By Tom Maguire | Associate editor
This year’s jubilarians express a love for parish life, for the faithful and helpful parishioners they have encountered, and for military service. Their assignments have spanned the diocese and extended overseas. Here are their stories.
Msgr. Eugene M. Yennock | Ordained June 3, 1950
Msgr. Yennock has served in Fulton, Oswego, Endwell, and Syracuse, where he is the pastor of St. Daniel Church. He has also served in chaplaincies. He emailed these comments:
“The story of my vocation is very simple. For some mysterious reason I knew that I wanted to be a priest at the age of 7, after receiving First Communion. I do not remember why I wanted to be a priest. I know that the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist was very real to me. I didn’t know how it was going to happen but I was certain that someday I would be a priest. I tried to excel in my studies because I knew that was important if I were to be accepted in a seminary.
“My early childhood experiences within my family and Our Lady of Pompei School and Parish influenced my perseverance. The value that my parents and my teachers placed on the priests and the reverence they had were very clear to me. I’m grateful to my parents and the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception for the example that I witnessed in them, and for the knowledge of the Faith that they gave me.
“The Franciscan Sisters often repeated the words of Jesus: ‘What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul in the process?’ That made a great impression on me. Saving my soul was very important to me. As I matured, while I respected and appreciated the choices that others were making for their lives, it became clear that for me, the best way to save my soul, was the priesthood. I thank God that my vocation was never a great struggle for me. After 70 years I never regretted for one minute the choice that I had made. Or rather, the choice that God made when He called me.
“I have been happy and fulfilled in all the different expressions of the priesthood that I have experienced throughout these 70 years. What has always impressed me from the beginning of my ministry was the number of people young and old who had strong faith. They weren’t waiting for me to instill it in them. If the truth be known, my faith has continuously been strengthened by the faith I saw in them.”
Father Wilbur Votraw | Ordained Feb. 2, 1955
With a sense of excitement that remains strong in him, Father Votraw says he has done everything in the diocese, and his resume bears him out.
He has served in Rome, Kirkwood, Chadwicks, Cortland, Fayetteville, Binghamton, Whitney Point, and Syracuse. He remembers “lovely parishes,” and he served as the judge in the Marriage Tribunal and as a chaplain for nine years at Crouse Hospital — “I enjoyed that a lot.”
He had thought about becoming a priest in high school and then at Le Moyne College. “I guess I debated whether I would join a religious order,” he said, “or the diocese. I wasn’t sure, really. … You have to think a lot about it, pray over it.”
He studied two years at Le Moyne and got a call from the chancery saying he was accepted as a candidate for study at St. Bernard’s Seminary in Rochester. Priests had told him all about it ahead of time, and he looked forward to it. So he finished his bachelor of arts degree with two years of philosophy at St. Bernhard’s, and he continued there with four years of theology for his master’s degree. He was in a group of about a dozen men who were ordained by Bishop Walter A. Foery.
Father Votraw also brought excitement to a yearlong sabbatical studying Scripture at the Washington Theological Union. He came back to Syracuse and developed one course on the Old Testament and one course on the New Testament, and for up to 15 years or so he taught Scripture to men studying for the diaconate.
He said of the deacons, “They’re good preachers. … They enjoyed learning and studying, and they’re really well prepared.”
Asked what it takes to be a good preacher, Father Votraw said, “It takes a lot of things, a lot of listening, listening to people, encouraging them, helping them in different ways in the ministry.”
As a young priest he did a lot of hiking and walking. He retired in July 2012, and now he enjoys walking inside and outside at the Nottingham in Jamesville.
Father Stanley M. Gerlock | Ordained April 2, 1960
Father Gerlock recalls a classy exit.
During his service as chaplain of the Broome County Jail, prisoners had to walk by the chapel as they were discharged.
“So this kid had his clothes with him, what little clothes it was, and he knocked on the window of the chapel. So I came out and he said, ‘I’m leaving.’ He said, ‘I want you to know that Mass was the highlight of my week.’
“And I said, ‘Oh, gee, that’s wonderful.’ I said, ‘I appreciate your telling me that.’ He says, ‘Yeah, well, not only that.’ He says, ‘When I’m out in the public, I’ll have a lot of temptation, so before I leave I’d like your blessing.’ And I said, ‘Oh, boy.’
Another chaplain heard the kid’s comment and said “‘Wow!’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ I said ‘Wow’ too.”
Other chaplaincies for Father Gerlock included Notre Dame High School in Utica, Camp Brace in Masonville, and the Newman Club at Utica College.
Father Gerlock lived with the Xavierian Brothers during his fulltime chaplaincy at Notre Dame. For his 25th anniversary, while he was pastor at St. Mary’s in Kirkwood, Father Gerlock received a plaque naming him an Honorary Xavierian Brother.
He also served at churches in Binghamton, Utica, Johnson City, New Hartford, Endicott, Bainbridge/Afton, and Chenango Forks.
He recalls taking a test about retirement — about eight sheets with all kinds of questions. He said the expert came up to him and said, “‘You know, you did quite well.’ He says, ‘Only thing I’m concerned about, is what you’re gonna do when you retire.’
“He says, ‘You don’t have any hobbies, you don’t play golf.’ I said, ‘Well, you know, I think that’ll take care of itself.’”
He retired in July 2004, and he walks the corridor 10 times a day at McDevitt Residence in Binghamton. “As a result of that I lost about 30 pounds,” he said.
He has retained the attitude that he had on his ordination day. Bishop Foery “asked if I’d be obedient to the Lord and to him and to everybody around. And I said, “Joyfully!”
Father Louis J. Nichols | Ordained Feb. 2, 1960
“I’m doing fine,” Father Nichols said. “I can do 100 pushups every morning. And I’m gonna be 88 years old on the 16th of June. I did 100 pushups this morning. I did 100 pushups yesterday morning. …
“That’s all part of the military training and being active all these years, coming and going, having a mission church wherever I was.”
He did four to five Masses every weekend too. He retired last year from St. Anthony Church in Mendocino, Calif., and he helps out when he can from his home base in Point Cabrillo, Calif., where he lives with his Doberman Pinscher.
Father Nichols started his ministry at parishes in Binghamton and Syracuse. In 1966 he went into the Navy Chaplain Corps during the Vietnam War. The Sun’s report on Father Nichols’ 50th Jubilee in 2010 states: “During Father Nichols’ second tour of duty in 1971, he was the chaplain for Destroyer Division 52 which patrolled the coast of Vietnam. His ship was caught in Typhoon Joan off the South China Sea for four days, and Father Nichols said the captain thought the ship would have capsized if they hadn’t had a priest aboard.”
Father Nichols served in that capacity for 11 years. He then took advantage of continuing education and got a master’s degree in psychology at the University of North Florida. After a stint serving veterans in New York State, a friend at US Airways asked him to take over the company’s employee-assistance program, and he did that for 10 years.
After that, he worked at a parish in the Archdiocese of New York at the request of Cardinal John O’Connor, who had been his chief of chaplains in the Navy. Then he took over a parish in Spencerport, N.Y., at the request of his friend Bishop Matthew H. Clark.
He next went on a continuing-education program for priests, and he met Bishop Daniel Walsh from the Diocese of Santa Rosa, Calif., who invited him to work in that diocese. He received permission from the Diocese of Syracuse and he has been in California ever since.
Father Nichols’ home parish originally was St. Anthony of Padua in Endicott. He said Father Richard E. Dellos, now a pastor in Utica, credits him for his vocation because he was an altar boy when Father Nichols was ordained.
For a previous write-up, Father Nichols recalls saying “‘Long live the priesthood.’
“I said there is no greater vocation than to be a priest and to minister to God’s people. And I said, so that’s what a priest does, and I said that I count every blessing that I’ve had in ministry.”
Father George E. Wurz | Ordained Feb. 2, 1960
Father Wurz had a pivotal moment when he was very young.
“Yes, I remember clearly,” he recounted. “It was about 80 years ago, as a seven-year-old altar boy at St. Peter’s Church in North Utica. It was the end of the Lenten Season and all the purple coverings on the statues had to be removed.
“That was just the work that I wanted to do BUT, Father Matthew Lawler, the pastor, said, ‘No, you cannot help, you’re too little.’ That is when I just decided with German determination: ‘I’ll find a way to work for the Lord.’ The rest is history.”
He credits his paternal grandparents for that German determination. He also recalls an incident that puzzled him momentarily during his first week or so as a new priest at St. Ambrose in Endicott. An event was going on in the school, so he was over there with two other priests, the late Msgr. Larry Sheehan and the late Father Joseph Kennedy.
Father Wurz wondered what was going on in the gym. “I stepped out about a foot into the gym or so,” he said. “I said, ‘Everybody’s standing up there.’ I said, ‘What are they standing up for?’”
He was told: “‘Father, you entered the room.’”
“That’s how the people were there with the priests,” he recalled, “the whole thing down there in those early days.”
His vocation also has taken him to New Hartford, Rome, Utica, Syracuse, and Oswego.
St. Peter’s has been a recurring theme in his life. He was baptized at St. Peter’s in North Utica, and he has been at St. Peter’s in Oswego for some 40 years. He noted that St. Marianne Cope lived in the convent with other sisters and taught in Oswego from 1866 to 1869; he said she was even baptized at St. Peter’s in Heppenheim, Hesse, Germany.
“I’m proud to be here where she walked,” he said.
As for the St. Peter’s theme, he said, “Well, I don’t know, the Lord must be saying something to me.”
Father Wurz figures that on his ordination day, “the Lord called me. Answering his call, I am at St. Peter’s Church and Sacred Heart Mission, celebrating with St. Mother Marianne Cope. … I thank God for allowing me in the vocation to the priesthood to serve him over these 60 years.”
Father Charles A. Aho | Ordained May 16, 1970
Father Aho has served in Syracuse, Fulton, Binghamton, Cleveland (Oswego County), East Syracuse, Clinton, Lacona/Altmar, and Oneida. He retired on March 1, 2011.
For his 40th Jubilee in 2010, the Sun reported:
He said he gets a great deal of satisfaction from his ministry, particularly in ministering to bereaved families. “The people are at their most sensitive when they’re suffering from a loss,” he said. Being able to pray with and for people at this time is one of the greatest gifts a priest can give, he said.
Father Aho said some of his most formative years were spent as a novice from 1957 to 1959 at the Trappist monastery in Geneseo. “I really did learn my best training in spirituality and liturgy from the Trappists,” he said.
He attended Resurrection College in Kitchener, Ontario, Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, N.Y., and St. Bernard’s Seminary in Rochester.
His appointments include serving as a teacher at Binghamton Catholic Central from 1972 to 1974 and as a chaplain at Christian Brothers Academy from 1977 to 1979.
Father Aho served as a chaplain at Syracuse Developmental Center from 1994 to 1996, at the Dominican Monastery from 1996 to 1997, at the Hillbrook Detention Center from 1997 to 1998, and as part-time chaplain at Iroquois Nursing Home. He also served about 10 years as the Catholic chaplain at the Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse.
Father Aho also celebrated Mass for retired nuns. “One of the things that I’m very happy about is the more frequent use of the talents of women in the parishes than was the case in my day,” he said.
Father Richard J. Kapral | Ordained May 16, 1970
It was a hot, sunny day for his ordination with 11 other men, Father Kapral remembers.
“A lot of the guys I had just met for the first time, which was interesting,” he said, “but it was a nice day. I had a lot of friends down from Rochester, a lot of family from all over the place, and it was really just a wonderful, wonderful time and of course the reception that they had for me at Holy Family in Fairmount was absolutely wonderful — all the people that I grew up with out there and all the neighbors and folks of the parish, and it was just a wonderful, wonderful experience.”
His main assignment now is pastor of St. Joseph & St. Patrick in Oneida. He has also served in Syracuse, Utica, New Hartford, Florence/Redfield, Waterville, and Vernon.
“Most of my assignments have been really pretty much my interests over the past 50 years,” he said, “and they’ve been varied,” including Our Lady of Solace in Syracuse, Francis de Sales in Utica, St. Bernard’s in Waterville, and his ministry with the Vietnamese community.
“They have such a wonderful faith,” he said of the community, “and it really was inspiring to me, and I really enjoyed my work with them. Now here I am in Oneida and it’s been wonderful; so the last 50 years have been really interesting and filled with a great deal of joy.”
Msgr. James T. O’Brien | Ordained May 16, 1970
Msgr. O’Brien, who retired last June, has served many parishes and has had many special assignments as well.
He served parishes in Central Square, Syracuse, Cicero, and Liverpool. Other assignments included teacher, athletic director, and guidance counselor at Bishop Ludden Jr./Sr. High School; superintendent of Catholic schools; a sabbatical in Bolivia; the Priest Personnel Committee; Vicar Forane (Regional Vicar), Western Region, Western Area. He was named Chaplain of His Holiness on Dec. 20, 2012.
In an email, Msgr. O’Brien said:
“As I celebrate my Fiftieth Anniversary I am somewhat overwhelmed with gratitude for the call to priesthood, the blessings and opportunities that have been a part of ministry, and also how quickly the years have gone.
“I am not only grateful to the Lord but to each and every one of the faith communities that I was privileged to serve. The people of those communities were not only supportive but essential partners in ministry and were the ones truly responsible for the work of the gospel. My ministry has been deeply fulfilling as there were special blessings and moments with each and every one of the parishes and school communities that were part of these fifty years.”
Msgr. John P. Putano | Ordained May 16, 1970
Of being named a monsignor on Dec. 12, 2012, Msgr. Putano said: “I just feel very humbled by all that. … I want to be here to serve … as much as I can, and I’m just very happy to do that.”
He has served as pastor of the Binghamton Parishes of St. Patrick and St. Thomas Aquinas since July 2010. He has also worked in Utica, Endwell, Mattydale, Endicott, Syracuse, and Vestal. Special appointments have included Episcopal Vicar – Southern Region and Catholic School Office Liaison for Broome County Schools.
“As I keep telling people,” he said, “as long as my health holds up I will try to continue doing my best. … I love being with the people, I love serving the people, I just love being part of vibrant communities, and doing what I can to help continue to build really great communities of faith. …
“I just feel very blessed with being able to serve, and certainly thankful to my family, all my friends, the many beautiful people I’ve met over the years. It’s very rewarding, and I’m just so grateful.”
In addition to his friends, he appreciates the “people that cross your path, and it’s very affirming in terms of what my ministry has been and will continue to be, hopefully.”
Of his ordination day, he said: “I was probably a little nervous. … It was just a wonderful, wonderful day with my family, friends joining in the celebration, plus all the priests that were ordained that day. It was just a wonderful, wonderful event.”
So don’t look for him to retire to a cottage in the woods.
“I wouldn’t know what to do,” he said.
Father Francis A. Wapen | Ordained May 16, 1970
Father Wapen is the pastor of St. Patrick in Taberg.
For his 40th anniversary in 2010, the Sun wrote:
After graduating from Oswego Public High School in 1961, Father Wapen attended Resurrection College in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, and completed his seminary work at St. Bernard’s Seminary in Rochester.
Father Wapen’s first assignment was as associate pastor at St. Peter’s in Utica in 1970. He also served as associate pastor at Holy Family in Fairmount, Our Lady of Lourdes in Utica, St. Paul’s in Oswego, and St. Paul’s in Whitesboro. In 1991, Father Wapen took over the pastorship of St. Patrick’s in Taberg and St. Anne’s in Glenmore, which is now closed.
Looking back over his years as a priest, Father Wapen said he has lived a very good life with ups and downs. “It has been a very, very turbulent time in the Church,” he said. “It’s been a period of change — it’s been an exciting time and a time of learning. The Church came out better for it.”
Father Francis P. Young | Ordained May 16, 1970
Father Young, who retired in July 2011, lives in Easley, S.C. — “I have two sisters down here.”
He began his priestly vocation at Holy Cross in DeWitt and he also served on the faculty at Bishop Grimes Jr./Sr. High School in East Syracuse and at parishes in Johnson City, Cortland, Norwich, North Syracuse, and Brewerton.
Asked what he was reflecting on for his Jubilee, Father Young said, “Lot of good years, lot of good people, lot of good events. … It’s very rewarding to think of all the events.” He added that 99 percent of the people were “excellent.”
He said the weather in South Carolina is mild now, not too hot. He visits the hospitals and nursing homes. He also reads Russian and American history and walks a lot.
Father Edward J. Zandy | Ordained May 16, 1970
Father Zandy, who was in the Reserve Officer Training Corps while at Niagara University, had a powerful incentive to join the Army.
“I lost a very close friend in Vietnam in ’69,” he said, “and I made a commitment that I would join the Army when I got ordained and I kept that commitment. … I enjoyed the military.”
Most of his Army service was in the infantry and most was overseas, including in Guatemala and Korea. He said: “You just minister to the soldiers — their fears, their expectations; and I said Mass, I heard their confessions.” He ministered to both Protestants and Catholics — “we didn’t have a choice sometimes, especially in Korea.”
It was like being the pastor of a parish, except most of the time he was outside; he would say Mass on a tank or on a Jeep. He put in 26 years of Army service and retired from the active reserves as a lieutenant colonel in 2000. He is an avid golfer but running six miles every other day in the Army was not the greatest for his knees, so he can’t play golf as much as he would like to.
He is still the Endicott Fire Department chaplain, and he provides Mass coverage for the Eastern Broome County churches in Sanitaria Springs, Kirkwood, Endicott, Greene, and Endwell, where he lives in his own home.
He has served parishes in Vestal, Syracuse, Pompey, Truxton, Binghamton, Endicott, and Johnson City/Vestal.
Father Zandy’s Jubilee has also caused him to reflect on the priests that have affected his life, including his first pastor, Msgr. Martin J. Watley; his religion teacher at Seton Catholic High School; and Father Roger Dunn at Niagara, who convinced him to go to St. Bernard’s Seminary. And Father Zandy talks every day with his buddy Msgr. John P. Putano in Binghamton.
A highlight of Father Zandy’s service was adding a center, a gymnasium, and an atrium at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Endicott in 2001. But it was tough to have to close Blessed Sacrament due to the flood in Johnson City. But he said he combined the parishes of Blessed Sacrament and St. Vincent’s into one parish in 2011 after the flood.
“It was a challenge,” he said.
Father Richard B. Dunn | Ordained Oct. 25, 1980
As his 40th Jubilee approaches, Father Dunn is reflecting on the “great blessing I had in being able to serve 25 years as a chaplain in the United States Air Force.”
He retired from the military as a full-bird colonel. Since July 2017 he has served as the pastor of St. Mary’s of the Lake in Skaneateles. He has also served parishes in Syracuse and Hamilton. Special assignments have included auxiliary chaplain of the Knights of Columbus CNY Chapter and Vicar Forane (Regional Vicar) for the Eastern Region/West Area.
He remembers that on his ordination day, it was “pouring down rain.” He recalls one friend saying something like “‘It’s the only time I’ve seen a monsoon hit Syracuse.’”
Part of the satisfaction of his military service derived from the people, Father Dunn said. He is not sure if the people are that way before they go into the Air Force, or if the military environment kind of pushes people in a particular direction, but “I found the people in the Air Force to be very open, very accepting of others, non-judgmental, flexible team players, people willing to make sacrifices, and people who had a much wider perspective than just themselves and the environment they were in.”
Another advantage of the Air Force, he said, “was the ability to get to know and work with people from different areas of the United States and even different countries. And I enjoyed the pluralism of the Air Force, working with chaplains of some other denominations. …
“It’s a unique environment, and I feel like I was able to adjust to the pluralism and do well in that setting.”
Father Joseph Salerno | Ordained May 3, 1980
Being a Utica fire and police chaplain may be a bit of a lighthearted insurance policy for Father Salerno. He runs the Boilermaker Road Race, and he tells the first responders: “If you hear that I collapsed make sure you’re there.”
These days he does the 5k instead of the 15k race, but he said, “I’m still out there givin’ it my best.”
He is the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in Utica. His service has included stints in Binghamton, Lee Center, and New Hartford. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic it’s an unusual time to be celebrating a significant anniversary, he said, “but that’s quite all right. I’m just glad to be marking it and celebrating it in many ways.”
The chaplaincies have become an important part of his overall ministry as a Catholic priest in the greater Utica area. He has a formal uniform for both the fire and the police departments, and at the scene of a fire he wears turnout gear.
He used to visit the fire and police departments pretty regularly, but because of the pandemic access to those buildings is very limited. “So my ministry to them many times is by phone,” he said, “just making sure they’re all OK, making sure no one is sick, trying to make sure that the stress level for these men and women” is minimized by showing care and concern for them.
Father Salerno transitioned into the diocese from a religious community, so he spent two years as a deacon.
“I guess I just felt the call to priesthood very early in my life,” he said. “I tried to respond to it early in my life, and here I am 40 years later after ordination. And it’s had many joys, it’s had many challenges — I’d do it all over again, no doubt.”
Other than running, he likes reading, music, and theater; “and you can ask my congregation — I’m a Buffalo Bills fan.”
He believes in “staying healthy spiritually, emotionally, and physically. … I try to do that to the best of my ability, but not perfect at any of it. I haven’t broken any speed records at the Boilermaker.”
Father Stephen P. Wirkes | Ordained Oct. 25, 1980
Father Wirkes, the pastor of St. John’s/St. Mary of the Lake in North Bay, effortlessly listed the joys of parish work.
“I’ve always been a parish priest,” he said, “not one of the specialized ministries. What I love is that I’m involved in the most intimate turning points of every human life.
“The baptism of a new baby, First Communion, Confirmation, marriages, celebrating weddings, and then funerals at the end of time. I look at us, when I look back, we’re like the GPs, the MDs, not the specialists. And to me that’s the greatest joy — that I’m not specialized but we deal with the happy and the sad, the joyful and the grieving.
“It’s wonderful that we’re part of every stage of a person’s and a family’s life. … The parish is my family in a very real way. And so, I get all the joyful — the baptisms, the birthdays, the anniversaries — just the whole from beginning to end, and that’s what I love most about being a parish priest.
“And you can imagine it, like on a Saturday, there might be a funeral in the morning, a wedding at one o’clock, and then the regular weekend Mass at 5. And so in one day there’s all that gamut of emotion, of bringing God into a situation, of blessing in the name of God those life-changing and important life moments.”
His parish assignments have included service in Syracuse, Oswego, Mexico (Oswego County), Parish, Fulton, and Canastota.
What does Father Wirkes remember from his ordination day?
“It was pouring rain! Yes it was. … I do remember it was so exciting , ’cause the process is long. … I had been in seminary for eight years, and so the excitement, it’s like marriage, it’s like getting married; the engagement had been for eight years, and then finally I was about to say forever to God; and just the joy of that, and then at the ceremony that’s part of the whole thing: Do you give your life to God? Completely and absolutely, just like wedding vows?
“And that’s what struck me about the ordination ceremony … Just saying the word ‘forever.’ And so I was very excited, and I was so at peace” despite the nervousness of a big ceremony.
The academic part of the seminary, he said, could probably be done in four years, but he noted it is important to “realize what the life is, what it entails, and to be at peace realizing that this is indeed what God has called me to in my time on earth, and being able finally to say yes publicly.”
Father Joseph S. Zareski | Ordained Oct. 25, 1980
Father Zareski notes that he has been assigned to every region of the diocese.
He enjoyed every one of them.
“I did,” he said. “Every one was a different kind of experience, but every one was the same kind of experience. In other words, people were dedicated to God, and they wanted to share their faith with me, and I wanted to share mine with them. So …, all very enriching, I think, every place I’ve been.”
He has been the pastor of St. Anthony’s and St. Mary’s in Cortland since September 2013. He has also served in New York Mills, Fulton, Syracuse, Norwich, Oxford, and New Hartford.
“I’m glad that for the last 40 years,” he said, “I’ve had the opportunity to serve God and his people as a priest. Every parish I’ve been assigned to has been a blessing. I think the people in those parishes have taught me many things, especially how to love God and my neighbor.”
The people in all the parishes, he said, “shared their life with me, and so that’s where I learned, added to what I’ve already known, that they should love God and neighbor; but, through their experiences and my experience with them, it becomes so much clearer what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Like his classmates, he remembers that on ordination day “it rained cats and dogs.” His aunt and uncle’s car wouldn’t start, so he had to drive them to the reception.
Of course the heavy rain was not the highlight of his day. The highlight, he said, “was being ordained and just being in the cathedral to become ordained. … Just beautiful.”
The downpour “did nothing to my mood. It did not.”