‘A priest for all of us’

Hundreds mourn Msgr. McCloskey  in Fayetteville

By Tom Maguire

Associate editor

The family always had good hands — holy and workmanlike too.

   A gifted pianist, Msgr. James A. McCloskey also pursued golf, basketball, and tennis. Above all pastimes, though, he loved the Mother of God for his 96 years. Knowing this, his brother Charles carved a piece of wood into a 15-inch statue of the Madonna and Child. For Msgr. McCloskey’s funeral Mass Dec. 1, the 1976 carving graced the casket. Instead of a stock photo from an online service, the cover of the funeral program featured a lovely colorized depiction of the statue. 

   Hundreds of mourners were there to see it and to honor the memory of this humble, joke-loving, and inspirational man at Immaculate Conception Church in Fayetteville. Bishop Robert J. Cunningham, who presided, called Msgr. McCloskey “a priest for all of us.” Among the seven concelebrants were retired Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Costello and the homilist, Father Thomas J. Ryan.

‘The shepherd’s ministry’

  “Like every priest, his hands were consecrated with the Oil of Chrism for the sacred duty of priestly ministry,” Father Ryan, the Immaculate Conception pastor, said of Msgr. McCloskey. “Those hands, though consecrated, were never set apart from the people; rather they were well worn, never afraid to be immersed into the shepherd’s ministry.

      “All of us having experienced and observed his dedicated vocation in action — and countless people, living and many passed on, having experienced the same priestly dedication — know that not only were his hands consecrated, but his heart was also consecrated — consecrated by his love of Christ, of the Blessed Mother, and of the Church.”

   The Mass program noted that Msgr. McCloskey was born on April 11, 1921, in Syracuse and died Nov. 25 at Francis House, a Syracuse residence for people with terminal illnesses. This year, the monsignor who preached love and mercy celebrated 71 years as a priest in the Diocese of Syracuse, where he guided many parishes and held many other leadership roles.

   Frailty pushed the monsignor into retirement in 1995. He became the senior priest in residence at Immaculate Conception for a restorative 22 years — a testament to the “wonderful people of this parish [who] uplifted him physically and spiritually” and inspired him to carry on a very effective ministry to young and old alike, Father Ryan said. “Near the casket,” Father Ryan said, “you will note a recent picture of a young child’s hand on top of Monsignor’s frail, elderly hand grasping a cane — the wisdom of years guiding the innocence of youth.”

   Msgr. McCloskey offered the Holy Eucharist daily, Father Ryan said, and during those 71 years the monsignor also “poured the water of Baptism over so many babies; compassionately held the hands of the sick and anointed the dying; blessed the loving marriage covenant of young couples; healed countless fractured lives through Reconciliation; carefully guided young people in this journey of life; and taught the faith from many pulpits.”