Sun photo l Chuck Wainwright

By Catholic Sun staff


That is how one of the five attending priests of the Diocese of Syracuse described the day as they were honored recently for celebrating jubilee years of service to the people of God.

Bishop Douglas J. Lucia celebrated the jubilee Mass at Immaculate Conception Church in Fayetteville, joined by Bishop Emeritus Robert J. Cunningham. There are eight jubilarians in all. A large group of fellow priests attended to support and congratulate their presbyteral brothers for reaching these significant milestones:

65 years

Reverend Monsignor James Lutz, Ordained Feb.3, 1958

Msgr. Lutz was born in 1931 to Martin and Mary Alice (Crave) Lutz, growing up and attending elementary and high schools in the Utica area. After two years of philosophy studies at St. Bonaventure University, he attended seminary at St. Bernard’s in Rochester.

Msgr.’s first two assignments were close to home, serving briefly as an assistant at St. Anthony in Chadwicks before moving in the same role to St. Paul in Whitesboro until 1965. He next moved on to St. Francis Xavier in Marcellus for two years before serving six years as an assistant at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. He was named pastor of St. Ann in Manlius in 1973 serving there until 1988.

He remained as an unassigned priest, caring for an ailing parent, and ultimately retired in 2001.

Monsignor also served as director of the diocesan office of Propagation of the Faith from 1971 to 1987.

60 years

Reverend Frederick Mannara, Ordained May 18, 1963

He’s affectionately known as “Father Fred” by his parishioners and friends at Most Holy Rosary Parish in Syracuse where he has served as pastor since 1998 and was honored recently with a jubilee reception.

Father grew up as a parishioner of Our Lady of Pompei on the city’s Northside, born there to Ferdinando and Rosanna (Diorio) in 1937. He attended Christian Brothers Academy for high school. Upon graduation, he entered seminary at St. Andrew’s in Rochester for his first two years of study before moving on to St. Bernard’s in Rochester where he completed his theology studies leading to ordination. Father also holds a Master’s Degree from Syracuse University.

Father’s passion is the people of God whom he first served as a priest at St. Bartholomew in Norwich as an assistant for five years before moving into the same role at St. Mary of the Assumption in Binghamton until 1973. He was associate pastor at Corpus Christi (South Onondaga) and St. Patrick’s (Otisco) and has also served at St. Mary’s (Baldwinsville), St. Patrick’s (Jordan), St. Brigid/St. Joseph (Syracuse) and Transfiguration (Syracuse). Fr. Fred was Director of Faith Centers at Henninger and Fowler high schools in Syracuse and was on the Bishop Ludden faculty. He was named pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes in Syracuse in 1983, parochial vicar at St. John the Evangelist (New Hartford) in 1996 and, in 1998, pastor at Most Holy Rosary Church (Syracuse) where he has served ever since.

When asked about the most memorable moments of his ordained life, Father Mannara simply answered that “It’s the priesthood, a life of service. We are appointed to serve the people of God, every day to get up, start with Mass and to serve the spiritual and temporal needs of the people.”

Father has also continued his role as a dedicated educator while at Most Holy Rosary.

“For 37 years I have been pastor of the school,” he said, adding that he has always strived “to maintain a school and serve the needs of the people who have been educated in our school, with a Christ-centered, good education for these young people.“

Reverend G. David Sears, Ordained May 18, 1963

Reverend G. David Sears is a native of Utica. He attended Roosevelt & John F. Hughes Elementary Schools and Utica Free Academy. His family worshiped at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Utica. Father Sears attended Holy Name College in Washington, D.C., and completed his studies at St. Bernard’s Seminary in Rochester.

After being ordained, Father Sears served at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Syracuse and went on to serve in several parishes in the Utica/Rome area as well as Endicott, Camden and New Hartford. Father Sears will be retiring after 21 years as Pastor of St. Thomas Parish in New Hartford, Oneida County, effective July 1, 2023.

Reverend Robert Sullivan, Ordained May 18, 1963

When asked when he first realized his call to the priesthood, Fr. Sullivan responded, with a wry smile, “When my spiritual director advised me to get serious about two years before ordination.”

Fr. Sullivan was born in Binghamton in 1937 and grew up on Mary Street where his parents, Rollin and Rita (Ring) made the family home. He first attended St. Michael and St. Bernard seminaries, finishing his theology studies at the Theological College and Seminary in Washington, D.C. The most memorable part of ordination day was “driving home from Syracuse with my grandfather who had not set foot outside Broome County for many years.” Father also received a Master’s Degree in Religious Education from Fordham University.

After a brief time as an associate at St. Patrick in Truxton and St. John in Binghamton, his service was primarily in education. He was on the faculty at Binghamton Catholic High School from 1963 to 1969 and at Bishop Ludden in Syracuse from 1969 to 1973 before becoming chaplain of the Newman Center at SUNY Binghamton where he served until retirement in 2008.

“The university was a fascinating place to work, especially when one is not on the payroll,” he told us, showing his dry and amusing sense of humor again. Reflecting on his service, he said his most fervent memories are steeped in his “contact with students and alumni at Binghamton University and celebrating the sacred liturgy with university students.”

50 years

Reverend Monsignor Timothy Elmer, Ordained May 12, 1973

Known for his smile, affability, varied roles and talent as a bagpiper, Msgr. Elmer has enjoyed joy and balance in his ministry.

“Certainly, the grace of God, through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, has seen me through these 50 years,” he said, “but I kept myself on an even keel by doses of ‘humble pie,’ good friends and not allowing the priesthood to totally absorb my identity as a person.”

“I recall being inspired by my reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation when I was 12 years old,” he said. “Right after that, I began attending daily Mass, often as an altar server.”

Of his ordination day, he remembers “the entire Liturgy of Ordination at the Cathedral: the prostration on the floor, the invocation of the Holy Spirit, the imposition of hands, (through the tears) the warm welcomes of all the priests and the first blessings immediately after the Mass.”

Monsignor is most inspired by “the people whom I am assigned to serve be that in parish or special ministry.”

His extensive bio sheet includes service in Syracuse (Blessed Sacrament, St. Ann’s, St. Daniel, Chancery); Chittenango (St. Patrick); Mattydale (St. Margaret’s); and Hamilton (Colgate University). His roles have included Pastor; Vicar General in addition to Judicial Vicar of Tribunal; Chaplain; Vicar Forane – Western Region – West; Diocesan Chancellor; Chaplain of His Holiness; Priests’ Personnel Committee; and College of Consultors.

Originally from Oneida, he studied at Wadhams Hall, Ogdensburg, and Christ the King at St. Bonaventure University.

“I am most happy,” he said, “when I see that my ministry has truly meant something significant to others. Certainly, celebrating Mass is primary but also simply being there for and with people, whatever the need or occasion.”

His most profound priestly experience?

“Right up there is serving as the Promoter of Justice on the diocesan committee impaneled to inquire into authentication of the miracles leading to the beatification and later, to the canonization of Saint Marianne Cope.”

The funniest thing that has ever happened to him in his priestly service: “Celebrating almost any children’s liturgy is always a hoot.”

Reverend Charles Vavonese, Ordained May 12, 1973

Reverend Charles S. Vavonese is a native of Syracuse and attended Our Lady of Pompei and Grant Jr. High School. He studied at Syracuse University, Canisius College and Loyola University before entering St. Bernard’s Seminary in Rochester. His most vivid memory of ordination day was the joy in his family’s eyes, he said. Upon ordination, he was assigned to St. Anthony’s Parish in Utica. He credits Msgr. Charles Borgognoni for inspiring him to join a life of service to Jesus Christ.

During his years in the Syracuse Diocese, Father Vavonese was a faculty member at Oswego Catholic High School as well as Bishop Ludden and Bishop Grimes high schools. He served as an administrator at Holy Trinity from 2002 to 2004. His appointments as a Parochial Vicar in Syracuse included St. Daniel Church, Our Lady of Pompei-St Peter’s Parish, and Holy Cross. While at Holy Cross, Father Vavonese was assigned additional duties including director of the office of persons with disabilities, director of formation for ministry and coordinator of public policy. When asked what brought him the most joy as a priest, Father Vavonese said, ‘’Caring for palliative patients.”

40 Years

Father Kevin J. Bunger, Ordained May 14, 1983

Father Bunger is originally from Clinton in Oneida County, the son of John and Loretta (Masher) Bunger. His home parish growing up was St. Mary’s Church. 

He studied at Mohawk Valley Community College, Utica, and Aquinas House at Le Moyne College, Syracuse; and at Christ the King Seminary before his ordination in 1983.

He first served in East Syracuse at St. Matthew before spendinf=g time in the missions in Lima, Peru. He returned home to the diocese and served as chaplain at Community Hospital (Syracuse), Binghamton Nursing Home and Broome County Community College until 1993. Since then, Father’s service has been devoted to parish life as administrator at St. Joseph’s Church in Port Crane. While there he also became co-administrator of Our Lady of Lourdes in Deposit and served in Hispanic Ministry at Broome CC. He was named pastor of the Church of the Annunciation in 2010, taking on the same duties in an additional assignment at St. John the Evangelist in 2014. 

25 years

Father Brian E. Lang, Ordained June 6, 1998

Asked for a vivid memory of his ordination day, Father Lang cited how joy-filled it was. And he finds the most joy in his ministry today from the Daily Eucharist.

Originally from Manlius, he first realized his call to the priesthood when he attended  C.W. Baker High School in Baldwinsville. His education continued at SUNY Geneseo; St. Mary’s, Baltimore; and SUNY Oswego. He has ministered in Endicott (Our Lady of Good Counsel); Binghamton (St. Catherine of Siena, St. Mary’s/St. Paul’s); Camillus (St. Joseph’s on the Hill); Warners (Our Lady of Good Counsel); and Syracuse (St. Ann and St. Charles); and he currently is the Pastor of St. Ann’s Church, Manlius.

Asked what most inspires him to serve, he said, “My brother and his unbelievable dedication to the Diocese.” His brother is Msgr. James P. Lang, the Diocesan Vicar for Parishes and the Temporary Administrator of Annunciation Church, Clark Mills, and St. John the Evangelist Church, New Hartford.

Father Lang said his most profound experience as a priest is “being with people when they are preparing to pass to eternal life.”

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