Compiled by Katherine Long and Tom Maguire
Each year, the Diocese of Syracuse honors priests who are celebrating milestone anniversaries. Profiles of jubilarians and their years of dedicated service follow.
Father Angelo Morbito is marking 65 years of priesthood.
A native of St. Joseph’s Church in Oswego, Father Morbito is a graduate of Oswego High School and Cornell University, where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering.
Father Morbito studied for the priesthood at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany and Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora. He was ordained May 19, 1956.
Father Morbito’s years of priestly ministry include service as associate pastor of St. Cecilia’s in Solvay, St. Mary of the Assumption in Binghamton, and Immaculate Conception in Fulton; and as pastor of St. Peter’s in Oswego and St. Cecilia’s. Father Morbito also served as a member of the faculty at Oswego Catholic High School, a member of the Diocesan Building Commission, as chaplain to the Catholic Daughters of the Americas, and moderator of the Binghamton Chapter of Catholic Nurses. He retired in 2000.
Father Clarence Cerwonka is celebrating 60 years of priesthood.
A native of Pennsylvania, Father Cerwonka studied for the priesthood at Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa; St. Mary’s Mission Seminary in Techny, Illinois; and St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, Colorado. He would later earn a master’s degree in religious education from Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Initially studying to be a missionary priest, Father Cerwonka was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Pueblo, Colorado, May 27, 1961. He served in that diocese as parochial vicar of St. Patrick in Pueblo, St. Mary’s in Walsenburg, and the Shrine of St. Therese in Pueblo; and as pastor of St. Peter in Rocky Ford and St. Joseph in Trinidad.
Father Cerwonka served as an Army contract chaplain in Germany 1984-1989. Upon his return, he incardinated into the Diocese of Syracuse; his family had moved to Binghamton in 1956.
In 1989, Father Cerwonka was appointed parochial vicar of St. Mary of the Assumption in Binghamton, where he served until 2006, when he was appointed administrator of Most Holy Rosary Parish in Maine. Though Father Cerwonka retired from full-time parish ministry in 2017, he continues to serve the parish community as the senior priest in residence. “It’s a blast,” he said.
Father Cerwonka recalls feeling a call to priesthood as early as the fourth grade, when the sisters who were his teachers would often ask who among the students would be a priest. “That must have been the Holy Spirit telling me, ‘Raise your hand. Tell them you are,” he said.
He counts the charismatic movement in the Church as one of the most powerful experiences of his priesthood. “The gift of the Spirit at baptism is meant to be activated,” he said.
Father Cerwonka said he’s “enjoyed every bit” of his priesthood, especially as he sees connections looking back over his years of ministry. To a young discerner, he encourages making time for prayer. “If you can have some kind of prayer time, you’ll pick up a nudge from the Spirit. … Trust that the Spirit will lead you.”
Father Thomas FitzPatrick is celebrating 60 years of priesthood.
A Syracuse native, his home parish was Most Holy Rosary. Father FitzPatrick studied at St. Jerome College in Kitchener, Ontario; St. Bernard Seminary in Rochester; and Theological College at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
Ordained May 20, 1961, Father FitzPatrick’s priestly ministry includes service as assistant pastor at St. Lucy’s in Syracuse, Sacred Heart in Utica, St. Brigid-St. Joseph in Syracuse, St. John the Baptist in Syracuse, and St. Joseph’s in Camillus; and as pastor of St. John the Evangelist and Our Lady of Lourdes, both in Syracuse. He served on the diocesan Respect Life Committee and as athletic director of West Side Catholic. He taught religion at St. Patrick’s and St. Lucy’s Schools in Syracuse and at St. Francis de Sales School in Utica.
Father FitzPatrick also served the Vietnamese community in Syracuse. He spent several years learning Vietnamese from a member of the community, and he fondly recalls celebrating daily Mass and the sacraments in Vietnamese. He counts his ministry with refugee communities as the most meaningful of his priesthood. “You learn so much,” he said.
The example set by his parents, Thomas and Electa, was the biggest influence on his vocation, he said. “My mom was always taking care of poor people; my dad was the same way,” he recalled.
Father FitzPatrick retired in 2017, after 22 years as the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, and he continues to celebrate Mass with the retired priest community at the Nottingham in Syracuse. To those discerning a call to the priesthood, he affirms: “It’s great. I don’t have any regrets.”
Father Richard Morisette is celebrating 60 years of priesthood.
A native of Scriba, Father Morisette received the Sacrament of Baptism at St. Paul’s Church in Oswego and grew up at St. Mary’s in Oswego after his family moved to the West side of the city.
Father Morisette studied for the priesthood at St. Andrew and St. Bernard seminaries in Rochester and was ordained Feb. 2, 1961.
Father Morisette’s six decades of priestly ministry include service as associate pastor of St. John’s in Pulaski, St. Mary’s Mission in Altmar, and St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Lacona; Most Holy Rosary in Syracuse; St. Joseph’s in Camillus; the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse; Immaculate Heart of Mary in Liverpool; administrator of Corpus Christi in Nedrow and St. Patrick’s in Otisco. He also served as pastor of St. Patrick’s in Chittenango, St. Michael’s-St. Peter’s in Syracuse and St. Peter’s Mission in Split Rock, Holy Family in Vernon, St. Mary’s in Oswego, and Our Lady of the Rosary in Hannibal. He also served as chaplain to several chapters of the Knights of Columbus, the diocesan Legion of Mary, and the Oswego County Volunteer Fire Department.
Father Morisette retired from full- time ministry in 2011 but continues to serve the faithful. He assists at parishes in Mexico, Pulaski, and Oswego, at Trinity Catholic School, and at nursing homes. “When I retired, my objective was to be of assistance to anybody in Oswego County,” he said.
Father Morisette said his favorite area of ministry is “absolutely, without question, pastoral.” For him, “everything revolves around pastoral ministry”; it’s the aspect of ministry “where I was happiest and most fulfilled,” he added.
Father Morisette said he “flowed into” his vocation as a priest, having always been religious and dedicated to the Church through school and activities. He thanked his parents, Lawrence and Josephine, and his sister, Barbara, for their support and encouragement, as well as the priests with whom he served, including Fathers Thomas Murphy, Howard McDowell, John Tierney, John McGraw, and John Roark. To a young man discerning a call to the priesthood, Father Morisette notes you have to be content living alone, and advises, “It’s God’s call. If he wants you, he’ll get you.”
He also offered this reflection: “During this current time, where words have changed their meaning, such as marriage and infrastructure, I do not read the Gospel; I proclaim the Gospel. I do not offer the Mass; I offer the Sacrifice. I do not call myself a Christian; I call myself a Judeo-Christian. I do not celebrate Easter; I celebrate the Resurrection Day.”
“I retired a couple of times,” Msgr. George F. Sheehan said.
Ordained on May 20, 1961, he had many and varied assignments and he retired in July 2010. But then he went out to St. Joseph Church in Camillus as the administrator.
“When Father [Gregory C.] LeStrange died,” I took over,” Msgr. Sheehan said. “I was with him during his sickness and then took over … when he died. He was a great friend; he was once my associate at St. Mary’s in B’ville.” The monsignor retired again at the end of June 2012.
“People say, Didn’t you ever say no? And I said no, I don’t know the word. If I’m asked, I do it. That was the challenging factor in my life.”
Msgr. Sheehan served in Homer, Utica, Syracuse, East Syracuse, Baldwinsville, and Camillus. He held important posts at Bishop Grimes and Bishop Ludden Jr./Sr. High Schools and worked as Interim Schools Superintendent and Vicar for Catholic Educational Advancement. He was named Chaplain to His Holiness on June 26, 2006, and other special assignments included Regional Episcopal Vicar, Regional Vicar – West, College of Consultors, Presbyteral Council, and Diocesan Moderator for the Emmaus Renewal Program.
“The 60 years passed by very quickly,” he said. “It doesn’t seem possible that I’ve been ordained 60 years, but I have. … The Lord has guided me all the way in the various and many ministries in the Church, and all were certainly challenging but I would say fruitful. …
“You saw God’s work in other people, working through other people. As a faculty member I loved the kids, always loved the kids, and no matter what they did, I still looked at ’em and knew very well that God had something special for ’em. And it was tough at times,” he said with a laugh. “But you know, what I say every day, whatever happened, I always remind myself that it’s God’s Church. … And we are stewards of that Church.”
The Eucharist, he added, has “always been a source of nourishment for me. Even my weakness, the Eucharist has always given me inner strength as well as forgiveness.”
Living at the Nottingham in Jamesville, Msgr. Sheehan likes to read and write. “They always ask, Do you play golf?” he said. “And I said, I did a few times and I decided that was a disaster. … I just write. Many times I’ve started things. Somebody said, Do you ever finish them, and I said, Some I finish and some I don’t and some I throw away. … But I like to write reflections. No, you can’t have any.”
Father Paul Carey celebrated his 50th Anniversary Mass on May 30 at St. Bernard’s Church in Waterville.
After studying philosophy at St. Andrew Seminary in Rochester and at Resurrection Seminary in Ontario, Father Carey completed his studies at St. Bernard’s in Rochester and was ordained on May 29, 1971.
He served as an associate at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Syracuse; a faculty member at Utica Catholic Academy; an administrator at St. Therese Church in Munnsville; a chaplain of Cazenovia College; and pastor at Immaculate Conception Church in Pompey, St. Paul’s Mission in Fabius, and St. Joseph Church in Lee Center.
He spent his last six years at St. Bernard’s in Waterville before his retirement in 2017. Father Carey now assists Father Jason Hage with his pastoral-care duties for Eastern Pastoral Care Area 4 consisting of St. Joan of Arc in Morrisville, St. Mary’s in Hamilton, St. Bernard’s in Waterville, and St. Joseph in Oriskany Falls.
Father Jerome A. Katz has been relaxing and enjoying life since he retired in June 2010. He loved preaching and sharing key moments with people: witnessing their marriages, baptizing their children, “and even sharing those difficult times when people were sick and times when they buried their loved ones. Those were I think the most rewarding times of my ministry.”
He was ordained 50 years ago: May 29, 1971, and he ministered in Rome, Endicott, Utica, Morrisville, Syracuse, Marcellus, East Syracuse, Liverpool, Cortland, Camillus, Whitney Point and Marathon, and Cincinnatus. His service included school faculty positions.
Most of his retirement years so far have been spent helping out some parishes in the Syracuse area when he was asked or needed, but he has not been active recently because of the restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’ve met people in all walks of life,” he said, “and through their life experience they taught me a lot about life in general. I’ve learned to appreciate the struggles of people and learned to be more patient and understanding. … And I think I’ve become more accepting of people and a lot more tolerant of people, and it’s helped me in my preaching.”
As a jubilarian, Father Katz said, “I’m reflecting on the number of people that touched my life over the years, and the number of lives that I’ve touched through my sacramental work and through my preaching in various diocesan settings and through my youth ministry work.”
“I write a reflection each week on my Facebook page,” he added. “That takes up a little bit of my time, but I own my own home here in Liverpool and I enjoy working in the yard and doing some work on my flowers and so forth. Early in my retirement I was going to the gym every week but I cut back on that. …
“I think what I miss most since I retired is the sacramental work of the times that I gathered around the people at the altar and shared Eucharist with them and celebrated the sacraments with people and enjoyed preaching.”
Father Joseph J. Clemente, ordained on Oct. 31, 1981, has been happily attending to his specialty for 40 years.
“The time has certainly gone quickly for me,” he said. “It’s hard for me to believe that it’s actually been 40 years. … I see myself as a parish priest and someone who specializes in saving souls — that’s my passion, and that was my passion from the beginning, and 40 years later it still is. I’m still passionate about saving souls.”
Asked how he does that, he said, “I think through ministry, through preaching and teaching and celebrating the sacraments.” He began his ministry as a deacon in Fulton. As a priest he has ministered in Syracuse, Rome, East Syracuse, Minoa/Bridgeport, and Solvay/Lakeland.
He plays the organ, mostly classical music. Two years ago, Father Clemente arranged for St. Patrick’s Cathedral organist Daniel Brondel to give a well-received concert at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse. “That was one of those monumental experiences,” Father Clemente said.
“For me,” he said, “music is part of what expresses the beauty of God because God is found in beauty, and because ultimately God is the most beautiful. And so therefore to enhance the celebration of the liturgy and other things with good music means to point to God and raise the souls’ horizons to look further and deeper into the mystery of life, into God’s providence in our lives. …
“God is provident, and when we express our souls’ sentiments to God through beautiful music, we establish a communion with God — it’s part of how we commune with God, and that leads us to the Eucharist, which is the ultimate communion in this earthly life.”
Father Clemente does not play the organ at church events at this time, he said, “simply because for the last several years I have been the only priest in the parish, and therefore I’m always the celebrant of the Mass or the Liturgy of the Hours. So that’s why it’s important to have a competent organist playing, because I do know the difference.”
After working for several decades to save souls, Father Clemente said: “I would say that I’m looking forward to some more good years of doing what I’ve done for the last 40.”
Father Joseph E. Scardella knows beautiful experiences and daunting experiences.
He said he would never have thought that “the priesthood could been as rich as it is, so it’s just a beautiful experience. My greatest joy is watching people have ah-ha moments, when you know that your teaching or your preaching is really reaching their hearts and they’re coming to know Jesus better. That’s really a highlight, and it’s a real joy.”
Ah-ha moments are reflected on the people’s faces or revealed when they say they were touched by a homily. “They’ll let you know,” said Father Scardella, ordained 40 years ago on Oct. 31, 1981. He has ministered in Johnson City, Syracuse, Baldwinsville, Fulton, and Phoenix. His special assignments have included 23 years in the diocesan Office of Liturgy.
As he opened his preaching for the Mass of Thanksgiving for this year’s Jubilarians, he said it was “most daunting to preach to one’s peers. So, please be gentle!
“Did the singing of the ‘Veni Creator’ today bring to mind the Laying on of Hands at your Ordination? My mind’s eye can still see Bishop [Frank J.]Harrison seated in the sanctuary, the Cathedral full of people who came from all corners of our diocese. Keep the sounds, the smells, the sights of that day always in your mind. …
“Indeed, my brothers, there is no more moving ritual of the Rite of Ordination than seeing [the men] prostrate as a symbol of their total self-gift to Christ and His Church. In our innermost being we know that to be a priest is a call to die to self and live for Christ. Jesus calls all of us to die to self. When ordained a priest, the man is no longer his own. …
“A priest needs great courage, which does not come from his own strength, but the strength of the Holy Spirit. … People are looking for God! People are looking to find the deep meaning of their lives, but they need somebody to help them. We are called to be vessels of God’s grace. …
“The people of God demand and expect their priest to be holy. However, holiness in not only expected of a priest, but all the people of God. Their great love for God and holiness should then challenge and encourage us to continue working diligently in the vineyard with great zeal. …
“St. Paul urges us to encourage others in all things, even though we or they may be suffering. Encouraging our brothers and sisters is the hallmark of a life of beatitude. … I can attest, brothers, that if we stay close to the Blessed Mother, she will keep us safe wherever the Lord sends us. …
“Brothers, thank you for your service to the Church. May God continue to bless us and prosper the work of our hands.”
For hobbies, Father Scardella enjoys reading mysteries — “the Agatha Christie type of stuff” — and attending plays and musicals. For 15 consecutive years, he attended the Stratford Festival in Ontario.
Father Robert C. Weber Jr. has an unusual vocation, even within the special ministry of the priesthood.
In 1984, he was asked if he was interested in prison ministry. “I said yes, and here I am,” he said, with 37 years in that specialty. He added, “God opened the door so I walked through it.”
He was a chaplain for 28 years at Mid-State Correctional Facility in Marcy. Since 2012, he has served as the Ministerial Program Coordinator for the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. A colleague and he are each responsible for half of the state, which amounts to 17 or 18 prisons for Father Weber. He covers hubs: Oneida, in Rome; Wende, in Buffalo; Clinton, in Dannemora; and Watertown.
Father Weber is the liaison between the Central Office in Albany and the facilities for situations or questions involving the chaplains and religious programs. “I call myself the help desk,” he said.
Asked if chaplains run into a lot of despair in those they serve, he said: “I would say hope instead of despair. And the primary role of the chaplain is to give the incarcerated person the tools so that they can have a better life, and that’s a good responsibility to have. And like all the ministries, you never see the fruits of your labor …, really don’t have contact with them afterwards, you can’t have contact with them afterwards. … Same as a parish priest: You don’t know. May see it down the road.”
He has stayed with his Ordination theme, Matthew 25:40-45, which says in part: “And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”
Asked what he is reflecting on concerning his 40th jubilee on Oct. 31, Father Weber said:
“It’s just been a lifetime ministry, so I guess it’s a daily reflection. And I’ve always tried to live off that theme in the Scripture and also … personal relationships. My big word is presence: p-r-e-s-e-n-c-e. We’ve got to be present to those who are in need. And that’s in the parish, that’s in the prison, that’s anywhere you go — hospital. …
“There’s a difference between presence and being present. You could talk to me now and I could be looking out the window at the trees or something; then I’m not being present to you. … We are the people who — especially Chaplains — are the people bringing light into the darkness.”
John 8:12 carries that thought: “Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’”