Father Cannan remembered for his ministry to the culturally diverse
By claudia mathis / SUN staff writer
Father Walter Cannan passed away Thursday, June 21. A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated for Father Cannan at St. Paul’s Church in Rome on Tuesday, June 26. Bishop James Moynihan presided at the funeral Mass.
Bishop Thomas Costello delivered the homily. Bishop Costello said Father Cannon had been described by the people he ministered to as someone who was warm, caring, kind beyond the norm, calming, welcoming, approachable, accessible, compassionate, sensitive and quietly involved.
Pearl Heirholzer, a life member at St. Stephen’s in Oriskany, remembers Father Cannan’s love and concern for St. Stephen’s parishioners during the 11 years he served there beginning in 1996. “I remember his firm but warm handshake,” said Heirholzer. “He was a wonderful man who will be extremely missed.”
“He was a people person,” said Bishop Costello in his homily. “It was fascinating to watch him work the crowd before Sunday Mass began. He found it easy to encourage and praise; to correct was difficult for him.”
Father Cannan was born January 20, 1943 in Lowville, N.Y., to D. Frank and Helen Cannan. He attended St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s Seminaries in Rochester, N.Y. prior to graduating from the North American Pontifical College in Rome, Italy. Father Cannan was ordained at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy on Dec. 20, 1968.
After returning to the Syracuse Diocese, Father Cannan served as assistant pastor at St. Francis de Sales in Utica. Father Richard O’Neill, pastor at St. Francis de Sales at that time, remembered what a good preacher Father Cannan was. “He had a way of preaching that made everything easy to understand,” said Father O’Neill. He was well liked by everyone. He’ll be greatly missed — especially by the firemen and police officers, for which he served as chaplain.”
In addition, Father Cannan served as assistant pastor at St. Anthony’s in Cortland and at Most Holy Rosary in Syracuse. During his service in Cortland, Father Cannan was Director of Catholic Charities in Cortland County and stayed with the organization thereafter. He also served as associate pastor at St. John’s in New Hartford. After a lengthy tenure as pastor at St. Anthony of Padua in Syracuse, Father Cannan became pastor of St. Stephen’s in Oriskany in 1996.
Father John Schopfer reflected on his memories of Father Cannan during the funeral Mass. He served at St. Francis de Sales in Utica alongside Father Cannan in the 1970s. “It was a wonderful, happy experience,” said Father Schoepfer.
“I was impressed by his dedication to the people he served. He put them first. We worked together to serve the special needs of the transitional neighborhood parish.”
Bishop Costello said that Father Cannan was above all else, an urban pastor. “Since the fabled Msgr. Charles Brady, no one has been more deeply committed to serving our Black Catholics than Walt Cannan,” he said. “This was surely true at St. Francis de Sales and was a significant emphasis in his ministry at Most Holy Rosary. And it was the consuming thrust of his pastoral service at St. Anthony’s in Syracuse.”
When he arrived at St. Anthony’s, Father Cannan witnessed a transitional neighborhood that was marked by racial and cultural diversity. He welcomed people of diversity to the church, urging the white majority to graciously receive their brothers and sisters of color. Bishop Costello told how Father Cannan really tried to understand his parishioners’ concerns, anxieties and needs as well as their satisfactions and joys. “With deliberateness he made liturgy at St. Anthony’s an expression of the parish’s multi cultured ministry,” he said.
“His patience and tolerance were worthy of Jesus Christ. It was a small wonder heaven was in commotion last Thursday when he died. Another priest had ascended. It was Ascension Thursday again. He was a model for us all.”