‘It is better to serve’: Celebrating priest jubilees

By Tom Maguire | Associate editor

Fourteen priests in the Diocese of Syracuse celebrate jubilees this year. Collectively, they express appreciation for the gift of the priesthood and show a commitment to helping congregations, families, hospital patients, and the United States military. They have served as leaders, teachers, and chaplains. Their hobbies include piano playing, skiing, walking, and traveling to peaceful watery places. One of them even had a life-changing riverside insight; one of them came from 7,200 miles away. All of them shared inspirational comments. Here are their stories:

60th jubilees

Father Alfred J. Bebel
Ordained May 24, 1958

Father Bebel is looking forward to his Mass celebrating his 60th year as a priest: 8:45 a.m. May 20 at Church of the Holy Trinity in Binghamton.

“This would be nice if people come,” he said, “get it full once; that’s what I’m hoping for.” The deacon for the Mass will be Rev. Mr. Matthew Rawson.

Father Bebel said everybody is invited, too, to the post-Mass reception put on by the Altar and Rosary Society and the Men’s Club.

He has served in Syracuse, Binghamton, Bainbridge, Afton, and Johnson City.

Asked several questions about his 60 years in the priesthood, he wrote that prayer is the greater part of his life. He thinks back to May 24, 1958: “A beautiful sun-filled spring day (but with heavy frost in the morning). There were six men ordained that day in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse. Four of us were ordained for the Diocese of Syracuse.” 

Of the three others, he wrote, “I weep for them, as they have all died.” The 1958 Ordination Class for the Diocese of Syracuse numbered 12 men. The other eight were ordained in February. Only two of them are still alive.

Father Bebel described the priesthood as “a state of life that never ends, a gift of God that doesn’t run out. When I submitted my letter to Bishop [James M.] Moynihan in 2004, requesting to be allowed to retire and return to my home territory of Binghamton, I promised to be available wherever and whenever a priest was needed. And my hopes have been fulfilled! … It’s a joy to answer the calls that come to help out in parishes, nursing homes, hospitals, or homes of shut-ins.”

At his house in Binghamton, which he shares with his brother Bernie, Father Bebel relaxes with such hobbies as cooking, baking, gardening, walking, and corresponding with myriad relatives in the United States and in Poland. “I value my friends more and more, in particular the sisters of various religious orders,” he wrote.

“I am convinced that it is better to serve than to be served,” he continued. “I am happy with my life as a priest. I never regretted that I chose this life, or rather, that I responded to God’s call. Sure, there were many ups and downs, … but I would say to anyone experiencing … even the smallest hint of a call to join the priesthood or religious life: Go for it! You might even be accepted, and enter a life of dedication, Godliness, service. It’s well worth looking into.”

Since 1971, when he entered into the Cursillo Movement, Father Bebel has gained a new perspective on the mission of Christ and the Church. The Cursillo Movement was started in Spain as a response to the Church’s doctrine on the importance of the layperson in the world. “The layperson is immersed in the environments of the world,” Father Bebel wrote. “The clergy, by and large, are not. BUT, the clergy must be behind the layperson by instruction, encouragement, worthy celebration of the Mass, and other services that nourish everyone’s spiritual life.”

“I increasingly see the special role of the layperson in today’s world,” he continued, “and the need of the priest to be behind the laity. Recognizing that we work together in Christ’s vineyard, I close … with one of my favorite Bible passages:

“You are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises’ of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were ‘no people’ but now you are God’s people; you ‘had not received mercy’ but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

Msgr. M. James Lutz,
Ordained Feb. 3, 1958

Enjoying a wonderful retirement since July 2001, despite having his “social calendar” dictated by doctors these days, Msgr. Lutz finds comfort living in the old family homestead in Utica.

“It’s a home filled with memories,” the monsignor said of the five-bedroom Colonial with the center entrance. He had three brothers and one sister, all younger, all deceased.

Most of his friends are gone, but every month he still talks about the good old days on the phone with a fellow he grew up with in Utica.

Msgr. Lutz’s father was a city court judge for many years. In those days, he said, “a mother or father said something and you did it.” When he was growing up, he said, Utica’s population was close to 100,000; an internet check revealed that in 2016 it was down to about 61,000.

The monsignor appreciates “the wonderful people of God that I worked with when I was in ministry and able to do things in parishes.” He served in Chadwicks, Whitesboro, Marcellus, Syracuse, and Manlius. Special assignments included the CCD Executive Committee, the Syracuse Power Squadron, and the Lucian Guild.

For 16 years he was the diocesan director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. “I loved … working with missioners and promoting missions,” he said. He deeply respects those who work in foreign countries and desolate places “preaching the word of God.” And he cherished his almost seven years as an assistant at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse and his 14½ years as pastor of St. Ann Church in Manlius.

Msgr. Lutz reads a lot of newspapers online. “The world is God’s creation and we all have a responsibility to be part of it and to build it up,” he said.

Asked what advice he would give to seminarians, he said a priest is ordained “to bring the word of God to wherever he is. I would encourage them as much as I could ’cause I’ve had a happy life as a priest while serving the Lord Jesus Christ and … the Church. I think anyone will find that happiness and joy in serving the people.”

For 40 years, Msgr. Lutz has had a place on the St. Lawrence River. “I’ve always loved Clayton,” he said. He keeps a boat there, and he remembers fishing with his father.

“Evidently the Lord is keeping me around because I have more work to do,” he said. The monsignor’s life goals remain the same: “to serve God’s people and to serve Jesus Christ in whatever way I can.”

Father Richard G. Tucker
Ordained Feb. 3, 1958

Father Tucker had quite the pivotal realization one day when he was working for a manufacturing company.

A customer had gone out to lunch, so the future seminarian drove to a beach on the St. Lawrence River to wait. He realized: “I don’t want to sell plumbing, heating, and industrial supplies as time goes on.”

Father Tucker, who served in the Navy in World War II, talked to future Bishop Frank J. Harrison, who said: Why not try the priesthood? It turned out to be a good idea. He served in Oswego, East Syracuse, and Syracuse and retired in 1986.

He lived in Florida for quite a while. “I liked Florida a lot,” he said, but as the years went on he felt he was too far away from his friends in Central New York. He came back and bought a home in Erie Village and lived there for quite a while, but he realized he needed more adequate help.

He has lived at The Nottingham, a senior community in Jamesville, for three years. “I get along pretty good for my age,” he said. He has a “lovely apartment” where he can say Mass. He has a kitchen, living room, and bath, with a laundry room nearby. He reads a lot, and he likes to sit on his porch outside and look at a “lovely park” with a “nice garden.”

He has only about two classmates left but his niece in Norwich frequently visits and makes sure that he gets to his occasional doctor appointments. Otherwise, his friends in Syracuse pick him up and give him a ride wherever he wants to go.

Father Tucker said about 30 retired priests live at The Nottingham. Usually about a dozen of them head to the priests’ dining room at 5 o’clock for dinner, and he also shows up there at noon if he wants to. “We all get our own breakfast,” he said.

“I’m quite content, very happy here.”

50th jubilees

Father Robert D. Chryst
Ordained May 18, 1968

Father Chryst lives by this quote: “Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

“That’s certainly a good guidance for any Christian,” he said in a voicemail.

Father Chryst said he never ceases to be impressed by “our wonderful laypeople and the great example that they give us” and the support that they give priests. He praised the people he has worked with, mentioning Anglo, Hispanic, black, white, old, young, Native American, women, men, and children.

He has served as an assistant at St. Lucy Church in Syracuse and as administrator at St. Anthony of Padua in Syracuse, where he has been the pastor since 2007.

His other posts have included liaison with the charismatic renewal prayer movement, director of the Spanish Apostolate, chaplain at Auburn State Prison, and regional co-director of prayer groups for the Western Vicariate.

“One of the things that has impressed me is the great variety of wonderful people that I’ve been able to work with,” Father Chryst said.

Father Richard E. Dellos
Ordained May 18, 1968

Father Dellos, the pastor at St. Joseph-St. Patrick Church in Utica since 2002, says, “Obviously, I’m not retiring.”

Originally from the Southern Tier, he has served in locales including Fulton, Binghamton, Syracuse, Endicott, and Greene. His many assignments have included jail chaplain and liaison to the bishop for charismatic renewal.

“In the eight churches that I’ve been assigned to, all of them have either been dedicated to Joseph or Mary, except for Blessed Sacrament [Utica], which completes the Holy Family, of course,” Father Dellos said.

In a voicemail, he said St. Joseph-St. Patrick Parish is preparing for the new Pentecost “as our popes have asked for,” using the 14 segments of The Wild Goose Project as the basis for the new evangelization in 2019. According to https://thewildgooseisloose.com/why-wild-goose, the project invites Catholics into a deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit.

Father Dellos said his goal for himself and the whole Church is to proclaim the kerygma, “the basic proclamation of the faith, which is Jesus is Lord.” He said that according to Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap., Preacher to the Papal Household, if we say a thousand things and one of them is “Jesus is Lord,” no one will be cut to the heart. That goal is for everybody, Father Dellos said.

According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the rediscovery of the kerygma, “or first proclamation, is one which should be kept at the center of all evangelizing and catechetical efforts. It is considered first … because it is the principal proclamation of Jesus Christ that must be announced throughout the process of catechesis in many different ways. It is the kerygma that constitutes the core work of catechesis proclaimed by missionary disciples.”

Father Anthony P. LaFache
Ordained May 18, 1968

“Looking back on my career as a priest,” Father LaFache said in an email, “my fondest memories were during my time at an inner-city parish in Utica. Being able to take children out of a crime-ridden area and get them educations at Notre Dame was paramount.”

Father LaFache has also served in Norwich, East Syracuse, and Rome.

“I still enjoy being able to help those families who want a Catholic education for their children during my retirement at St. JosephSt. Patrick Church,” he continued. “Much of my active time is currently spent at St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Utica where I serve as chaplain.

“In addition to my ministry to the patients, I particularly enjoy the relationships I have been able to cultivate with the Sisters of St. Francis.”

Father William A. Mesmer
Ordained May 18, 1968

“There has never been a day when I did not thank God for calling me to serve as a priest,” Father Mesmer said in an email.

“Furthermore,” he wrote, “I have never been happier in my life, than these last sixteen years as pastor of St. Helena [Sherrill] and Holy Family [Vernon] Parishes.”

What kind of place is Sherrill?

He wrote: “Sherrill may be the smallest city (by population) in NY State, but the largest in pride and heart — a great place to live.”

He has also served in Cleveland, N.Y., Constantia, Fairmount, Fulton, East Syracuse, Syracuse, Cicero, Liverpool, Utica, and Oneida. Special assignments have included chaplain of the Knights of Columbus and Eastern Region voting member of the Priests’ Personnel Committee. Of his 50 years as a priest, he wrote: “Where have they all gone?”

He answered his own question: “All I know is that, each year has been a blessing, more than I can say.”

As he nears his 50th jubilee, he reflects that Bishop David F. Cunningham ordained him at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse. “There was never a single doubt or hesitation in my life,” he wrote, “that the Holy Spirit was calling me to serve God’s people, the Church, as a priest in the Catholic Christian Church.” Asked to relate a memorable experience, he said, “Infinite times the Holy Spirit took over for my humanness.”

Asked for advice for seminarians or those pondering a vocation, he wrote: “As soon as you may think the going is rough, know you belong right where you are.”

Father Mesmer’s goal is “to remain in good health — mentally and physically.” He looks forward to celebrating his Golden Jubilee on Sunday, May 20, the Feast of Pentecost, with his “family/parish families, and close friends.”

Asked for his motto or key piece of Scripture, he combined them:

“Keep your eye on the ‘Good Shepherd’” (John 10:14-15). 

Father Joseph H. Phillips
Ordained May 18, 1968

“Father Joe has been a tremendous blessing to our faith communities, and his love and dedication to our families and children have been the hallmarks of his ministry,” Maryanne Marr, Pastoral Council president at St. Lawrence Mission, DeRuyter, said in an email. “We count ourselves so incredibly fortunate to be graced by his presence each week!”

Technically, Father Phillips, of Skaneateles, retired in 2016 after service in North Syracuse and various assignments in Syracuse. He also served in the Priest Senate and worked for Pre Cana, and Family Life. He is the canonical administrator of St. Lawrence Mission, a mission of St. Patrick Parish, Truxton, where he is also the canonical administrator.

As his 50th anniversary approaches, Father Phillips said in an email, three words come immediately to mind.

“The first is ‘gratitude,’” he said. “I notice at this time in my life a deep and constant sense of thankfulness for the opportunity to serve God as a priest. The words of Psalm 118 are present to me: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his mercy endures forever.’

“The second word is ‘encouragement.’ The encouragement I have received from family, friends, and parishioners over the years means so much to me. The third word is ‘horizon.’ All of my life I have enjoyed hiking up mountains to view the far horizon. Even now, I look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead.”

40th jubilees

Father Ralph A. Bove
Ordained May 27, 1978

Born and raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, Father Bove never had any interest in being hemmed in. Nor did he fear cold weather.

His first pastorate was in Syracuse, at St. Peter’s Church (now Church of Our Lady of Pompei–St. Peter).

“I was very impressed with the priests who were here; they were very friendly, very open,” he said. “I loved the area, and the people I was working with at St. Peter’s were extremely generous in every conceivable way. So I kind of fell in love with the area and the people I was dealing with.” He knew Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Costello (now retired) quite well, and the bishop was his mentor in the transition.

And the weather? Quite a change from the comparatively mild winters of New York City.

“I like the cold, yes. I’ve never complained.”

Father Bove remembers his boyhood neighborhood as a very friendly mix of Italian and Jewish people. A lot of life was “surrounded by” parish activities, and most of his friends were also altar boys. He attended St. Ann’s Academy, which has since moved to Queens and become Archbishop Molloy High School.

At St. Ann’s, he had inspirational educators, the Marist Brothers. He later spent a year in Rome, Italy, learning the language and taking some courses at the Angelicum. He also spent his deacon year at a parish in Italy.

His most memorable moment remains his ordination in his home church, St. Joseph’s. Presiding was Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Maria Pernicone. “He was a very spiritual man,” Father Bove said, “and you could feel that presence in his life.”

After pastoring at St. Peter’s for several years, Father Bove returned to New York City to serve as pastor in two parishes. He originally belonged to the Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Charles, the Scalabrinians. But he left the missionaries and asked to be incardinated into the Diocese of Syracuse. “The scope of the community had changed somewhat,” he said. “It was originally founded for Italian migrants.”

Father Bove arrived in Cicero in 2005 to assist Father James Gehl as parochial vicar at Sacred Heart Church. He subsequently served in Johnson City, and he now is pastor of the canonically linked parishes of St. Bartholomew and St. Paul in Norwich.

He would ask today’s seminarians “to understand that it’s a lifetime commitment,” and “a very strong spiritual life of prayer” makes the road easier. Not every day is bright and sunny, he said, but a strong spiritual background “changes things. Your outlook is different, your commitment becomes real.”

Father Bove is a movie buff, usually black and white films starting with the ’40s, with actors like James Cagney and Cary Grant. He also reads biographies of religious and political figures.

He turns 75 on May 28. “I’ve reached my goal,” he said. “I’ve been ordained a priest, and I’d like to continue doing what I was ordained for.” It’s up to the bishop, he said, to decide what’s next.

Is he ready to retire? “Not really. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I retired; I want to continue what I’m doing, being a parish priest.”

Father Daniel C. Muscalino
Ordained May 13, 1978

Father Muscalino, who believes that God “has this great sense of humor,” gets up at 4:30 a.m., eager to catch the day’s first heavenly smile.

“My God is not sour, not at all,” said the indefatigable pastor and teacher. “He loves us, so he wants us to be happy. … I get up and start my prayers, coffee, Mass [6:45 a.m.] — to school.”

Father Muscalino has served in Endicott, Binghamton, East Syracuse, Syracuse, Truxton, DeRuyter, and Marcellus, where he has been the pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church since 2012 (he was the administrator there in 2011). He has been a teacher at Bishop Ludden Jr./Sr. High School since 1988. Special assignments have included chaplain for hospitals and nurses and involvement with the Diocesan Cursillo Movement.

He is already teaching the children of students he taught in the early years. He anticipates: “I’ll be teaching grandkids; that’s fine.”

Father Muscalino teaches religion, Latin, and Greek. Languages “come very easy to me and I love learning languages,” he said. A Sicilian, he speaks Italian. He knows some French and some Spanish. He can read Latin, Greek, and Hebrew texts in the original language because it gives him a much better perspective.

His favorite Scripture quotes include Jeremiah 29:11-13 (God’s plans); Micah 6:8 (justice and humility); and John 3:16-17 (“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world”).

For seminarians or other people who are considering a vocation, he advised: “Pray. Pray, listen to God, and stay close to the Blessed Mother.”

When Father Muscalino arrived at St. Francis years ago, he joined parishioners’ hobby: making wine at a place that supplies the ingredients in Camillus. Father Muscalino does the mixing and when the wine is ready, he goes back and bottles it with the label “Vinum Sacerdotis” — Priest Wine. “I’m an Italian,” he said. “We Sicilians like red wine, it’s good.”

“What a great thing to bring a unique gift to dinner,” he said. He added: “My classmates won’t let me go on retreat unless I bring Father Dan’s wine with me.”

Regarding remaining goals, Father Muscalino said, “To get to heaven, that’s my primary goal. And my other goal is to continue to be a faithful priest.”

Fluent in various languages, he is admirably terse, as well: “God’s plan: Be humble.”

Father Timothy J. Taugher
Ordained May 13, 1978

 Father Taugher draws vitality from his life as a pastor, Catholic social teaching, and retreats.

“It seems like I just got started; here I am at my 40th,” he said. “I’ve been lucky in my 40 years — great assignments. I’ve learned a lot in each of them — a very positive experience for me.” He has served at churches in Syracuse and Binghamton, and he also served as a hospital chaplain and as a Southern Region Voting Member of the Priests’ Personnel Committee.

The administrative aspect of being a pastor was a learned experience, he said, and it has continued to take on greater significance. He feels fortunate that the “great staff” at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Binghamton “works well together. I feel like I am doing the ministry that I was ordained to do.”

St. Catherine of Siena Church in Binghamton had become linked with St. Christopher. At Easter in 2009, he said, the St. Catherine of Siena site opened as the new St. Francis of Assisi Parish.

A personal goal, Father Taugher said, is “to practice a gospel life grounded in our Catholic faith.” He feels it is vital to bring Catholic social doctrine into his preaching and the life of the parish.

Father Taugher described Binghamton as “a close-knit community of people.” It has its challenges, he said, but there’s a rejuvenation taking place within the greater Binghamton area.

A powerful experience for him was the El Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) with four friends, including Father Thomas J. Ryan, in October in Spain. He also cited a 40-day retreat in 1989 for the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola.

Asked about hobbies, Father Taugher said he skis, works out regularly, and goes for walks.

As for advice for seminarians or someone else considering a vocation, he said: “Ground yourself in good relationships with your peers and with people in the parish.”

Father James D. Tormey
Ordained Dec. 8, 1978

Father Tormey’s ministries get ever more melodious. He studied piano for 12 years, through his senior year in high school, and he kept it up. Now he’s buying a piano for the atrium at Our Lady of Lourdes Memorial Hospital in Binghamton so that he can provide music therapy for staff, patients, families of patients undergoing operations, and even himself. Chopin is his favorite piano composer, but he can also play contemporary tunes and Broadway songs.

Technically, Father Tormey retired in 2014, but he does plenty of weekend work in parishes and he is the interim director of the very busy spiritual-care department at the hospital. Three days a week, he ministers to the sick and oversees spiritual-care volunteers.

“Everybody appreciates what you do,” he said, including the sick, their families, and the staff itself.

“As you sail into the sunset,” he added, “you like hearing, ‘Thank you, thank you.’”

And wherever Father Tormey has gone, the piano has gone. He has served in locales including Oswego, North Syracuse, Syracuse, Solvay, Binghamton, Rome, Cortland, Vestal, Johnson City, and Lee Center.

He does not run parishes anymore, but his weekends are booked up celebrating Mass and preaching at St. Patrick in Binghamton; St. Peter in Rome; St. Mary, Our Lady of Czestochowa in New York Mills; and St. PatrickSt. Anthony in Chadwicks. This year, he presided at the Easter Vigil in Chadwicks. It’s even extra-great saying Mass at St. Peter in Rome once a month because that’s his home parish with a lot of people he grew up with.

Asked about advice he would give seminarians, Father Tormey said, “Hang in there, we need you.” In fact, he said, he would look to them for advice: “I’m impressed by the young men coming up who are in the seminary.”

Father Tormey draws inspiration from St. Therese of Lisieux, “The Little Flower,” “who I feel is always with me.” He admires her for her loving abandonment to God’s will. He said her autobiography, “Story of a Soul,” makes her spirituality so personal and pragmatic regardless of a person’s walk of life.

Father Tormey gave up skiing but he still goes to New York City to see Broadway shows and visit art museums. For a long time he has wanted to do a couple of stints as a piano player on cruise ships — two months in the winter in the Caribbean and two months in the summer in the Mediterranean or Aegean. More thank-yous and sunsets.

25th jubilees

Father Sean O’Brien
Ordained June 5, 1993

Father O’Brien loves Latin and the prophet Sirach.

Asked if he has a motto or a key piece of Scripture that guides him, he responded in an email:

“‘Oremus Pro Invicem’ / Scripture: from Sirach: 6,14-17, prayed in The Sixth Station, Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.” 

The first quote means “Let us pray for one another.” The lines from Sirach say: “Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter; whoever finds one finds a treasure. Faithful friends are beyond price, no amount can balance their worth. Faithful friends are life-saving medicine; those who fear God will find them. Those who fear the Lord enjoy stable friendship, for as they are, so will their neighbors be.”

As for his thoughts as he nears his 25th jubilee, he replied, “Wow, does time fly!”

Father O’Brien is the pastor of St. Matthew Church in East Syracuse and its linked parishes — St. Francis of Assisi, Bridgeport, and St. Mary of the Assumption, Minoa. He is also a captain in the Navy Reserve Chaplain Corps, currently assigned to Military Sealift Command (MSC) Headquarters in Norfolk, Va.

Most of Father O’Brien’s duties as a captain are administrative. He is responsible for the training and readiness of the reserve chaplains assigned to MSC. He also touches base with the active-duty chaplains assigned to MSC, since there is no active-duty senior chaplain for that unit. As a chaplain he celebrates Mass for the Catholics and, for all, no matter their faith group, he provides counseling, prays the benediction at retirement ceremonies and change-of-command ceremonies, and officiates at graveside for funerals involving full military honors. 

Father O’Brien’s naval service includes service in Afghanistan.

As for memorable experiences in his vocation, Father O’Brien responded: “My first five years as a priest were spent at Our Lady of Lourdes, in Utica. That time was very formative in my early priesthood as regards work ethic and the strong, positive example set by the pastors there during that five years.”

He offered this advice for today’s seminarians or those who think they may have a vocational calling: “Be prepared to be ordained to serve. Spend time with your spiritual director and your mentor to be sure to have a wholesome and healthy understanding of obedience to the Bishop and service to God’s people.”

Father Charles Opondo-Owora
Ordained July 3, 1993

Father Opondo-Owora knows that the vineyard mentioned in one of his favorite Scripture quotes, Matthew 20:1-7, stretches for many miles.

A distance of about 7,200 miles separates Father Opondo-Owora’s former Diocese of Tororo, Uganda, and his current home in Binghamton, where he is the moderator of the Pastoral Team of Holy Trinity and SS. Cyril & Methodius.

When he was a youth in Uganda, with the famous Lake Victoria and the Republic of Kenya not far away, he was one of about 50 altar servers in his parish. The bishop, who was also the vocational director, came to his Confirmation and couldn’t understand why the parish had no one studying in a seminary. The bishop explained what the seminary was, and the future priest was excited to join.

After his ordination he worked as secretary to the bishop and as the diocesan youth chaplain. Then he was named pastor of a Ugandan parish. After a visit to Uganda by the Syracuse bishop at the time, the late Bishop James M. Moynihan, Father Opondo-Owora was given a letter of appointment to the Syracuse Diocese. He started out at St. Ambrose Church in Endicott in 1999, and he also served in Maine, N.Y., and Johnson City.

“It’s just a blessing to walk with God’s people; you get to grow just walking with God’s people,” he said. “You see how holy and devoted they are and they challenge you as their leader.”

Father Opondo-Owora has no family or relatives in this country. His mother and two sisters live in Uganda, along with “a ton of nieces and nephews with their families.” He is on the phone with them frequently, and he spends three weeks to a month visiting them every year.

“The pace here is very fast compared to my country,” he said. The Masses when he goes back home are at least two hours long, and that’s what they like in Uganda. “There’s a lot of music and dancing,” he said, “which makes the liturgy lively.” There are lots of refugees from other countries.

The priesthood, he said, is “something that I’ve been called to, something that has been given to me. … The Lord created me and put me in this world. … It’s a gift that I need to appreciate and celebrate every day of my life.”

Father Opondo-Owora doesn’t play tennis anymore; he loves to “drive and just relax.” A favorite spot is Niagara Falls: “my kind of place, just be by the falls. I like to be by the water.”

He also goes on retreats run by the Redemptorists by the ocean in New Jersey. He doesn’t know how to swim; he gazes at the water and the boats. “Yeah. I love that.”

Andrew Siuta, organist, liturgical coordinator, and music director at St. Joseph–St. Patrick Church in Utica, contributed to this report.