Feb. 26-March 3, 04
Celebration of Life
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
Father William Brown touched many lives
FULTON — A priest for nearly 50 years, Father Bill Brown leaves behind many friends who gathered at his beloved parish, Immaculate Conception, for his Mass of Christian burial on Feb. 10. Both Bishop James Moynihan and Bishop Thomas Costello were there to celebrate a life well-lived. Father Brown, known far and wide as “Bish” Brown, began and ended his priest assignments at Immaculate Conception. He served as assistant at Immaculate Conception after his ordination in 1955. He was a native of Oswego and attended St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s Seminaries in Rochester. Father Brown was the driving force behind what was then known as Catholic Social Services in Oswego, now known as Catholic Charities of Oswego County. He served as pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Minetto from 1970 until he left for Immaculate Conception Church in Fulton in 1975. He retired from that parish in 1997.
There were several priests on hand from the Northern Region of the diocese and beyond to concelebrate his funeral Mass. The president of St. Luke’s Health Services, Terry Gorman, proclaimed the first reading, and Tina Dyer, executive secretary of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, proclaimed the second reading. Father Robert Stephenson, a long-time friend of Father Brown’s, episcopal vicar for the Northern Region and pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Oswego, shared his thoughts about Father Brown during his homily. “It almost seems impossible as I stand here that I don’t hear the words booming up from the church basement, ‘God love you!” Father Stephenson said. Father Stephenson explained that during the recent snow storms in Oswego, he had the opportunity to look through family possessions he had been left in charge of after members of Father Brown’s family had passed away. There were numerous pictures of Father Brown’s parents and his grandmother who had cared for him often. Even though his grandmother was not Catholic, Father Stephenson said, she made sure that Father Brown didn’t eat meat on Fridays and was at Mass on Sunday when he was a little boy. Father Brown received the Gold Star for his service in the Navy. Father Stephenson said he found the star with Father Brown’s discharge papers in the box of momentos.
The number of baptism and confirmation photos that Father Brown had kept struck Father Stephenson as particularly significant. “He would look up the baptismal records of every family and call them and say, ‘Isn’t it time you brought your child in for the sacraments?’” Father Stephenson said. “And if they said, ‘We can’t get in,’ then Father Brown would say, ‘I’ll come and get them.’ He took the time in his ministry to care.” Father Stephenson spoke about the parish sons: Father Anthony Cincotta, Father Mark Gantley, Father John Manno, Father Joseph Scardella, Father Daniel Muscalino, himself, and seminarian Greg Krienheder. “He loved each and every one of us in a special way. He cared for us, he nurtured us and fought for us at times because he wanted to share that ministry he had in his heart,” Father Stephenson said.
The pictures were good reminders and momentos, Father Stephenson said, but they were nothing next to the life Father Brown lived. He had brought both Catholics and non-Catholics together, Father Stephenson said. “He did great things for St. Luke’s nursing home and there was his dream of Bishops Commons and the hospital boards he was on. He cared about people no matter who they were.” Many priests called Father Stephenson to see if there was anything they could do after Father Brown’s death and he took the time during his homily to thank everyone for their support. Father Stephen Wirkes, the current pastor of Immaculate Conception, shared an e-mail he had received from a former altar server who new Father Brown back in the mid-1970s. The man is in military service in Canada now and said that whenever he has to make a difficult decision, he looks back and remembers what Father Brown would want him to do in that situation. “He was the most kindest and most loving man I ever met,” the soldier wrote.
Bishop Moynihan shared some memories he had of “Bish” Brown during their seminary days together. He got a letter from Father Brown when he was named bishop of the Syracuse Diocese, he said. Bishop Moynihan wrote him back saying, “I may be the bishop of Syracuse, but as far as I’m concerned, you are the real bishop.”
The photograph of Father Brown on the cover of the liturgy program showed a man with a smile as wide as can be. Bishop Moynihan asked the crowd if they had ever seen the picture of the “Laughing Christ.” “Well,” he said, “this is the ‘Laughing Priest.’”