Remembering our role models

By Connie Berry
Sun editor

While Mother Marianne’s cause for sainthood is an ongoing process at the Vatican, there are people throughout the diocese who remember others who touched their lives and whom they recognize as saintly people.  How about Msgr. Charles Brady, Father Ray McVey, Msgr. A. Robert Casey, Father Bill Brown, Father Francis Holocinski, Msgr. Martin Watley, Sister Eloise Emm, OSF, Msgr. James McCloskey, Msgr. Adolf Kantor, Msgr. Eugene Yennock, and others? A quick survey of diocesan priests brought all these names to the forefront. Some were admired for the numbers of vocations they inspired and others for the way they lived their lives and carried out their vocation.

Father Dan Muscalino will leave St. John the Baptist Church in Syracuse to pastor St. Francis Xavier Church in Marcellus in September. If it weren’t for Father Bill “Bish” Brown’s example as Father Muscalino was growing up in Fulton, he may not be heading in that direction.

Father Brown served in the Navy before he became a priest for the diocese and he spent nearly all his priesthood at Immaculate Conception Church in Fulton. He was an inspiration for countless members of that community but particularly for Fathers Joe Scardella, Robert Stephenson, Mark Gantley, Tony Cincotta, John Manno and Greg Krienheder, along with Father Muscalino.

According to Father Muscalino, there was not a single factor that made Father Brown’s example so powerful. It was simply watching the way he enjoyed his priesthood that was so awe-inspiring.

“He didn’t really talk about it,” Father Muscalino said. “It was the way he lived it. You knew two things about him – he loved the priesthood and he loved the church. He celebrated the liturgy with incredible reverence. He modeled the priesthood more than he talked about it.”

Father John Manno, pastor of St. James Church in the Valley neighborhood of Syracuse, includes Father Brown as his inspiration as well. But he also said a good friend of Father Brown’s, Msgr. Eugene Yennock, similarly inspired a large number of vocations.

“Msgr. Yennock at St. Daniel has served as a wonderful mentor to many of the priests serving in the diocese today,” Father Manno said. The list includes Fathers Dan Caruso, Chris Celentano, Clifford Auth, Richard Prior, and seminarian Chris Seibt whose ordination is planned for 2013. Msgr. Yennock is still going strong at St. Daniel Church in Syracuse, still inspiring people with his example.

For Father Charles Vavonese, one of his previous co-workers in the Catholic School’s Office, Sister Eloise Emm, OSF, serves as someone to admire. He said she had “boundless energy” and is a “woman of all seasons.”

Sister Eloise earned her doctorate, was instrumental in founding Maria Regina College, worked in leadership within her religious community, developed curriculum for diocesan schools, all along with being an accomplished musician and liturgist. She was director of the Singing Sisters of Syracuse a few decades ago. The Sisters even produced an album under her direction. Sister Eloise also served as Vicar for Religious for the diocese.

“Her commitment to excellence in Catholic education was an inspiration to me for the many years that I worked with her in the Catholic Schools Office,” Father Vavonese said. “She directed any choir she had with what came to be called ‘gusto’ throughout the diocese.”

Father Robert Chryst is pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church on Syracuse’s south side and he remembers Msgr. Charles Brady and Father Ray McVey as two remarkable examples of living saintly lives.

“There was nothing pretentious about either of those two men,” Father Chryst noted. “They both reached out to those in the margins.”

Msgr. Brady served in the armed forces before he became a priest and was a pivotal figure in the diocese during the civil rights movement. His inner-city ministry is well known and was the impetus for what is now the Brady Faith Center on the south side. Msgr. Brady reached out to the African American community when it was not a popular thing to do, Father Chryst said.

Father Ray McVey served at St. Lucy’s Church, as did Father Chryst. He is remembered for his work among the homeless in the diocese. Father McVey’s ministry began in the city of Syracuse and eventually made its way up to Orwell, N.Y. where he created Unity Acres in the late 19060s – a former sanitorium which is now a large residence for homeless men.

“They were saintly people who really modeled Mother Marianne by reaching out to others who were hurting,” Father Chryst said. “Anybody who met them would consider them saintly people. They were both very kind and humble.”

Msgr. A. Robert Casey and Father Francis Holocinski were both ill during the last months of their seminary training, according to Father Arthur Hapanowicz. The legend is that they both were ordained so that they “could die as priests,” Father Hapanowcz said. They both lived for years after ordination, later serving as mentors and friends to their brother priests.

“Father Holocinski was a brilliant, humble and kind pastor,” Father Hapanowcz said. “Msgr. Casey passed away in more recent years after serving in various roles and parishes as well as a true friend to many, many fellow priests of all ages.”

Father Robert Hyde, pastor of St. Margaret’s Church in Mattydale, grew up with Msgr. Casey as his pastor at St. James Church in Cazenovia.

“He had a great sense of humor and his love of God was always evident,” Father Hyde said.

Known as one of the best preachers in the diocese, Msgr. Casey was the confessor for many diocesan priests. Beating all the odds after being ordained in a wheelchair, Msgr. Casey lived a long life spending Sunday mornings during his later years concelebrating Mass at St. Lucy’s Church once again in a wheelchair. St. Lucy’s pastor, Father Jim Mathews, would wheel him down the center aisle of the church so that he could join him at the altar. He was again an inspiration to others at the end of his life.

Msgr. James McCloskey is in his 9th decade of life today and serves as a “beautiful example of continuing priestly ministry into and beyond retirement as he resides in an active parish rectory [Immaculate Conception in Fayetteville] and shares each day in so many ways with his people and priests,” Father Hapanowcz said. In his early years as a priest, Msgr. McCloskey prepared guidelines used for sermons which were utilized by priests across the diocese, Father Hapanowcz said.

Msgr. Adolf Kantor, 96 years old, is another example of a life long-lived in service. He is an inspiration for Father Hapanowcz today with his open and welcoming attitude towards all people.

“These are two living priests known and loved by so many people,” Father Hapanowcz said.

There are undoubtedly others who serve as role models and saintly reminders of how to live a life of loving service. Looking back, Father Dan Muscalino tries to carry the memory of his old pastor, Father Bill Brown, with him today.

I hope I can be such a role model to attract others to the priesthood,” Father Muscalino said. “There’s a line I use a lot that I got from Father Brown, ‘I always try to do the mind of the church.’ If I’m teaching, preaching or celebrating Mass – what the church wants is what I want. I learned that from Bill Brown.”

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1 Comment on "Remembering our role models"

  1. Constance Chapman | January 19, 2016 at 6:59 am | Reply

    I would like to see the process started for Msgr Casey’s eventual canonization. I was one of his aides toward the end of his life. This holy man was one of my residents and a joy to be around. When he died you could feel the palpable shadow cast over the wing. I know this man prayed me back into the Church. He was never anything but Christlike and patient and while he spoke not a word he didn’t need to. His eyes said it all.

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