BINGHAMTON — The bells rang solemnly outside Ss. Cyril and Methodius on Sept. 30 as throngs of people continued to file into the already packed church.
Hundreds of mourners, including dozens of clergy, gathered for the Mass of Christian Burial for Father George Sandor, OFM Conv. A Franciscan for nearly 50 years and pastor of St. Cyril’s since 1997, Father Sandor died suddenly of a heart attack on Sept. 25. He was 68.
Father Sandor also served as pastor of the Church of the Holy Trinity and assisted at Holy Spirit Byzantine Catholic Church, both in Binghamton. Father Sandor was raised in the Eastern Rite tradition, becoming a bi-ritual priest who was able to serve in both the Eastern and Roman rites of the Church.
Father Sandor professed his first vows as a Conventual Franciscan Friar on August 31, 1964 in Middleburg, N.Y., and his solemn vows on August 30, 1969 in Rensselaer, N.Y. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 20, 1972 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany.
After ordination, Father Sandor served as associate pastor at the Franciscan Church of St. Bonaventure, Toronto, Canada for two years, followed by five years of advanced theological studies at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, Italy. After returning to the U.S., he served as Professor of Dogmatic and Sacramental Theology at St. Anthony-on-Hudson Seminary in Rensselaer, and then as Associate Director and Director of the Candidacy Program at San Damiano Friary in Holyoke, Mass. During that time, he was also Professor of Franciscan Studies at St. Hyacinth College and Seminary in Granby, Mass. He returned to Toronto to continue his theological studies for a number of years before being assigned to Ss. Cyril and Methodius Church, where he served as associate pastor from 1995 to 1997 and as pastor since 1997.
Father Justin Biase, OFM Conv., Minister Provincial of the Immaculate Conception Province of the Conventual Franciscans, served as the main celebrant at the Mass of Christian Burial. Bishop Robert J. Cunningham, numerous Franciscan priests and brothers, diocesan priests, deacons and other clergy were also present. Members of the choirs from all three parishes where Father Sandor served came together to provide music for the liturgy.
When the pall was unfolded on the casket, a bible, the Rule of St. Francis and a San Damiano cross were placed on top.
The homilist, Friar Jude Surowiec, OFM Conv., remembered meeting Father Sandor as he entered Franciscan life. Friar Jude recalled that they met around the time the Byrds song “Turn! Turn! Turn!” was popular. The song’s lyrics echo the words of Ecclesiastes, which speak of a “time and season” for everything.
“The death of a brother or pastor… represents one of those times. A time of faith; a time to celebrate,” Friar Jude said. “Death is a mystery. We turn to faith. It’s a transition to life.”
Friar Jude recalled how Father Sandor liked to have nice meals at restaurants, adding that he is now sharing in the eternal banquet.
“He was a friend and a friar,” Friar Jude said. “A man who was true to his word. If he said it, he meant it.” Although, he added, Father Sandor loved to tease. Friar Jude said sometimes he’d just about believe what he was being told, then realize it was just part of Father Sandor’s sense of humor.
But Father Sandor was very serious about his mission, he said. “He offered advice and insight. He took charge of things, got things done. If George was given a task, he put his heart and soul into the ministry he served,” Friar Jude said.
Father Sandor was well-read, enjoyed music and traveling and “would work fervently on the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle,” Friar Jude said. “It amazed me he knew so much about so much. There wasn’t a topic he didn’t know a lot about.”
“George was a loving, sensitive and caring man, with a mother he buried two months ago. He loved his religious community. He was sensitive to the needs of those around him,” Friar Jude said. “This truly is, in the words of the Byrds, a time to celebrate life. We pray that George will enjoy the eternal banquet.”
Father Biase spoke of Father Sandor’s love for visiting Assisi, St. Francis’ hometown. He also told the parishioners of St. Cyril’s, Holy Trinity and Holy Spirit Churches that they could be assured of continued prayers from the Franciscans.
As the Book of Remembrance was signed, hundreds of people broke into applause for Father Sandor.
Bishop Cunningham spoke to those gathered just before the final prayers. He remembered talking with Father Sandor in mid-September at the Clergy Convocation at Alexandria Bay. Though Father Sandor was a Franciscan, he said, he was part of the presbyterate of the Diocese of Syracuse. Bishop Cunningham noted that Father Sandor served for an “unusually long” time as a pastor in Binghamton.
“We offer deep sympathy,” Bishop Cunningham said. “We commend him to God’s care. We hold him in our hearts.”
Father Sandor was the son of the late George and Evelyn Sandor. He is survived by his siblings Kenneth (Linda) Sandor, Gloria Sandor, Robert Sandor and Maria Sandor, as well as his many Franciscan brothers and sisters.