By Katherine Long
Msgr. Robert B. Davern’s life and legacy were celebrated at his funeral Mass in his home parish of St. Patrick’s in Syracuse March 19. Msgr. Davern died March 14 after a brief illness. He was 88.
A native son of St. Patrick’s Church in Syracuse’s Tipperary Hill neighborhood, Msgr. Davern attended St. Patrick’s School from kindergarten to 12th grade. He went on to study for the priesthood at St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s Seminaries in Rochester. He would later complete his master’s degree in social work at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.
Msgr. Davern was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Syracuse on May 19, 1951, by Bishop Walter Foery. His pastoral assignments included serving as associate pastor at Immaculate Conception Church in Fayetteville and Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Syracuse; as pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Syracuse; and as temporary administrator of St. Patrick’s Church in Binghamton, St. John the Evangelist Church in Syracuse and St. James Church in Syracuse. He also ministered as chaplain to the Jamesville Correctional Facility and to Loretto and Van Duyn nursing homes.
A champion of human rights and social development, Msgr. Davern served as director of Catholic Charities of Broome County and as co-director of human development for Catholic Charities of Onondaga County. He also took a leave of absence from the diocese to help establish a Catholic Charities agency in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was the diocesan representative for the Triple Cities State Commission Against Discrimination, and was also instrumental to local programs including Head Start, Model Cities and the Hawley Neighborhood Development Program.
Msgr. Davern also served as the diocesan Director of Development, leading the first annual diocesan HOPE Appeal with Bishop Frank Harrison.
On the occasion of his 60th jubilee in 2011, Msgr. Davern told the Sun, “In the end, it’s the one-on-one contact to those in need that really matters. My work has been very rewarding. Every day I would go home knowing that I had helped someone.”
Bishop Robert J. Cunningham, retired Bishop James M. Moynihan and more than two-dozen brother priests concelebrated Msgr. Davern’s funeral Mass, which was attended by his loving family, friends and colleagues.
Msgr. Ron Bill offered the homily, reflecting on his friend’s spirit and many years of devoted ministry.
“He was a servant. He was a man who loved others,” Msgr. Bill said. “He was a priest for all occasions and all people. No one was excluded from his love and concern.”
Describing Msgr. Davern as humble and quiet, a worker and an achiever, Msgr. Bill underlined his tireless work with Catholic Charities, the United Way, and housing and just wage efforts.
“Bob Davern was admired by church leaders and people of all persuasions, bringing them together to work in defense of the voiceless and the powerless,” Msgr. Bill continued.
Working with Msgr. Davern was “like going to college every day,” Msgr. Bill said. In their decades together at Catholic Charities, “we never had an argument — I never knew what he was talking about,” Msgr. Bill joked.
“There’s a saying that when a person dies, a little bit of us dies with him. We also know that when a person dies, a little bit of them stays with us. Bob will always be with us. He will be there in good times and in bad, always at our side, helping, loving, and giving us hope,” he said.
Msgr. Bill closed with a traditional Irish blessing, fitting to bless a man who so loved his heritage: “May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, the rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of His hand.”
Msgr. Davern was predeceased by his parents, Robert B. Davern and Helen Davern, and his sister Marilyn Moore. He is survived by his sister Kathryn Shea and brother-in-law Jack Shea, as well as many nieces and nephews.
Contributions in Msgr. Davern’s memory may be made to a charity of choice.