Diocese loses its ‘first lady’ after 46 years of service to Syracuse Diocese
The definition of devotion reads “zealot or ardent in attachment.” Frances “Kate” Anderson was certainly devoted to the church and the diocese. She was born May 5, 1947 to Frances and Joseph Anderson. Kate passed away at Francis House on Aug. 18, 2010 in the company of family and friends. For 46 years she served at the Chancery for the Diocese of Syracuse. Kate worked with Bishops Walter Foery, David Cunningham, Frank Harrison, Joseph O’Keefe, James Moynihan and most recently, Robert Cunningham. If asked how she managed to work all those years for so many priests and bishops she’d say, “I loved them all. They were my brothers.”
Kate began working in the rectory of St. Lucy’s Church when she was still in high school. Her brother Joe “Skip” Anderson said she was putting the church bulletin together when she was in ninth grade. She did such a terrific job for the parish that the priests recruited her to work downtown at the Chancery offices.
She started out in the diocesan tribunal, her mother, Frances Anderson, 92, explained.
“She worked her way up,” Frances said. “She loved everything about her work. She never had to be asked — she’d volunteer and she was always ready to help. Every night after dinner she’d clean up and then work some more on the computer at home. She loved all of our bishops, every one.”
The church and her family, Joe said, were her life. If the church or the diocese needed her, she made adjustments in her life to accommodate whatever was asked of her, Bishop Robert Cunningham said.
“I think it’s a rare individual that can serve a succession of six bishops and be faithful and loyal to each one,” Bishop Cunningham said. “She was always ready to make adjustments in her life in order to serve the bishop and serve the people of the diocese.”
Kate was instrumental in organizing Bishop Cunningham’s installation last year. “She had everything under control. She coordinated thousands of details,” Bishop Cunningham said. “And when I arrived, she broke me in and showed me the way things were done. She was unbelievably helpful during that period of adjustment.”
Kate planned her funeral arrangements with the same attention she gave to all the many events she worked on over the years. She had placed a manilla folder next to her television at Francis House and written on it was “Kate’s funeral.” She wrote a letter to the editor (see page 8) about the care she received at Francis House and she wrote another letter thanking her family and friends.
Even though she was very sick, Kate’s spirit was upbeat and she could still illicit laughter. She talked about old friends and what it was like to work at the Chancery all those years. There were priests and bishops she missed, especially Bishop Joseph O’Keefe and Msgr. Michael Minehan. Coworkers could count on Kate to remember whose children were struggling and whose spouse was sick. Kate also enjoyed celebrations and social events over the years. Her good friend Mary Osada, administrative assistant for the diocesan Catholic Charities office, was a friend for 38 years. They attended the theater together with some of the other women they worked with, Osada said. “We’d have wonderful times. We’d go out for dinner first and talk and we became even closer,” she said. When Kate was in Francis House, Osada spoke to her almost daily. “She was extremely faith-filled… to know what she was feeling about having to leave her mother here and all of her responsibilities, but she said, ‘I know I’m in the hands of God, and I know this is what He planned,’” Osada said.
Her illness came upon Kate quickly, her mother said. She went to the doctor in June to see “just how sick she was” and then passed away two months later almost to the day. Although the diagnosis was terminal, Kate’s last days were spent enjoying visits from her family and friends. Danielle Cummings, assistant chancellor and director of communications for the diocese, worked closely with Kate since she first came to the diocese 14 years ago, and she visited with her while Kate was at Francis House. They talked about many things including Kate’s faith.
“When I had the good fortune of visiting her at Francis House,” Cummings said, “we talked and she was telling me about her faith. She said, ‘I have a simple faith, Danielle. I believe in God and I believe He loves me… what else is there?’”
Nearly everyone was in agreement after Kate’s passing: she will be difficult to replace.
Sue Mayer retired from working for the diocese in 2006 and she met Kate in the 1960s through a mutual friend who worked at the chancery.
“She was wonderful, just wonderful,” Mayer said. “I can’t remember who it was but someone at the Chancery said years ago, ‘When Kate walks out this door a good part of the history of the diocese will go with her.’ She was so good to the bishops. She always went above and beyond.”
Bishop Thomas Costello knew Kate throughout all her years of service. He said her dedication to the bishops was likely irreplaceable.
“She knew no hours,” Bishop Costello said. “If there was work to be done, it got done and at a cost to her. Her dedication to her mother is another great story. They were the best of friends. She was as dedicated to her mother as she was to the bishops, if not more.”
Msgr. J. Robert Yeazel, “Bob” to Kate, was there for her while she was at Francis House, and for decades before her death. He delivered the homily at her funeral Mass at Holy Cross Church on Aug. 21. Kate’s funeral was attended by dozens of priests and deacons and Bishops Moynihan, Costello and Cunningham, and many religious, as well as her family and extended Chancery family.
“Kate used to say the Chancery offices were ‘Reality TV as you’ve never seen it before,’” Msgr. Yeazel said. “She used to keep a lunar calendar on the wall so she could tell when a full moon was going to come.”
When Kate first became ill, Msgr. Yeazel said he met with a number of the Chancery staff to determine how her work would be distributed.
“Someone said, ‘It took a room full of people to take over all those jobs. It took a room full of us…’” Msgr. Yeazel said.
Msgr. Yeazel described Kate’s love and devotion to her family, her job and her friends.
“What a gift she has been to all of us,” Msgr. Yeazel said. “And one of her last great acts of kindness was when she said to me, ‘Keep this short.’”
Even in the end, she was still, as her friend Father Robert Chryst said, “the same old Kate.”
From her bed at Francis House, she reminded Bishop Cunningham of the various tasks that needed doing in the office, where papers were located and dates to remember.
“If the diocese had a first lady,” Bishop Cunningham said, “she would be it.”