Msgr. J. Robert Yeazel is pictured in this Sun file photo.


By Renée K. Gadoua | Contributing writer

After more than seven weeks in Crouse Hospital’s intensive care unit, Msgr. J. Robert Yeazel, retired diocesan priest and administrator, has tested negative for COVID-19 and his condition is improving.

He remains on a ventilator as a backup, but is breathing on his own most of the time, Father Manno, vicar for priests and pastor of Holy Family Church in Fairmount, said May 14. “It’s starting to turn around and the doctors are optimistic,” Father Manno said. “To get the word there’s optimism and he’s perhaps turned a corner, it’s a happy time for all of us.”

Msgr. Yeazel, 78, underwent a tracheotomy and has a feeding tube in his stomach, said Father Manno, who has been unable to visit because of hospital policies intended to reduce spreading the novel coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19. 

CNY Central first reported Msgr. Yeazel’s improved condition May 13. The diocese made Msgr. Yeazel’s condition public May 1, with permission from the Yeazel family. Chancellor and Director of Communications Danielle Cummings at the time called for donations of plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19. 

The Red Cross seeks “people who are fully recovered from the new coronavirus to sign up to donate plasma to help current COVID-19 patients,” according to its website. “People who have fully recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies in their plasma that can attack the virus. This convalescent plasma is being evaluated as treatment for patients with serious or immediately life-threatening COVID-19 infections, or those judged by a healthcare provider to be at high risk of progression to severe or life-threatening disease.”

Msgr. Yeazel received two plasma treatments, Father Manno said. He was among 1,488 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Onondaga County as of May 13, according to the New York State Department of Health. Eighty-two deaths attributed to COVID-19 had been recorded in the county as of May 15.  

Yeazel ministered in the diocese more than 50 years and retired in 2017. A native of St. Daniel Parish in Syracuse, he was ordained in May 1967 and assigned as an associate to St. Patrick Church in Binghamton. His ministry included serving as an associate at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, vice chancellor and secretary to Bishop David Cunningham (1900-1979), chancellor of the diocese, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Fayetteville, regional vicar of the Western Region of the diocese, vicar for priests and co-chaplain for St. Anthony Motherhouse and the Dominican Monastery in Syracuse, vicar general, and pastor of Holy Cross Church. 

He has served on many community and diocesan boards and committees, including as chair of the campaign to restore the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Recently, Msgr. Yeazel had been ministering at Holy Family Church and working with Le Moyne College’s Center for Aging Resources and Enrichment to coordinate its “Spirituality in Aging” series, presented at Loretto’s Nottingham residence in Jamesville. He has lived at The Nottingham since 2017.

“He was always present to me,” said Father Manno, who has known Msgr. Yeazel since 1992. “If something was going on he would call, he would send a note, he would check in. Good things, he was there to celebrate. Difficult things he was there to be present.” 

In response to an outpouring of concern, Father Manno livestreamed a May 6 Holy Hour and a May 13 Mass so people could pray for Msgr. Yeazel. More than 1,000 people had watched each service by May 14. 

The services were “our way of being present to him,” Father Manno said. “We’re asking God to give him a full recovery if that’s God’s will.” 

Msgr. Yeazel is “able to respond a little bit,” Father Manno said. “His brother said he sat up on a chair and he gave him an iPad so he could watch the Mass.”

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