Whether through mainstream Youth Ministry gatherings or unconventional street-smart get-togethers, many people in the Archdiocese of New York understand newly ordained Auxiliary Bishop Joseph A. Espaillat knows how to reach teens and young adults—and bring Gospel wisdom to them in ways they can easily understand.
“He and his (youth) retreat team were very well received when they were here a year or two ago; we’re having them back again this year,” Msgr. Arthur Mastrolia, pastor of St. Clare parish on Staten Island, told Catholic New York before the ordination.
“I was the spiritual director at Cathedral Preparatory Seminary when he was a student there. We had just relocated the seminary from its place in Manhattan to a new venue in Rye; it was his senior year. Since then, I’ve known him as a very adaptable fellow, ready to take on new challenges.”
Msgr. Mastrolia also noted that Bishop Espaillat, now 45, “became a leader of his classmates; he certainly has leadership qualities, always ready to be of service, eager to do what needs to be done.”
“When I learned about his appointment (to become a bishop), I was totally and most pleasantly surprised. I thought it was the perfect choice for the type of leadership we need right now in the Archdiocese of New York.”
He said the selection of the new bishop was “a very wise choice because of his charismatic personality and ability to connect with the young people, and also his ministry via popular music; you know he does that, he’s into that hip-hop scene. And of course his outreach to the Hispanic community, which makes up such a large part of the archdiocese…”
“And he’s a very good friend. Shortly after he was ordained (in 2003), my mom and I spent a week with him and his family down in the Dominican Republic, which is where his parents are from.”
Another person familiar with Bishop Espaillat’s ministry with youths and young adults is Darwin Torres, youth minister at St. Peter and St. Denis parish in Yonkers.
“It was an emotional moment when I learned about his appointment. I have known him for more than 15 years,” said Torres, 31, who was a teenager when Bishop Espaillat was first assigned to St. Peter’s in 2007. “He began serving the parish youth program; we have always been in contact since then. He is my spiritual father, my guide.
“I feel very joyful, very happy; he loves the Church and he loves the youths. We can see the love of our Father God through his priesthood.”
Torres added that Bishop Espaillat’s “giving of love in the Church” is widely known in the archdiocese, adding, “I was very content with that decision by the pope (to appoint Father Espaillat an auxiliary bishop). God uses him as an instrument to reach people, especially the young people. He is a big influence; he has a great love and passion to serve the youths.”
Cynthia Psencik, former director of archdiocesan Youth Ministry, told CNY, “As someone who has been a part of his ministry from the beginning of his own priesthood, it gave me a sense of excitement and pride to have learned of his appointment and to have been a part of his journey and growth. This is an exciting time for the Church of New York, and I am looking forward to witnessing how this new call in his ministry will continue to draw others, especially Hispanic young people, to a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Ms. Psencik added that Bishop Espaillat “is a trailblazer; he is authentic.”
“His musical talents, while attractive, are only a minor attribute in comparison to his palpable love for Jesus, his priesthood and the Church,” said Ms. Psencik, who is now mentoring program director for The GIVEN Institute, which is dedicated to leadership training of young adult women for the Church and the world.
Kaitlyn Colgan, on behalf of archdiocesan Young Adult Outreach, said last week that “the entire young adult community in New York was absolutely thrilled to learn that the Holy Father appointed Bishop-elect Espaillat as an auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese. He is so beloved as a priest in our community.”
Ms. Colgan is Region One program leader covering Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx.
“Bishop Espaillat's care for young people is such a gift to our Church. His warmth and his dedication has helped lead so many people to Christ,” she added. “He has used his unique gifts, like his musical talent, to encourage young people that there is a place for them in the Church, and they can come as they are to receive Christ's love and mercy.”
Joelvis Jerez is president of a parish youth group at St. Anthony of Padua in the Bronx, where Bishop Espaillat has been pastor since 2015.
“Oh man, I was surprised and I was happy too,” Jerez, 16, president of Jóvenes Con Poder (Young People With Power), said of learning of his pastor’s appointment to auxiliary bishop. “I was ecstatic. I was happy…He's a big impact on our youth ministry; he’s like the life of it. He provides insights to us in regards to youth ministry. He just knows how to reach the young people.”
Jerez said his position as a youth leader in the Church “has given me the opportunity to really exercise leadership, and to learn a lot about serving God.”