Compiled by Tom Maguire and Katherine Long | Sun staff
Each year, the Diocese of Syracuse honors its clergy who are celebrating milestone anniversaries. Here, the Sun offers a look at this year’s jubilarians and their years of dedicated priestly service.
Msgr. John Heagerty
Ordained Feb. 2, 1954
As he marks 65 years as a priest, Msgr. John Heagerty says he owes it all to his parents.
“The biggest thing that strikes me, at 92 years of age, is that I owe all this to my parents,” he said. “They were people who believed in the Church, who went to Mass frequently and made sure that I did — and they taught me how to pray.”
A native of St. John the Baptist Church in Syracuse, Msgr. Heagerty graduated from North High School, later earning a master’s degree in education from Syracuse University, a certificate in administration from Georgetown University, and a certificate in curriculum from Marquette University in Milwaukee. He studied for the priesthood at St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s Seminaries in Rochester.
Msgr. Heagerty’s pastoral assignments included ministry as associate pastor at St. Mary’s in Skaneateles and Blessed Sacrament in Syracuse and as pastor of St. Patrick’s in Chittenango, St. John the Evangelist in Syracuse, St. Paul’s in Binghamton, and St. Matthew’s in East Syracuse, where he served for 21 years until his retirement in 1997. Msgr. Heagerty also served as a member of the faculty at Bishop Ludden Jr./Sr. High School in Syracuse and as principal of the school from 1967 to 1970.
In retirement, Msgr. Heagerty has assisted in many places, including St. Joseph’s in Liverpool, St. Joseph’s in Camillus, and St. Mary’s in Cortland, and Christ the King Retreat House in Syracuse. He currently resides at The Nottingham in Syracuse, where he celebrates Mass at the healthcare center.
“I’ve been impressed, every place I’ve been, at the ability of the people to believe in spite of difficulties. They have faith, and they have hope and charity,” he said.
Msgr. Heagerty said he hoped those he served would recall him as someone who “believed in God and practiced.”
He noted with a laugh, “I’m waiting for a call to go out and play golf!”
Father Daniel Heintz
Ordained June 5, 1954
Reflecting on his 65 years of priesthood, “it looks as though Jesus wanted me to be a priest,” Father Daniel Heintz said with a gentle laugh. “To be a priest in his honor and to do his work. Wherever I had to go, I went.”
A native of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Utica, Father Heintz graduated from St. Francis de Sales High School. He studied for the priesthood at St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s Seminaries in Rochester.
Father Heintz’s ministry in the diocese includes service in numerous parishes, including St. Daniel in Syracuse, St. Mary’s in Jamesville, St. Rose of Lima in North Syracuse, Sacred Heart in Utica, St. Patrick’s in Forestport, St. Mary’s in Otter Lake, St. Patrick’s in Williamstown, St. John’s in Camden, St. Mary’s Church in Rome, St. Malachy in Sherburne, St. Ann’s in Manlius, and St. Patrick’s in Oneida.
Father Heintz served as a chaplain in the United States Army for three years and as a hospital chaplain with the U.S. Army Reserves for 23 years, retiring with the rank of colonel.
He was a member the diocesan Priests CCD Executive Committee, chaplain to the Utica Police Department and chaplain to the Knights of Columbus Oneida Council #473.
After retiring in 1999, he spent many years ministering at St. Rose of Lima in North Syracuse. Father Heinz currently resides at The Nottingham in Syracuse.
To young people discerning their vocations, Father Heinz offers this advice: “Think about your relationship with God. It’s the most important thing in your whole life.”
Msgr. James Kennedy
Ordained Feb. 2, 1954
At 90 years old, Msgr. James Kennedy says it’s a privilege to have the opportunity to serve as a priest for so many years.
A son of St. Patrick’s in Syracuse, Msgr. Kennedy graduated from St. Patrick’s Elementary and High Schools in Syracuse. He studied for the priesthood at St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s Seminaries in Rochester.
Msgr. Kennedy’s ministry in the diocese includes service as parochial vicar at St. Michael’s Church in Syracuse and St. Agnes in Utica, and 12 years as pastor of Holy Family in Syracuse and 25 years as pastor St. Rose of Lima in North Syracuse, where he served from 1992 until his retirement in 2017.
Msgr. Kennedy served as an Army chaplain for 20 years. His service included two tours in Vietnam, ministry he recalls as the best experience of his priesthood. He spent some 15 years of his service with airborne units and completed more than 100 jumps. “After I got 100 jumps, I didn’t bother counting them anymore,” he laughed.
He currently assists and resides at St. Mary-St. Peter’s Parish in Rome, where he stays “pleasantly busy” with ministry to the sick in the local hospital and teaching classes at Rome Catholic School.
Father P. Carl Pilla
Ordained Feb. 2, 1954
More than 65 years after he celebrated his first Mass as a priest, Father Carl Pilla still loves his ministry. “The Mass means a lot to me,” he said. “The Mass is the greatest thing we’ve got.”
Father Pilla hails from Our Lady of Pompei in Syracuse, where he attended the parish elementary school. He graduated from Christian Brothers Academy, going on to attend Syracuse University and serve for 26 months in the Army. He studied for the priesthood at St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s Seminaries in Rochester.
Father Pilla recalls first considering the priesthood while a senior at CBA. He was preparing a speech when “I just heard God speaking to me,” saying “be a priest, be a priest,” he recalled. “I can still hear the words in my ear right now!”
Father Pilla’s ministry in the diocese includes service as parochial vicar at St. Anthony’s in Endicott, St. Bartholomew’s in Norwich, St. Anthony’s in Utica, and Our Lady of Pompei in Syracuse, and as pastor of St. Mary’s in Cleveland, St. Patrick’s in Jordan, and St. Patrick’s in Truxton. He retired in 1995.
In retirement, Father Pilla assisted at parishes and celebrated Masses for residents at Brighton Towers in Syracuse. These days, he enjoys celebrating Mass daily at the chapel at The Nottingham, where he resides.
Father Richard O’Neill
Ordained Feb. 2, 1954
“I’ve always wanted to be a priest,” says Father Richard O’Neill. “There was never any doubt in my mind at all.”
A son of St. Brigid’s in Syracuse, Father O’Neill said he was inspired by the priests he knew in his home parish and high school. “I respected them and admired them and I guess I wanted to be like them!” he said.
After graduating from Patrick’s High School in Syracuse, Father O’Neill studied for the priesthood at St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s Seminaries in Rochester.
In his many years of ministry, Father O’Neill has served as parochial vicar at St. Christopher’s in Binghamton, St. Francis de Sales in Utica, and St. James in Syracuse, and as pastor at St. Theresa in New Berlin, St. Francis de Sales, St. Francis in Durhamville, Holy Cross in New London, St. Mark’s in Utica, and St. Mary’s in Utica. He also served as chaplain at the Central New York Psychiatric Center in Marcy and as spiritual director to the Legion of Mary in Utica.
Father O’Neill retired in 2006, and continues to celebrate Masses at St. Joseph-St. Patrick’s Church and at a nursing home in Utica.
“I love saying Mass — always have — and especially now, at St. Joseph-St. Patrick — it’s just a wonderful parish.”
“I’m very happy with the priesthood; I thank God for it,” he said. To a young person discerning a vocation, he advises “pray over it,” talk to the Blessed Mother, and “if God wants you, have the love and the faith to say yes.”
Msgr. Charles J. Fahey
Ordained Feb. 2, 1959
“I would say my 60 years have been different than what I expected,” said Msgr. Fahey, who lives at Le Moyne College.
He had expected to be a parish priest, and he was a parish priest for two years at St. Vincent de Paul. But he became very much involved nationally in the fields of aging and health.
The monsignor was so well known in the field of aging that he was asked to come down to Fordham University, where he spent an enjoyable 30 years holding the aging-studies chair.
Even during that span, he had a room somewhere in Central New York because if a priest was away, he would fill in at St. Charles, St. Lucy’s, and St. Joseph the Worker. “Still love Syracuse,” he said. “This is my home.”
He was delighted to have a hand in the creation of the Centers at St. Camillus, the new Loretto, PACE CNY, and Christopher Community, which now has 105 building locations and 3,000 apartments in the Dioceses of Syracuse, Rochester, Ogdensburg, and Albany. The vast majority of those apartments are for middle- and low-income seniors.
He also was involved peripherally in the creation of The Nottingham in Jamesville. And he was the director of Catholic Charities for many years.
It has been a very fulfilling vocation and Msgr. Fahey is very grateful to the Lord and to the people who are a part of his ministry.
“I enjoy being a priest,” he said.
Father Thomas J. McGrath
Ordained May 23, 1959
In an email, Father McGrath, of Skaneateles, said:
“The first thought that comes to mind is one of Gratitude. I am grateful to have been called to this life and humbled as well. Only in these recent years have I begun to experience fully that the call is an ongoing thing which comes from God, of course, but also from the people we are called to serve.
“My most recent assignment has been as pastor of Saint Mary of the Lake in Skaneateles where I was able to serve for a total of twenty years, my longest by far. We were able to accomplish much in these years but it was the support and participation of the total parish family which meant so much. Even now as I meet the parishioners and feel their care and concern it is so reassuring that the Call is still there.
“I have assisted at Saint Michael–Saint Peter’s on Onondaga Hill for the past two years and the people in this wonderful parish once again are grateful as we join together for weekend liturgies … along with their pastor to share the word and the Eucharist. I experience from them and all the people I have served the continuing call to serve.
“Finally, people will say, ‘I thought you were retired.’ My answer is simple — we never retire from the priesthood, just the responsibility of administrator. As long as I am needed to share my priesthood I still find the joy of serving growing ever stronger. I have been given the gift of good health and for that I am grateful.”
Father John D. Roock
Ordained May 23, 1959
Father Roock resides in the skilled nursing unit at The Nottingham. He enjoys the comfort of the care that is extended to him, said Msgr. Richard M. Kopp, Vicar for Priests.
Father Roock continues to show his happiness about his having served as a priest of the Diocese of Syracuse. He served parishes in Syracuse, Baldwinsville, Liverpool, Taberg, Sherrill, and Endwell. He retired in 2008.
He often remarks that he has thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of priestly ministry. He continues to show his wonderful characteristics of kindness and a gentle approach to all of the people he encounters.
Father James C. Fritzen
Ordained May 17, 1969
When he graduated from high school, Father Fritzen was interested in accounting, and he had a full scholarship to Le Moyne College.
But he had good examples from parish priests. “I was attracted to the work they were doing,” he said.
So he prayed to the Lord about whether he was supposed to go to the seminary. Throughout his time there, the Lord was still encouraging him on.
“I have no regrets being a priest at all,” said Father Fritzen, who remains busy despite having retired last July.
He has kept it simple: “We don’t have to come up with all kinds of fancy approaches and innovate new programs. The Lord passed on to us the Mass and sacraments.”
His service has included parish assignments in Syracuse, Phoenix, and Liverpool. He served for a time as assistant chancellor, and he was a fire chaplain for many years. He founded the diocesan cemetery office and was in charge of that for 28 years.
“The Lord’s been terrific,” he said. “In the process of it I’ve been blessed to meet some very wonderful people. I’ve been inspired by people who truly live the faith.”
Upon retirement he worked with the late Father Louis F. Aiello, who among his assignments was a chaplain at Loretto and the Centers at St. Camillus. Now Father Fritzen continues that work: weekly Mass at St. Camillus, Sunday Mass at Loretto, Mass every other Wednesday at Iroquois Nursing Home, Mass once a month at The Bernadine, and Mass once a month at Brookdale Bellevue. Plus, he fills in for other priests as needed, and he is on call for anointings. He figures he has anointed “hundreds and hundreds” of people with the sacrament of the sick.
“These are very rewarding appointments,” Father Fritzen said, “because they are individuals who really have a deep faith, who have been very much a part of their parishes when they were able to be there.”
He said it is important to adapt to people he is ministering to rather than maneuver or manipulate them into a particular program, and he noted that the Lord promised that the Holy Spirit will guide humanity until the end of time.
He also appreciates working in the confessional, where he sees the hand of God. There are no books in the confessional, he said; he relies on the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
And he always looks forward to saying the Mass: “Mass has been my prayer.”
Father Fritzen enjoys golfing, boating on Lake Ontario, water skiing and downhill skiing, traveling, kayaking, and canoeing.
He is always grateful to the Lord: “He’s put some great people in my life who supported my priesthood.”
Father James E. Gehl
Ordained May 17, 1969
Father Gehl resides at the Cottages at Garden Grove in Cicero. Msgr. Richard M. Kopp, Vicar for Priests, said in an email that Father Gehl enjoys the fact that he is located close to his former parish where he served as pastor at Sacred Heart in Cicero. He receives many visits from his former parishioners as well as from his priest friends.
Father Gehl likes to recall the many experiences he has had as a priest, Msgr. Kopp said. He also loved to travel and always found new and interesting facts and experiences in the various locations he visited.
Father Gehl has never taken an art class but he became quite accomplished as an artist. Many of his paintings are displayed in his room and those who visit him often remark at their beauty.
He has always been very humble, soft-spoken, and kind — a very hard worker with a strong spiritual life, said another great friend of Father Gehl’s, Father Edward J. Zandy, of Endwell.
“He was a great athlete,” Father Zandy said.
Fathers Gehl and Zandy go all the way back to Little League days; Father Gehl, from Endicott; Father Zandy, from Endwell.
They also played baseball together in high school. Father Gehl was a lefty who played outfield; he also ran track and played guard in basketball.
Their friendship renewed at St. Bernard’s Seminary in Rochester, where they continued to play sports. “He was a good student,” Father Zandy said. The two buddies made sure to be at each other’s first Mass as a priest.
Their paths crossed again in Syracuse when Father Gehl served at Most Holy Rosary and Father Zandy at Our Lady of Lourdes. They both retired in 2015, although Father Zandy helps out at three parishes now and officiated at four funerals a couple of weeks ago.
They vacationed together at least 17 years in Florida with Bishop Frank J. Harrison and Msgr. John P. Putano. Also, when Father Gehl lived at The Nottingham in Jamesville, the monsignor and Father Zandy would take Father Gehl down to Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Msgr. Richard M. Kopp
Ordained May 17, 1969
Msgr. Kopp has served as Vicar for Priests since 2008.
In addition to his pastoral assignments, he has served as assistant chancellor, Vicar for Administration Co-Chancellor, and Chancellor, and he has also worked in the Office of Vicar Forane.
“Priesthood has been a joy for me from the very beginning and remains so today,” Msgr. Kopp said in an email. “I have been honored and enriched by the experience of serving the Church in many different capacities and the opportunity to serve wonderful bishops, priests, and laity.
“The real joy of priesthood is found in pastoral service. I have received so much support and love in my pastoral assignments at Holy Family and Our Lady of Hope and especially as Pastor of St. Mary’s in Baldwinsville.
“I continue to find new and wonderful experiences at Bishop Grimes Junior/Senior High School. Everywhere I have served, I have felt the hand of God and have received the blessings of friendships that endure throughout the years. Priesthood is a wonderful and mysterious joy!”
Father Vincent P. Long
Ordained May 17, 1969
“I’ve always been kind of a high-energy person,” says Father Long, age 76.
That characteristic has helped his ministries including parish priest, religion teacher, hospital chaplain, prison chaplain, and, currently, pastor of the Parish Community of St. Leo and St. Ann in Holland Patent.
He said the grace of God helps us find meaning and purpose in what we are doing. The mutual support of people, he said, is where we find energy and fulfillment.
Among the people he credits for his 50 years in the priesthood are the late Father Ambrose M. Farrell and the late Father Edward Phillips. “I think back happy thoughts because they were so good to me,” Father Long said.
Their “quiet kind of influence” encouraged him. “Other people see things in all of us, and that’s affirming,” Father Long said.
Church has always been important in his family going back to his grandparents. He attended North High School in Syracuse and worked as a substitute organist at Our Lady of Pompei. There were several priests and a lot of Masses during the week. He has always loved his faith and he has always loved music. So he served on the altar and sang at High Masses too.
Msgr. William L. Walsh, the pastor at Pompei for many years, told him that his singing voice carried so well that he didn’t need a microphone. It also helped that Pompei had good acoustics.
Father Long started playing the organ when he was 11, having met the organist at Our Lady of Pompei, the late Mattia Falcone, who was always looking for subs because of all the Masses. Msgr. Walsh hired Father Long part time: “That was a big influence on my life.”
Even at the seminary, Father Long directed the student choir and played the organ.
His priestly service started at St. Ann’s in Syracuse and Our Lady of Lourdes in Utica; then, the late Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Costello, who was the superintendent of schools in those days, invited him to teach religion at Rome Catholic High School. “I enjoyed teaching, I really did,” he said. One of his former students is now his physician.
One year, Father Michael J. Carmola asked Father Long to cover for him as the Catholic chaplain at Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse. “I really fell in love with hospital ministry,” Father Long said.
But he was also encouraged to get into prison ministry, so now, in addition to his fulltime work at St. Leo and St. Ann, he works 14 or 15 hours a week for the state as a chaplain at medium-security prisons. His main work is at Marcy Correctional Facility. He offers Mass once a month across the road at Mid-State Correctional Facility, and occasionally he also works at Mohawk Correctional Facility in Rome.
The last 50 years, Father Long said, have been “extremely rewarding. … I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done. … Hasn’t sunk in it’s 50 years.”
And he still plays the organ.
Father John E. Mikalajunas
Ordained May 17, 1969
Father Mikalajunas was installed as a Reverend Canon on Aug. 4, 2015, in the archbishop’s private chapel in Lublin, Poland. Father Mikalajunas said the honorary title is similar to that of a diocesan monsignor.
He was born in Johnson City. His mother and father were born in Pennsylvania. But his grandparents on his mother’s side were both Polish. His grandparents on his father’s side were Lithuanian. He is fluent in Polish and English, and he speaks a little bit of Lithuanian. When he hears confessions during Holy Week, 85 percent of them are in Polish, he said.
When he was young, the Felician Sisters of St. Stanislaus School in Binghamton were a very good influence on him, and his second cousin was a Felician Sister. Another early influence was the St. Stanislaus pastor, the late Father George Guzewicz. “Very fine man,” Father Mikalajunas said.
The first pastor after ordination, he said, is very important in the life of a young priest. His first pastor post-ordination was the late Msgr. Robert Driscoll — “very, very kind to me, wonderful, wonderful priest. … Great compassionate man too.”
Father Mikalajunas offered his first Mass on May 18, 1969; his First Holy Communion was on May 18, 1952. He noted, too, that May 18 this year was the 99th birthday of Pope St. John Paul II.
He has served parishes in Binghamton, Endicott, Syracuse, Vestal, and Utica; he has been the pastor at Holy Trinity in Utica since 2009.
Father Joseph S. Zareski, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua and St. Mary in Cortland, is Father Mikalajunas’ cousin. And Father James P. Serowik, pastor of the linked parishes of St. Anthony of Padua and St. Joseph in Endicott, was an altar boy for Father Mikalajunas.
Last month, Father Mikalajunas won the Father Leopold Moczygemba Award at the Polish American Priests Association’s convention in Utica. The award recognized his work for the Polish American Catholic community.
He has traveled to Poland 13 times. On his pilgrimage to Poland in 1979, there were not enough English-speaking guides, so he translated the Polish into English for his group.
He celebrated Mass with Pope St. John Paul II in his private chapel three times. He has a papal blessing signed by the saint, and that signature is duplicated into the base of a shrine across from Holy Trinity Church.
Father Mikalajunas had one general audience with Pope St. Paul VI, and he also had three with Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and two with Pope Francis. He concelebrated Mass once with Pope Francis and gave Communion at that Mass in November 2016.
“God has blessed me with so much, really,” he said.
He loves to offer the sacrament of reconciliation — “so important to bring healing to people and know God loves them.” He also loves presiding at First Communions because it is the children’s first full participation in the Mass.
At Father Mikalajunas’ Jubilee Mass on May 19, transitional Deacon Malachi Clark delivered the homily. Father Mikalajunas has baptized dozens of Deacon Clark’s nieces and nephews.
“It’s going to be a glorious day,” Father Mikalajunas said, anticipating the Jubilee Mass.
Father John C. Schopfer
Ordained May 17, 1969
Asked for advice for anyone considering a vocation, Father Schopfer said:
“Go to the poor. They’ll get you straightened around. They’ll tell you what’s good. … Go to the poor. They’ll give you the message.”
That’s the life Father Schopfer has lived. A Christian Brothers Academy grad, he started his priestly ministry in parishes in Oneida, Utica, and Syracuse.
But after Msgr. Charles J. Brady, who worked on the southwest side of Syracuse, died in 1978, Father Schopfer came up with the idea of replacing him. With permission from Bishop Frank J. Harrison, Father Schopfer became the founder and pastoral director of the Brady Faith Center.
Even though Father Schopfer retired in April 2018, he said, “The first year of retirement is kind of hard to discern because I seem to be even more busy than I was before, essentially doing the same things. … You do the same things, but a little more slowly, and also without the responsibilities.”
He is also the sacramental minister at the Onondaga County Justice Center, where he celebrates Mass on Sundays and visits some of the inmates during the week.
Additionally, he is a weekend associate at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, a past member of the Presbyteral Council, and a member of many neighborhood organizations and efforts.
In high school, Father Schopfer looked at the parish priests: “‘That looks good, I’d like to do that.’ And the people part especially was important to me. What can you do to serve people? How can you help them?”
He had often thought of going into sales, but he figured: Why not sell the best product?
He goes to the Brady Center and then plunges into the neighborhoods. He loves the people’s “faith and their courage in spite of great difficulties, and their wisdom; poor people, we don’t give them credit for the wisdom they have to survive, and … just their courage. They keep going. … I think in a way they’re closest to God.”
His method: “Just go into the neighborhood, walk in the neighborhood, listen to the people. … They’ll tell you what they need; don’t you tell them.”
His empathy for them is reciprocated in spite of their differences — “differences of race, differences of backgrounds; yet still somehow, they accepted me and let me be a part of their lives.”
“Still learning what retirement means,” Father Schopfer swims almost every day — the city pools, Green Lakes, the Adirondacks, the Finger Lakes. “Wherever you can find water, jump in it,” he said.
And what is the long-term effect of diving into neighborhoods all the time?
“It deepens your faith,” he said. “It deepens your faith. It just makes you admire the people’s courage, and it just gives you the reason to keep going.”
Father David J. Orzel
Ordained Sept. 15, 1979
Father Orzel noted in an email that his jubilee is on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows:
“I grew up in North Syracuse, and was in the first class that began in and completed St. Rose School. The Franciscan nuns who taught there had a great influence. Sister Dennis opened a world of possibilities, from what we want to do in life to how we see, create, and interpret art and the world. Sister Albertine tutored me in Latin to help me become an altar boy at that time. These religious women, and several others, were a very strong and powerful witness.
“During high school at CBA I began thinking of a possible ‘religious life.’ A very important priest, Msgr. Jack Shannon, and I would talk over the possibility since I was working at the Human Rights Commission in Syracuse as a summer job for more than a few years.
“Daily Mass was at the Cathedral at 12:10. College was at St. Michael’s in Vermont; it was then that the decision was made. There was a ‘group’ of priests, ex-priests, and ex-religious men and women and seminarians and us college students who formed a good little community.
“I spoke with Msgr., and plans began; unfortunately, before my return from Loyola University in Rome, he died. So I began the process of applying — did not tell my parents, Ted and Irene, until into my senior year. They were thrilled. Mom was tearful, Dad was practical: ‘Who’s going to pay for it?’
“After St. Michael’s, I went on to St. Bernard’s in Rochester. After completing studies there, I spent a year and a half as a deacon at St. John the Baptist on Syracuse’s north side managing an evangelization program. The people there were fantastic and ordination there was a parish event.
“My first assignment was in Binghamton, St. Thomas Aquinas. Father John Mulranen was pastor. Then St. Peter’s in Rome with Msgr. Frank Culkin and for two years at St. Paul’s in Rome with Msgr. Bill Kelly. During that time I was a reservist chaplain at Griffiss Air Force Base.
“I was made pastor at St. Joseph’s Church in Boonville, loved it there and spent two terms there. Then to St. Patrick’s, Oneida. After a sabbatical, having lost a priest friend and my Mom within six months of each other and with my term being up, I was appointed administrator, then pastor of St. Peter’s, North Utica. I am on my second term there.
“Good people (and a few not-so-good or kind people) have always been around me, but that is life, and all have taught me something. My avocation is being a fiber artist, and given a scholarship to Quilting By The Lake I have used it to enhance the worship environment.
“I enjoy spending time outside and gardening, but old age and bones are catching up with me. I am a decent chef and cook and enjoy experimenting with new culinary possibilities; have not poisoned anyone lately. I have a very dry sense of humor and enjoyed ‘The Far Side’ and the craziness of Robin Williams. I have always enjoyed art and history, and am becoming interested in geology and history; on a much longer and larger scale, getting ready for what is coming.
“God has blessed me in many and countless ways: having loving and supporting parents; religious and secular friends; people who daily encourage, listen, and make my life livable.
“We all need people to share our life with on a daily level, and even if they are gone, their words and example live in heart and soul. Having a good staff around me and a good priest friend, Father Larry, to listen and share ideas with me is essential. They are the greatest blessing and sign of the presence of God to me.
As a priest, one of the most humbling and powerful realizations of God happens when celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation, especially with people who have been separated or distanced from the Church and sacraments for a long time. Celebrating baptisms is a delight, even if the baby screams and squirms, because a gift is being given them, with proper nurturing, which will shape their life, now and forever.
Father Thomas J. Ryan
Ordained Nov. 24, 1979
Father Ryan offered his reflections in an email:
“As one of my mentors, the late Msgr. Peter Owens, would often remind us, ‘God will never be outdone in generosity.’ During this 40th Anniversary year, I am very grateful to God for many gifts, especially the gift of priesthood. This sacred calling invites priests to enter people’s lives at the most vulnerable, sensitive moments — times of great happiness and times of deep sorrow. In all of these instances we try to bring a sense of the Lord’s peace and compassion. I continue to enjoy this unbelievable privilege with the prayerful support of our parishioners.
“At a time like this there are many, many reflections. I am also grateful for the gift and support of my family, friends, and many parishioners over these years. Their love and friendship has uplifted my vocation in so many ways.
“How true I have found this to be. I have been so fortunate to guide some newly-ordained priests as Parochial Vicars as they begin their ministry. Our diocese is so blessed with the energy, enthusiasm, prayerfulness, and pastoral sensitivity of these young men. While the number of vocations may be down, the quality and strength of their dedication is just amazing!
“The first 25 years of my priestly ministry took place in the Southern Tier. The wonderful people there … helped to mold my pastoral ministry as they have cared for and guided so may priestly vocations. My years at Immaculate Conception in Fayetteville have been very rewarding.
“Once again, the people of God have given me tremendous support and have generously offered their own gifts for the good of the Church. This faith-filled community lives the faith daily as they share their gifts in so many ways with those in need. Their service to the wider community is a great example of faith in action. As we celebrate our 150th Anniversary, we realize our calling as Church and together, we bring the Lord’s presence to our community.
“At each parish I have served, I have also enjoyed the presence of a Catholic school. The dedicated teachers and staffs give so much to form our youth academically and spiritually. The energy of our students in just fantastic! They continue to put into practice what we teach, reflecting the mission of Jesus. And, they keep me young with all their activity!
“There have been many highlights in my ministry. In 2000, with the Parish of St. James in Johnson City, we assisted in the founding and building of the Chapel of San Juan Diego in Cuernavaca, Mexico. This experience for the poor community on the outskirts of that town has been a wonderful endeavor. This chapel has become the center of the lives of these people. We continue to support them with the annual ‘Frutas Scholarships’ which assist in the education of their young people. This highlight has been a wonderful opportunity to ‘give back,’ knowing once again that ‘God will never be outdone in generosity!’
Asked about why he became a priest, he wrote:
“I was very fortunate to grow up on Tipperary Hill in the parish of St. Patrick’s. Over those years, the dedicated priests and sisters gave so much to the families of the West Side and modeled the happiness and satisfaction of religious life. Their example certainly had an effect on my vocation. And certainly my devoted parents, who sacrificed so much as they raised five boys, also showed great example as the Catholic faith was always the center of family life. Family continues to be integral in my journey.”
Regarding hobbies, Father Ryan wrote:
“I enjoy playing golf once in a while, regular walks, and working in the yard at our family home. I am also supported by and enjoy the presence of some terrific priest friends as we vacation every year together and share so much.”
Father Daniel M. Caruso
Ordained June 4, 1994
Father Caruso said he reads the Parable of the Prodigal Son several times a week to remind himself of God’s tremendous love for people and how they are called to love one another.
“We should live it on a daily basis,” he said, referring to the sense of mercy in the parable.
Father Caruso is the pastor of Our Lady of Pompei–St. Peter and St. John the Baptist/Holy Trinity in Syracuse. He has also worked in parishes in Johnson City, Vestal, and Binghamton.
He grew up in St. Daniel’s Parish in Lyncourt. Asked why he became a priest, he said that when he was in high school, he watched Msgr. Eugene M. Yennock and Father Edmund A. Castronovo over the years and noted their love of God.
Father Caruso worked close to full time at a grocery store to put himself through Le Moyne College. “I knew how to study,” he said.
He explained: “Part of it is discipline; you need to sacrifice other distractions that maybe people are embracing.”
Although he was always a good student, he learned a lot more from parishioners he has served, in terms of what it means to be a disciple and what it means to serve.
In his first assignment, he was inspired by an older gentleman who lived a couple of blocks from the church and went to the 6:45 a.m. Mass every day. The man’s wife got sick and he took care of her and made the sacrifice of not going to daily Mass because he didn’t want to leave her alone.
“I was present when she died,” Father Caruso said, “and the reality of their love for each other, the power of the sacrament of matrimony, and how they lived in sacrifice inspires me to this day.”
He is also impressed by the sincere faith of young people who love the Lord.
Father Caruso’s dad is still alive and three of his four siblings also reside in the area, so they get together.
One of the things Father Caruso learned from his mother was cooking and baking. He cooks for himself (“very simple but hearty”) and a lot of times for the staff.
Two years ago at Christmastime, he baked 35 kinds of cookies — totaling 12,000. He gives the cookies away to staff, key volunteers in the parishes, and friends — “just to share a little joy.”
Father Caruso sees a “huge need for mercy in the world and in the Church.”
And he encourages people to read the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).