By Katherine Long
Sun associate editor
Family, friends, colleagues and parishioners filled St. Joseph’s Church in Camillus to overflowing last week, gathering to say goodbye to Father Gregory LeStrange.
Father LeStrange passed away Dec. 13 after a battle with cancer. He was 55.
A graduate of Catholic Central High School in Binghamton, Le Moyne College in Syracuse and St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto, Father LeStrange was ordained to the priesthood May 15, 1982. He became pastor at St. Joseph’s in 2006, having previously served as pastor at Immaculate Conception Church in Fayetteville, and as parochial vicar at St. John the Baptist Church in Syracuse, Sacred Heart Church in Cicero and St. Mary’s Church in Baldwinsville.
Father LeStrange was active in many community organizations, serving on the boards of Catholic Charities, Francis House, Le Moyne College and the Samaritan Center. He received the House of Providence Bishop’s Medallion Award in 2003 and the Samaritan Center Award in 2009.
Remembered fondly for, among many other things, his organizational skills, Father LeStrange worked with many individuals to carefully plan his Vigil Service and funeral Mass before his death.
The Vigil Service was held Dec. 15, planned by Father LeStrange to be inclusive of the children of the parish. Understanding that death can be scary and sad for kids, he wanted to provide an opportunity for them “to learn to rejoice in the celebration of life,” said Kristen O’Hara, director of faith formation at St. Joseph’s. Nearly 200 young people, from third graders to college students, participated in a candlelight procession at the Vigil, O’Hara said.
Bishop Robert Cunningham celebrated the funeral Mass Dec. 16. Retired Bishop James Moynihan and retired Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Costello attended, as did many of Father LeStrange’s brother priests.
Father John Rose delivered a touching homily that recalled Father LeStrange as a beloved pastor, leader and “a person of compassion, love and sensitivity” who always put others first and cared for “the lost, the least, the little, the small, the marginalized.” He also speculated that Father LeStrange’s friendly nature had landed him the position of director of hospitality in his new house, where “he knows everyone by name and is greeting them at the door.”
Brian Harkins, a dear friend of Father LeStrange since their days together at Le Moyne, also offered a poignant reflection. He spoke of Father LeStrange’s ability to “radiate love, joy and hope to everyone he encountered” and shared a note Father LeStrange had written when they saw each other for the last time. Struggling to communicate verbally, Father LeStrange wrote five simple words that spoke volumes: “No regrets whatsoever. Tremendous gratitude.”