Capuchin Franciscan Father Julian Phelan, a noted traveling preacher who served in the Diocese of Rochester from 1974 to 2002, died Sept. 19, 2004, at St. Luke’s Hospital in Newburgh, N.Y., after a short illness. He was 83 years old.
Father Phelan was born in New York City and baptized Henry Walter Phelan. In 1938 he was invested with the Capuchin habit and took the religious name Julian. He professed his first vows in 1939 and his final vows in 1942. He was ordained to the priesthood June 5, 1946.
He served from 1947-48 at St. Francis Parish in Milwaukee, Wis.; and from 1948-54 at St. Benedict the Moor Parish and St. Martin de Porres Community in Milwaukee. In 1954 he preached retreats throughout Nicaragua. In 1955 he became pastor of Our Lady Queen of Angels Parish in East Harlem, N.Y.
He left his pastorate in 1958 to begin a 42-year career as a preacher, traveling throughout the United States and many parts of Canada to speak at parish missions and retreats. He resided at St. Joseph’s Friary in Fultonville, N.Y., from 1958-74. Upon the closing of St. Joseph’s in 1974, he came to live at St. Fidelis Friary in Interlaken, Seneca County.
Father Phelan resided for the next 28 years at St. Fidelis while continuing his busy preaching schedule. During this time he also provided sacramental support for parishes in the Finger Lakes area that are staffed by Capuchin Franciscan priests, particularly St. Francis Solanus in Interlaken and Holy Cross in Ovid.
Capuchin Father Eugene O’Hara, pastor of St. James Parish in Trumansburg and superior at St. Fidelis Friary, knew Father Phelan for close to 50 years. He said Father Phelan especially liked to preach in conjunction with St. Anne Novenas, and was also fond of making references to his Irish heritage.
“The longer he talked, the more he went into an Irish brogue,” said Father O’Hara.
Father O’Hara also noted that Father Phelan provided assistance to diocesan priests, traveling frequently to Rochester to fill in for Father Bruce Ammering, the now-retired pastor of Rochester’s Blessed Sacrament Parish; Father Winfried Kellner, a hospital chaplain and sacramental minister at Greece’s Our Mother of Sorrows Parish; and Father John Rosse, a retired diocesan priest who was the longtime chaplain of St. Mary’s Hospital.
“He was a very kind, low-key type of person. He was very patient-oriented; the patients loved him,” Father Rosse said, adding, “He knew many of the priests and never forgot to write me a Christmas card or birthday card.”
In 2002, Father Phelan retired from preaching and moved from St. Fidelis Friary to serve as a chaplain at Rosary Hill Home in Hawthorne, N.Y., a facility dedicated to the care of those suffering from cancer.
Father Phelan’s funeral Mass took place Sept. 23 at Sacred Heart Church in Yonkers. Interment was in the friars’ cemetery at Sacred Heart.
He is survived by a sister, Evelyn Phelan; sister-in-law, Marilyn Gautrand; nephew, Garry Phelan; and nieces, Catherine Sabino and Mary Manzie.