November 28, 2008
‘It will hit me about a week after his funeral’
Parishioners recall devotion, humor of Monsignor Minehan
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
A prayer service in memory of Monsignor Michael Minehan is held at St. Mary’s Church Wednesday night. Minehan, who had been pastor at St. Mary’s since July 2005, died Wednesday morning after a brief illness.
Joe During was trying to tell a stranger about his friend and mentor, Monsignor Michael Minehan, and the word he kept thinking about was “humor.”
The local accountant is a deacon and trustee of St. Mary’s Church in Cortland, where Minehan had served as pastor for three years before he died suddenly Wednesday morning after a brief illness.
Minehan’s funeral Mass will be Monday at St. Paul’s Church in Binghamton. He will lie in state at the church from 3 to 7 p.m. Sunday. Funeral arrangements are with J.A. McCormack Sons Funeral Home of Binghamton.
“He had a very special way of preaching with his homilies, of keeping his message brief but to the point, and he always seemed able to bring in humor,” During said. “He could make a point in three minutes where other people took five minutes. He provided lessons for me in taking care of people, of using the gift of humor as much as the gift of your own presence.”
With a well-timed quip, Minehan could make people smile in grim circumstances, a rare gift.
“He brought a perspective that made you step back and think about what you were doing,” During said. “He kept us grounded.”
Minehan, 55, died at SUNY Upstate Hospital in Syracuse, after being ill for about a week.
He served in parishes in Syracuse, Solvay, Fairmount and LaFayette, and as chancellor and vicar of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, before coming to Cortland. He was also judicial vicar for the Diocese Marriage Tribunal.
Parishioners were trying to absorb the shock of his death.
“I had organized some meals for him, expecting him to be on the mend,” said Mary Pitcher, a lay trustee for the parish.
Like During, Pitcher recalled Minehan as having “a very quick wit.”
Minehan made an impression on the St. Mary’s parish with his leadership and his love for the church and the priesthood, said During and Mark Lickona, director of religious education for St. Mary’s School.
“He was unswerving in his devotion to the whole mission of the Catholic church, even the parts that seem antiquated,” Lickona said. “He loved the depth and breadth of the church, was loyal to traditions where some people might pick and choose what they embrace.”
Lickona said Minehan was too self-effacing to see himself as a change agent in St. Mary’s, “but a guy like him hadn’t been seen in these parts in a long time. He was the reason I took this job after moving back here from Michigan. He is why our musical director and principal work for the school. He was a ray of light.”
“Any time he got a call from a home or a hospital, he would go immediately, it didn’t matter where,” said During, who knew Minehan for 10 years, first through the monsignor’s positions with the diocese. During was beginning training in laity leadership roles when Minehan became one of his teachers.
The chancellor position is a sort of right-hand person to Bishop James Moynihan, handling legal and liturgical questions every day. It can be difficult, During said, but Minehan handled the job “with great dignity and expertise.”
Minehan grew up in Binghamton and graduated in 1971 from Catholic Central High School, now Seton Catholic. He attended Georgetown University and graduated from St. Bernard’s Seminary in Rochester. He was ordained a priest on Oct. 25, 1980, at Syracuse’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
He is survived by a sister, Mary Jo Molter of Hillcrest, and nieces and nephews, the diocese said.
Parishioners were feeling lost.
“It will hit me about a week after his funeral,” Lickona said. “The monsignor is now gone but his presence and mission will still be carried forth.”
“We have to go through the grieving process but have to carry on,” During said. “He (Minehan) would want us to not spend a lot of time grieving, to take care of each other.”
That would be typical of any priest, During said.
“They devote their lives to God, they give up family and outside interests,” he said. “We are their family. We have lost a brother, friend, father figure.”
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