The life of Father James A. Culver was celebrated by family, friends and other faithful members of the community at a Mass of Christian Burial at St. Peter’s Church in Rome April 8. Father Culver passed peacefully on March 31 at the Eastern Star Home in Oriskany, where he was recently a resident. He was 89.
Born Sept. 12, 1925, the son of James and Agnes McCann Culver, Father Culver graduated from LaSalle Institute in Troy. He attended Niagara University and completed his religious training at St. Andrew’s Minor Seminary and
St. Bernard’s Major Seminary. Father Culver served his country in the United States Navy during World War II in the Pacific Theater.
In his more than 60 years of priesthood, Father Culver served the Diocese of Syracuse first at Sacred Heart Church in Utica and then at St. Paul’s, Rome. He then became pastor of St. John’s Church in North Bay before returning to Sacred Heart as pastor in 1976. He remained there until his retirement. Father Culver spent many summers serving as an assistant at St. Anthony’s Church in Inlet.
Since his 1995 retirement, Father Culver’s winter home was St. Peter’s Parish, where he served as priest in residence. In that church, Bishop Robert J. Cunningham, joined by many of Father Culver’s priestly brothers, celebrated the funeral Mass.
Following first and second readings by Sister Rosaire Anne DeMare, CSJ, and Sister DePaul Juliano, OSF, Deacon Nick Rosher proclaimed the Gospel.
Father Philip Hearn, pastor of St. Mary’s/St. Peter’s, delivered the homily. Funeral homilies of priests usually reiterate that no office is as exulted as that of priest, Father Hearn said. There is always much said about the dignity of priesthood, he added.
“Father Jim would say, ‘All this talk of dignity is out of place.’ He would say ‘What you see is what you get.” Yet, Father Hearn said, Father Culver fully realized the dignity of priesthood even in his passing. “He died fittingly in his big recliner, praying the rosary,” said Father Hearn.
Matthew 19:14 reads, “but Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” Father Culver loved the children of the parishes in which he served, Father Hearn said. “Father Jim was in the habit of high-fiving all the children up and down the church aisle,” Father Hearn said, who then felt obligated to join in that tradition.
A rosary circle was established at the Eastern Star Home because of Father Culver and the staff was advised that they could go to him for confession. While Father Culver was concerned that his hearing would not permit him to fulfill this duty properly, Father Hearn reassured him that, because of this, he may have been the perfect man for the job.
After thanking the many people who cared for Father Culver, from parishioners to housekeepers, Father Hearn closed the homily with one of Father Culver’s own favorite concluding statements: “That’s all folks.”
Father Culver was eulogized by Father Al Nortz, a longtime friend. He said that with similar backgrounds, “We were like two sticks bound together.” He added that the friendship was “something we continually drew strength from.” The two made a practice of getting together at least once every year since their time together in seminary.
“The one thing about Jim that you always noticed was that wherever he went, he left something in the hearts and minds of those around him. He had given them something they needed and wanted,” Father Nortz said. “He is going to continue to allow that gift he has given to flow to those who knew him.”
The parish’s book of remembrance was presented to Father Culver’s sister, Denyse Barnes, who entered his name and the date of his passing to eternal life. Father Hearn said that on the Feast of All Souls, a candle on the altar will be lit in Father Culver’s name.
Father Culver is survived by his sister, nieces Deidre Seipp and Darrilynn Griffin and nephew Jamie Barnes, all of Lutherville, Md.; nephew Kevin Barnes, of Baltimore, Md.; and several great-nieces and great-nephews. He was predeceased by his brother-in-law, Thomas Barnes, and a nephew, William Barnes. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the St. Peter’s Church Memorial Fund.
Dyann Nashton is the development director at Notre Dame Jr./Sr. High School in Utica, a freelance writer and a contributing writer to the Sun.