Msgr. Frank Sammons is remembered as a wonderful priest and a devoted friend
By connie cissell / SUN editor
Msgr. Frank Sammons, 87, died on July 10 and more than 50 priests joined Bishop James Moynihan and Bishop Thomas Costello in celebrating his life at the Mass of Christian burial held at St. Patrick’s Church on Tipperary Hill on July 14. The morning was bright and the sky was blue as the church filled to capacity with family and friends. The music selections definitely boasted an Irish flair. Msgr. Sammons was pastor of St. Patrick’s from 1968 until he retired in 1995. He served at St. Matthew’s Parish in East Syracuse in his retirement. The children of the parish school will miss him when they come back this fall. Msgr. Sammons was a frequent visitor to the school.
Sports and youth were two of Msgr. Sammons’ passions. An athlete himself, Msgr. Sammons was a member of the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame. He was a founding member of the City-County Youth Board, director of the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), founder of the organization’s basketball league and director of Lourdes Camp in Skaneateles for many years. He served as athletic director for all three Syracuse Catholic high schools. He lived at the Bishop Grimes faculty house for a number of years later during his retirement. He managed to attend every game for every sport that it was possible for him to attend. Just like in his earlier days, Msgr. Sammons never missed an opportunity to cheer on the youngsters he so loved working with. The crowd at his funeral Mass contained several youngsters paying their respects along with people he had known for years.
His good friend, Msgr. Robert Davern, delivered the homily and began it by saying, “Frank Sammons is — and I’m not using past tense — very, very happy, thankful and overjoyed that every single one of you is here to celebrate his life and the resurrection of his soul.”
Born May 5, 1920 to Charles and Helen M. (Daley) Sammons, Msgr. Sammons graduated from St. Vincent de Paul High School and attended Niagara University, St. Bernard’s Seminary, and Theological College of Washington, D.C. He was ordained May 15, 1947 and earned certification as a social worker from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. in the mid 1950s. His first parish assignment was as parochial vicar at St. John the Baptist Church in Syracuse. Msgr. Sammons’ work with young people consumed most of his priesthood.
The 50th reunion at Lourdes Camp a few years ago left him feeling like he was “levitating” Msgr. Davern recalled.
Bishop Walter Foery recognized Msgr. Sammons’ gifts and chose him to serve with the CYO. “He loved the work and he was so good at it,” Msgr. Davern said. “He used his wisdom and his gentleness to coordinate things very well. He tried to get to every game in the parochial league on Friday nights and he was director at Lourdes Camp. He loved the camp and he made sure there was Mass every day in that log cabin chapel.”
Another highlight of Msgr. Sammons’ life was a trip to the White House when he served on the National Conference of Catholic Youth Serving Agencies. He met John F. Kennedy and it was an incredible experience for him, Msgr. Davern said.
Besides the basketball courts and the athletic fields, Msgr. Sammons was just as devoted to the hallways and classrooms of Catholic schools.
“He used to say, ‘Bob, Catholic education done correctly is the one best way to implant deeper in the soul of a child a Christ-centered life,’” Msgr. Davern said.
Although his dedication to Catholic education, youth and the priesthood were legendary, so was Msgr. Sammons golf game. He played for most of his life. He also enjoyed the vacations he took with brother priests Msgr. Davern and Msgr. Francis Culkin and sometimes other friends. Msgr. Davern said Msgr. Sammons was in charge of the money. “He was in charge of the kitty and he kept figures like a CPA,” Msgr. Davern joked.
“One day Bishop Cunningham said to me, ‘Bob, is there anything Frank Sammons can’t do?’ and I said, ‘Well, there’s a couple of things. He can’t walk on water and he can’t make an eight foot putt.’”
Father Charles Vavonese, superintendent for Catholic school advancement, lived with Msgr. Sammons first in the 1980s when he served at St. Patrick’s Church and then again when they both lived at the faculty house at Bishop Grimes.
“Part of the reason he came to Grimes was because he loved Catholic schools so much. He came to the school every day and he went to all the games, even the away games,” Father Vavonese said. “The kids responded to him. If he was late or missed a game, people were looking for him.”
Msgr. Francis Willenburg, who serves at St. Agnes Church in Utica, was happy to be a fourth on golf outings with Msgr. Sammons. He said every outing was more than a dinner or a vacation; they were opportunities for peace and for prayer as well. “He was a magnificent priest, a holy priest,” Msgr. Willenburg said. “He was very committed to people.” Anytime spent in his company was a privilege, Msgr. Willenburg added.
An old friend from seminary days, Msgr. Culkin delivered the homily at Msgr. Sammons’ vigil Mass. He said, “The Syracuse Diocese was very lucky to have Frank Sammons because he did a great deal for them.” Msgr. Culkin was a frequent golf companion and said Msgr. Sammons was a “great athlete himself.” He also said Msgr. Sammons’ golf game was “maybe a little better than mine.”
Bishop Moynihan remarked at the end of the Mass that Msgr. Sammons always made sure every retired priest got a birthday card. He kept track of birthdays and anniversaries. Msgr. Sammons sent Bishop Moynihan a birthday card on his July 6 birthday. “He must have felt so ill and yet he had the strength to send the card that day,” Bishop Moynihan said. “He was so good to me and to his brother priests. We know he’s praying for us now. As much as you did for us here on earth, you can do more for us in heaven.”