July 8-21, 2004
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
Group Works to Publish Book About the Life of Msgr. A. Robert Casey
CAZENOVIA — The library in the charming village where Msgr. A. Robert Casey served so many years was a fitting place for friends to gather and share memories about his life. Father Casey spent more than 20 years at St. James Church in Cazenovia and he made many friends and left many memories behind when he died on Jan. 11, 2001, days after his 83rd birthday. Now a group of his supporters and friends from around the diocese is meeting to gather stories, anecdotes and historical information to formulate a book. David Pasinski, senior chaplain at Hospice of Central New York, knew Father Casey for many years. He first spent time with him at St. James when he resided there during a week-long workshop held in the late 1970s before Pasinski left the priesthood. Father Casey was always a good listener, a good person to talk to during good times and bad, according to Pasinski. “My mom died in April of 1988 and during that time I was actually seeing Father Casey as sort of a spiritual director,” Pasinski said. “He spent time with me then when it was so hard and I was going through a time of discernment and grief.”
Actually, Pasinski accompanied Father Casey to Eddie’s Fish Fry in Sylvan Beach around that time and later said other priests affirmed Father Casey’s care and compassion by replying to Pasinski, “Oh, you got the trip to Eddie’s.” Father Casey was known as a great confessor to the priests of the diocese — and a great friend. Over the past couple of years so much has been written and said about priests, the group putting the book together is determined to focus on a man who many think was one of the best priests in the history of the Syracuse Diocese. Father Jim Mathews, pastor of St. Lucy’s Church and administrator of St. Andrew the Apostle Church, had a special relationship with Father Casey who was a relative of Father Mathews. He is supportive of the book.
“Father Casey has given us so many wonderful memories,” Father Mathews said. “To have a book about him would be a great treasure for the people of our diocese.” For the last eight years of his life, Father Casey assisted Father Mathews at Mass at St. Lucy’s. Parishioners remember the times Father Mathews wheeled Father Casey down the aisle in his wheelchair so that he could join him at the altar, no matter what Father Casey’s impairments grew to be later in life. It was a witness that resounded as loud as the Gospel readings. And there was not much that could be put past Father Casey. Dave Pasinski recalled a time that Father Casey was giving him a blessing before he lectored at a Mass. “Father Mathews would always direct us [lectors] over to Father Casey for a blessing,” Pasinski remembered. “One time, actually toward the end of his life, he gave me the blessing but he gave it to me in French. And then he winked.”
Anecdotes and stories like these are the type that Pasinski hopes will fill the book. Also working on the project are Dan McCann and Dorothy Money. Both are current parishioners at St. Lucy’s. McCann said that the project has already received some donations and plans are underway for publication by Syracuse University Press. The group plans for any proceeds that are earned to benefit a scholarship program for students who attend St. Lucy’s Church. They feel the planning and writing of the book will take a year. Dorothy Money’s connection with the project is one that fills the group’s need to organize and process the material they are gathering. Her connection with Father Casey stems from watching him with Father Mathews at St. Lucy’s. She attended the recent gathering in Cazenovia to collect more information and explain her role with the project. “We’re still collecting stuff,” Money said. “Names of people who might be contributors, many from Cazenovia where he built the church where he served for 22 years, where his friends lived.”
Charlie Hammond came to the library to share his memories of Father Casey. He spoke about Father Casey’s trial with tuberculosis and how he was confined to the sanitarium during his seminary. Hammond said he thought Father Casey’s illness shaped the type of priest he became. Hammond was a convert to Catholicism and was eventually ordained a deacon. It was a series of talks presented by Father Casey that led him to RCIA classes. Hammond remembered the farewell Mass upon Father Casey’s retirement in 1987. “At the Mass a priest got up and looked all around. The place was packed,” Hammond remembered. “After a few minutes, he said, ‘How do you say anything in public about God when he’s sitting right here?’”
Dennis Dougherty remembered driving with Father Casey on many trips to the Rescue Mission to help somebody down on their luck. Dougherty said Father Casey always carried gift certificates to MacDonald’s or other restaurants so that he could pass them out to people who might be looking for their next meal. Dougherty works for the Syracuse Police Department and Father Casey loved to introduce him as Trooper Dougherty. Father Casey was chaplain to the Cazenovia Rescue Squad and Fire Department for almost 10 years. He was there to administer last rites on many occasions, Dougherty said. “He was a charmer,” remembered another Cazenovia friend, Dan Steer. “He could charm you out of your eye teeth.”
The old friends gathered at the library also talked about the current crisis involving priests within the church. One friend said he was glad Father Casey lived and died when he did so he was not so aware of the difficulties of today. But Steer said, “He could solve these problems. He had a mind that was so supernatural that he could’ve found a solution.”
The trio of supporters continue to gather information and stories about Father Casey. Several priests have gathered already to reminisce about their brother priest and the momentum to work on the book is building. Anyone with a story to share can contact Dan McCann at (315) 446-3275, Dave Pasinski at (315) 634-1100 or Dorothy Money at (315) 637-5840.