Father John Kurgan will become vicar general of the Diocese of Syracuse July 1, Bishop Douglas J. Lucia announced May 17.
Father Kurgan is the pastor of Holy Cross Church in DeWitt, where he has served since 2017; he will continue this ministry in addition to his duties as vicar general. Msgr. Timothy Elmer, who has served as vicar general since 2015, will retire from that position June 30.
The vicar general is a priest, auxiliary bishop, or coadjutor bishop who assists the diocesan bishop in the governance of the entire diocese, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The Code of Canon law (No. 478) notes a vicar general is to be a priest more than 30 years old who is expert in canon law or theology and “recommended by sound doctrine, integrity, prudence, and experience in handling matters.”
In addition to these qualifications, Bishop Lucia sought a pastor for the position. “My own ministry as a bishop is based on my ministry as a pastor,” he said. “I wanted somebody who is in touch with parish life.”
Bishop Lucia consulted retired Bishop Robert J. Cunningham, Msgr. Elmer, and Chancellor Danielle Cummings, among others, on possible candidates for the position. All agreed Father Kurgan was an excellent choice, the bishop said.
Bishop Lucia praised Father Kurgan’s admirable pastoral leadership as well as his work on the Council of Priests. Not only organized, Father Kurgan also “had his pulse on what was going on in the diocese among priests and, again, that impressed me,” he said.
Ordained for the diocese in 2004, Father Kurgan has served as parochial vicar of St. Matthew’s Church in East Syracuse and the parish communities of Immaculate Conception in Pompey, St. Joseph’s in LaFayette, St. Leo’s in Tully, and St. Patrick’s in Otisco, and as pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows in Vestal and Holy Cross. He has also served on the diocesan Priests’ Personnel Committee, the Seminary Review Committee, and the Diocesan Review Board.
Father Kurgan said that while being asked to take on the vicar general role was unexpected, he is “honored to do it, honored to be asked.”
Father Kurgan will aim to follow the examples set by past vicars general Msgr. Elmer and Msgr. J. Robert Yeazel and bring “organization, a steadfast plan for the future, and cooperation with the bishop” to the position. He sees cooperation as key “for all of us, whether in the chancery office or in the parish — hopefully all trying to work as one team.”
While his schedule has not yet been set, Father Kurgan anticipates spending at least a couple days each week in the chancery. Balancing vicar general and parish duties will require keeping a tight calendar, he said, and he praised the talented and dedicated staff at Holy Cross who will help make taking on this new role possible.
Though retiring as vicar general, Msgr. Elmer will continue to serve as judicial vicar of the diocesan marriage tribunal. He also hopes retirement will provide a bit more time for two of his favorite pastimes — gardening and bagpiping.
Ordained for the diocese in 1973, Msgr. Elmer has served as parochial vicar of Blessed Sacrament, St. Ann, and St. Daniel churches in Syracuse; as pastor of St. Patrick in Chittenango and St. Margaret in Mattydale; in numerous capacities in the tribunal; and as a regional vicar and diocesan chancellor.
“There was hardly ever a dull minute,” Msgr. Elmer said of his years of service as vicar general. “I had the pleasure of working with two good bishops — Bishop [Robert J.] Cunningham and now Bishop Lucia — and I felt honored to be an advisor to both.”
Bishop Lucia offered his deep gratitude to Msgr. Elmer for continuing to serve as vicar general during his almost two years as bishop and for offering wise counsel during that time. Msgr. Elmer “has earned the respect of the priests and I am grateful for all that he has done,” the bishop said.