Father Daley takes over for Father Mathews, who ends run of over three decades

By Tom Maguire
Associate editor

He won’t mind the cold; in fact, he’ll be honored.

Father Frederick D. Daley is the new celebrant for the Easter sunrise Mass at Burnet Park in Syracuse.

At 6:33 a.m., it usually is chilly, but he said, “I enjoy cross country skiing so I’ll just make sure I have my long underwear and boots on.”

Guitarists and singers for the 2012 Easter sunrise Mass are, from left, Bob Ball, Sally Miller, Steve Hurn, Kevin Kelly and Dr. Julie Dubiel Kapusniak.

For more than three decades the celebrant was Father James D. Mathews, who offered the Mass in a large parking lot on a hill, “and the hill gave you a vista of looking out over the entire city.  … It was just very powerful.”

 “They knew enough to dress warm, number one,” he said, “but secondly, they would bring blankets and their own chairs and kind of hunker down together.”

Dr. Julie Dubiel Kapusniak, a guitarist and keyboardist, led the music for the sunrise Mass for the last 37 years as a music minister from both St. Charles and St. Lucy’s. She recalled that there were years when glass jars filled with hot water warded off the numbness and kept the guitarists’ hands warm.

The sunrise tradition started in 1984. Father Mathews said Father Timothy J. Taugher (now assigned in Binghamton) had the idea of doing the Mass when they were both stationed in Syracuse. Another priest who officiated in the early years is Father James H. Carey (now a pastor of several parishes south of Syracuse). Mary Ann Dobe was the liturgical planner for the Mass for 37 years going back to the St. Charles days. And Father Mathews’ faithful deacon for the Mass for years was the late Deacon Peter P. Vanelli.

The Mass originally was celebrated near the Burnet Park Golf Course. But for 30-plus years the faithful have found it by entering the park from South Wilbur Avenue and following the entrance road up the hill. Attendees take the first left and go a short way and take another left. That leads to the parking lot where hundreds of people gather and face due east. 

At the snowy Easter sunrise Mass in 2007, Father James D. Mathews and Deacon Peter P. Vanelli are shown during the Consecration. (Photos courtesy Stephen Kapusniak)

“And I know that we had many different religions that would be there,” Father Mathews said. “It was a wonderful experience because we would check with the weather people and find out when the sun was going to come up. And we had planned the Mass around sunup.” The simple setting included a card table for the altar. “In the background,” he said, “we had a huge cross with a white veil over it. And … as we’re celebrating the Mass the sun would come up.”

But this year Father Mathews will celebrate Easter Mass at 10 a.m. April 9 at St. Lucy’s, where he is the pastor. He explained, “There comes a time in your life when you say, this is it.” Physically, he said, “it takes a lot out of you. … I’m 86 years old. Getting up it’s freezing cold.” Also, he didn’t sleep the night before because he didn’t want to oversleep. After assembling all the gear he would put on the liturgy standing on the cold ground, wearing “a number of pullovers,” winter jacket, gloves, hat and boots. “It was time for me to say a younger guy can do it,” he said.

Father Daley, the pastor of All Saints Church in Syracuse, said that certainly, Father Mathews and St. Lucy’s have done a “valiant job. … And we at All Saints are honored to continue the tradition.” He said he consulted with his pastoral council and his pastoral team and “everybody thought it was a wonderful idea. … I’m told that 400 to 600 people, depending on the weather, come each Easter Sunday morning, so, what a wonderful way to begin Easter sunrise, with a big crowd outdoors. … We’re certainly going to work with the people at St. Lucy’s to sort of teach us how to do it. … We’ll have some nice music. And just carry and continue on in the wonderful tradition.”

Like Father Mathews did for so long, Father Daley will be showing his stamina. He will have his All Saints Easter Vigil at 8 p.m. April 8 and be back home after midnight; then the sunrise service at 6:33 a.m. at the park; then his gospel choir Mass at 9 a.m.; and finally his Mass with the contemporary music and Congolese choir at 11:30 a.m. Then, he figures, he will be ready for a nap.

It sounds like a marathon but he said, “Well, I’m just grateful to God that I’m in good health and love what I’m doing.”

“We have been blessed having Father Mathews to celebrate this wonderful Easter sunrise liturgy with us for the last 37 years,” Dr. Dubiel Kapusniak said, “and we’re wishing the best to Father Fred Daley and All Saints going forward.”

Dr. Dubiel Kapusniak is a medical doctor whose early schooling was at Sacred Heart in Syracuse. She even came home and played the music in the sunrise Mass when she was in medical school in Ohio.  

The sunrise Mass was canceled due to the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. But “we never canceled because of weather,” she said. “We played in the snow, the rain, the cold, the warm. … We were amazed at the number of people that braved the inclement weather.” 

“It’s really a testament to people’s faith to come up there in the dark and in the cold to celebrate their faith with other folks from other parishes in the city of Syracuse,” she said.

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