‘A beautiful tribute to a simple friar’

SomervilleC for obit on pg 11

SomervilleC for obit on pg 11Funeral services honor Father Conrad Somerville, OFM Conv.

On Tues., Nov. 26, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Syracuse was crowded with people who had come to honor their priest, their confessor, and most of all, their friend, Father Conrad Somerville, OFM Conv. Father Somerville passed away Nov. 21 at age 85.

   As a funeral attendant moved forward to close Father Somerville’s casket and complete the public viewing, Franciscan friar Father Adam Keltos, one of Father Somerville’s closest friends, walked over to the casket and smiled. Before the casket was sealed, a bag of Herr’s potato chips was placed inside and a collective chuckle rose from the congregation.    “He sure loved his snacks,” laughed an older gentleman who declined to be identified but had come to say goodbye to Father Somerville. “He loved his soda and his chips and he always greeted me at the confessional wearing his baseball cap,” he said. “He was my confessor, my mentor and my friend.” He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his eyes. “A lot of people wouldn’t be practicing the faith today if it weren’t for Father Conrad. No one ever minded waiting on line for him at confession. He was such a good, good man.”

   Father Somerville was born in Cohoes, N.Y. on Aug. 3,1928. He was the son of the late Earl and Catherine Somerville.

   He professed his first vows as a Conventual Franciscan friar in Cohoes on Aug. 18,1948 and his solemn vows on Aug. 18, 1952 in Rensselaer. On June 12, 1954, Father Somerville was ordained to the priesthood at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany and spent the majority of his ministry as a teacher at a variety of schools, including St. Francis College in Moravia, Costa Rica; Bishop Scully High School in Amsterdam; Canevin High School in Pittsburgh, Pa; St. Joseph Grammar School in Utica and Our Lady of Angels School in Albany.

   He also served as the associate pastor at Holy Rosary Church in Belleville, Ontario; pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Tribes Hill, N.Y.; and as sacramental minister at St. Francis Chapel in Albany.

   For the past 15 years he had served as a friar-priest at the Franciscan Place in Syracuse’s Destiny USA.

   “He was a quiet, humble person and everyone who came out of the confessional was always smiling,” said Rosemary Costa, director of the Franciscan Place. “He touched your heart.”

   As the funeral began, Bishop Robert J. Cunningham, priests from the Diocese of Syracuse and Franciscan friars processed in. Several of Father Somerville’s Franciscan brothers stopped to place a white pall with a cross over the casket, symbolizing Father Somerville’s baptism in Christ, but as the friars unfolded the pall, chuckling began once again. The cloth across the casket had been unfolded incorrectly and Father Justin Biase, OFM Conv., provincial for the Franciscans and celebrant for the funeral, began laughing.

   “Conrad would have just loved this,” he said as the group of friars gathered at the casket quickly readjusted the cloth. Also placed on the casket was the constitution and book of rules for the Franciscan friars and a stole to symbolize Father Somerville’s role as minister of the rite of reconciliation.

   Father Keltos gave a eulogy filled with both humor and touching memories of his friend Father Somerville.

   “Hello, friend,” said Father Keltos as he looked out over the crowd. “That was his familiar greeting to everyone.” Faces throughout the congregation smiled in recollection. “He called all of us friend.”

   Father Keltos also spoke of Father Somerville’s love of good food. “Whenever any of the friars would go to a celebration, we could count on Conrad to ask one question when they returned, ‘How was the food?’ He loved good food which is why we chose for the first reading Isaiah 25:6-9, that speaks of the Lord providing a feast of rich foods and select wines. I trust Conrad is now enjoying the Lord’s great banquet as well as the promise of death being destroyed forever.”

   Father Keltos spoke of the many twists and turns in Father Somerville’s vocational journey but stated, “These past 15 years here in Syracuse he was doing what he loved most: ministering God’s love and mercy,” he said. “When I announced his passing Thursday after Mass at the Franciscan Place, people stopped by to express their condolences. Some of them said how sorry they were or how hard he would be to replace, but others stopped me and said, ‘I’m sorry you lost your best friend.’”

   Following Communion, Father Biase looked out over the congregation. “I know many of you felt Father Conrad was a blessing to you, but you were all a blessing to him. You allowed him to minister to you and that was a true gift to Conrad.”

   Before the recessional, Bishop Cunningham spoke on the impact Father Somerville had during his lifetime.

   “Many people have stopped me to tell me they regularly visited him at the Franciscan Place,” said Bishop Cunningham. “Today was a beautiful tribute to a simple friar. He made an indelible impression in many lives and may God give him safe lodging and holy rest and peace forever.”

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