready to say yes.”

A priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn for more than 20 years, Bishop-elect Sweeney has served in a variety of posts, including Director of Vocations and Parochial Vicar in St. Nicholas of Tolentine Parish in Jamaica, Queens, and Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Corona, Queens. He currently serves as Pastor of St. Michael’s Parish in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

The son of Irish immigrants, Bishop-elect Sweeney first believed he might be called to the priesthood while a student in St. Luke’s Parish School in Whitestone, Queens. “I told people I wanted to play baseball for the Yankees,” he joked. He became a star athlete for the baseball team at Cathedral Preparatory School and Seminary in Elmhurst, Queens, but soon realized he was destined for a different calling.

“I was so happy to learn I would attend St. John’s while living at Immaculate Conception Center (the former site of the college seminary program for the Diocese of Brooklyn) in Douglaston, Queens,” Bishop-elect Sweeney recalled. “My four years at St. John’s were a gift,” he stressed.

Bishop-elect Sweeney was immersed in service through Campus Ministry’s urban plunge program and noted how grateful he was to the Vincentian priests he met at St. John’s, especially Reverend James J. Maher, C.M., the current president of Niagara University.

He added, “My first assignment was right next door at St. Nicholas of Tolentine, which was great. I am so grateful I went to St. John’s.”

Bishop-elect Sweeney has always had a special place in his heart for immigrant populations and being in service to them has been one of the hallmarks of his priesthood. While his parents came from a different country than the populations he has served, he acknowledged that many aspects of the experience are universal.

“St. Michael’s is definitely an immigrant parish, and it has been such a wonderful experience. More than 70 percent of the population are Spanish-speaking, and ministering to them has been such a blessing,” he said. Bishop-elect Sweeney is fluent in Spanish and studied the language in Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.

“Immigrants do not come with empty hands. No matter where they are from, they are hardworking people of faith. It is a privilege as a priest to be a part of this community.”

Fostering vocations will be a priority for Bishop-elect Sweeney when he assumes leadership of the Diocese of Paterson, he said. When he was Director of Vocations, the Brooklyn Diocese worked with the faculty of St. John’s on a survey that polled thousands of students about vocations, producing some interesting results.

“When asked why they had not considered a vocation to the priesthood, many answered it was simply because they were never asked,” he said. “We need a culture that fosters vocations. I hear many good things about the priests there; it is a wonderful diocese.” The Diocese of Paterson includes 109 parishes, 39 Catholic schools, 64 Catholic Charities locations, and various ministries in the three counties of Passaic, Morris, and Sussex, in northern New Jersey. Bishop-elect Sweeney will be its eighth Bishop.

Bishop-elect Sweeney noted that he will follow the example of the Most Rev. Nicholas  DiMarzio, Ph.D., D.D., Bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, NY, when he begins his episcopate. “He is a very inspiring man of faith and prayer, and an incredibly hard worker. I always wanted to follow his example of priesthood. I never knew I would follow him as a bishop.”

“Bishop-elect Sweeney is a prayerful man committed to knowing and following God’s providential will,” observed his longtime friend Rev. Patrick Flanagan, C.M., Associate Professor, St. John's University, Theology and Religious Studies. “While the people of Brooklyn, particularly the parishioners of St. Michael’s, will miss his attentive and generous pastoring, the Diocese of Paterson will come to know him as I have: as a gracious, approachable, passionate, and joyful man.”

“I have known Bishop-elect Sweeney since we were children at St. Luke’s Parish, and then as seminarians at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, NY,” said Rev. Kevin G. Creagh, C.M., Ed.D. ’91SVC, ’04PD, President-Rector of Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, NY, and a Trustee of St. John’s University. “Bishop-elect Sweeney’s family, home parish, Vincentian education at St. John’s University, and pastoral experiences have formed him well to take on this significant leadership role in the Church. He is a man of deep prayer, charity, and goodness, and the Diocese of Paterson is blessed to have him as their next bishop.”