A few months before Father Edward Hayes died on July 17, he sat down to write the obituary that he wanted published in area newspapers.
It is as remarkable for what it doesn’t include as for what it does.
Father Hayes wrote that during his 53 years as a priest, he had served as the associate pastor of St. Mary’s in Clinton, St. Rose of Lima in North Syracuse and the Cathedral. He also wrote that he was pastor of Our Lady of Solace in Syracuse and St. Anthony of Padua in Chadwicks.
But as Father Lou Aiello pointed out during the homily for Father Hayes’ funeral Mass at St. Patrick’s-St. Anthony’s in Chadwicks on July 22, what Father Hayes didn’t mention were the numerous awards, degrees and honors that he had earned in his lifetime.
“He represented the work of his priesthood only in the pastoral service he provided God’s people,” Father Aiello said, “That was it. Not that he was a chancery official for 15 years, not that he had earned degrees in canon law and civil law and at Syracuse University a Juris Doctorate with honors. … He served God’s people — that was it. And that was enough.”
Father Hayes served as assistant chancellor to the diocese and was the head of the marriage tribunal. Father Aiello said he felt this last position was the hallmark of Father Hayes’ career. A report in the early 1970s showed that thousands of couples in the diocese were separated, divorced, or married outside the church. Many of these couples were living without the sacraments.
“In less than a decade, under his leadership, the tribunal office grew from processing five cases a year to a caseload of 199 in 1973 and to more than 600 a year in the 1980s,” Father Aiello said.
While Father Hayes was serving on the tribunal, he studied law part-time, attending classes during his lunch breaks and at night. At S.U. he graduated with honors and was admitted to the bar.
In 1983 Gov. Mario Cuomo asked Father Hayes to sit on the New York State Board for Professional Medical Conduct, a review board which heard the cases of doctors charged with malpractice and those whose medical licenses were under scrutiny. He was the only priest on the board.
“For more than 25 years he sat on that panel because of both his ethical and legal counsel as a priest and a lawyer,” Father Aiello said. “What an honor to the priesthood and an honor for our diocese.”
Father Hayes studied Scripture in Jerusalem and theology at Berkeley Theological Union in California. He taught himself Hebrew and Greek and was a member of the Catholic Biblical Society, an organization devoted to the scholarly study of the Bible. He was an honorary prelate to Pope Paul VI.
In his obituary, Father Hayes also included a sentence asking for forgiveness. He wrote, “For all those whom he might have knowingly or inadvertently offended in any way, he prays for their forgiveness and asks for their prayers.”
“Now I ask you, when have you ever read that in an obituary?” Father Aiello said in his homily. “He knew what all true priests know about themselves. … (T)he priesthood comes from God. It belongs to God and while we exercise our responsibilities as priests we never stop being human, living with our humanity, and therefore are in constant need of the grace of God.”
Father Aiello brought four “artifacts” from Father Hayes’ life that provided evidence of the kind of priest he was. The first was a small confessional stole that once belonged to Msgr. Charles Brady. “Ed prized this stole,” Father Aiello said, not only because of the way in which Msgr. Brady devoted himself to the poor and discarded, “but also because of what it represented of the life of a priest, a life of healing, of reconciliation and consoling.”
Father Aiello brought a mosaic chalice made of common materials which replaced a chalice given to Father Hayes on his ordination. That chalice, which was embedded with jewels including his mother’s engagement diamond, was stolen. Father Hayes gave the insurance money he received to the poor.
Father Aiello showed those gathered a statue of Mary made in the likeness of the indigenous people of Central America which he said represented Father Hayes’ belief that God is closest to the simplest. He also brought a Jewish prayer of atonement which Father Hayes prayed, in Hebrew, each night.
Father Hayes’ nephew, Edward Hayes, spoke of the close, loving and supportive relationship Father Hayes had with his extended family. “Having a priest in the family is a special thing,” Hayes said, and his uncle was there to celebrate significant milestones like baptisms, marriages and funerals. “He was especially good at consoling us in times of loss,” he said.
He spoke of Father Hayes’ travels to the Holy Land and to visit family in Ireland. He told those gathered of Father Hayes’ dedication to social justice and his involvement in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. in 1965.
But he reminded friends and family that the ultimate legacy for Father Hayes is not what was said that day, but what those who knew Father Hayes will do in the future with the example he set for them.
“The more our faith is actively renewed, the more meaning we give to Father Ed’s sacrifice,” he said.
Sean Clive spoke of the way in which Father Hayes and Clive’s mother pushed him to become music minister for St. Patrick’s-St. Anthony’s, a position he reluctantly accepted which later came to define and enrich his life. Father Hayes encouraged Clive to get everyone in the church singing and enjoyed the music that Clive wrote for the Masses. Father Hayes also consoled Clive and his family when their mother died from cancer much too soon.
“He was strongly opinionated and challenging in every way, but as soft and gentle as a person could be, especially when it mattered the most,” Clive said.
At the end of the Mass, he performed a song he wrote in memory of Father Hayes and the gifts he brought to those around him.
He sang softly as he repeated the refrain “goodbye, old friend, goodbye.”