By Father Donald Bourgeois
Approximately 20 brother priests gathered at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Binghamton Dec. 11 for a memorial Mass in honor of Father Paul Slavetskas, who died on Nov. 27. The concelebrants joining Bishop Robert J. Cunningham included Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Costello and Father Paul Carey, a classmate of Father Slavetskas.
Father Slavetskas attended St. Patrick’s School in Binghamton, St. Andrew’s in Rochester, and St. Bernard’s Seminary in Rochester, where he earned his bachelors and masters degrees. He was ordained a priest at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Syracuse, on June 26, 1971. His assignments included St. Mary’s, Cortland; Blessed Sacrament, Johnson City; St. Ann’s and St. Paul’s, Binghamton; St. Daniel and Most Holy Rosary, Syracuse; Unity Acres (Home for Homeless Men), Orwell; and St. John the Baptist, Syracuse. He was chaplain for the Catholic Daughters of Cortland; part-time chaplain at Our Lady of Lourdes and Wilson Hospitals; a full-time chaplain to the nursing homes of the Triple Cities and, at St. Daniel, to James Square Nursing Home.
The tone for the celebration came from the unique Old Testament reading shared at Mass. Having chosen one of the suggested readings from a funeral planner, the family later found a reading from the Book of Sirach among their brother’s papers. The reading begins, “My child, if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal.” The reading later continues with, “Whatever happens to you, accept it, and in the uncertainties of your humble state be patient, since gold is tested in the fire, and the chosen in the furnace of humiliation.”
In the opening remarks of his homily, Msgr. John Putano, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas, made reference to baptism, citing that the ritual includes the calling of the newly baptized to be a priest, prophet and king. These words, Msgr. Putano said, “were going to play an important role in the life of Paul.” Mentioned in the homily were the factors that led Paul to the seminary: “his very Catholic family environment, … his being a product of a Catholic school education, … and his desire to put into practice his understanding of what it meant to be a person dedicated to God.”
That dedication, Msgr. Putano noted, began when they were seminarians where “Paul was the brains behind how we could meet during the summer months” even while working various summer jobs through Catholic Charities. Those friendships endured after ordination and even with men who left the seminary before ordination. It was Father Slavetskas’ way of serving God “by caring for God’s people and bringing them the joy of the gospel,” said Msgr. Putano.
In referring to the passage from the Book of Sirach, Msgr. Putano said it spoke about Paul’s trust in God: “He never wavered in that belief. He served the Lord throughout his life — and he knew that the Lord was compassionate and merciful, and nothing would take that away from him — nothing!” In conclusion, Msgr. Putano stated, “This is the PauI I will always remember — the one who had a passion for life, who taught us so many lessons about what life is all about, about faith and trust in the Lord, about what it meant to be a servant of God and how to show the compassion and mercy of God to all he served and to all he encountered in life.”
Before the final commendation at Mass, Father Slavetskas’ brother James offered some memories of their childhood with their parents and grandparents where Father Slavetskas was again the leader of the pack in the endeavors that only youth can perpetrate.
Father Slavetskas’ special passage from the Book of Sirach also states, “Cling to the Lord and do not leave him, so that you may be honored at the end of your days.” Indeed, the presence of family, brother priests, friends and parishioners gave witness to that well-deserved honor.
Memorial contributions may be made to St. Thomas Aquinas Church Memorial Fund, 1 Aquinas St., Binghamton, N.Y. 13905.
Father Donald Bourgeois is the pastor of St. Ambrose Church in Endicott and episcopal liaison to the Catholic Sun.