Deacon Victor M. Yanaitis, a member of the Diocese of Rochester’s second class of permanent deacons, died Feb. 20, 2008, after a long illness. He was 82.
A Rochester native, Deacon Yanaitis attended Aquinas High School before joining the Navy, in which he served on the destroyer the USS Doyle in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans during World War II. Shortly after returning from the war, he married his wife, Elinor, and the couple had three children.
Elinor Yanaitis passed away at the age of 32, and several years later Deacon Yanaitis joined Rochester’s Catholic Widowed Parents Club. There he met Rosemary Norman Porter, who was raising her four children alone after her husband’s death at the age of 34. They enjoyed the club’s social events and soon developed a close friendship that eventually turned into something more, much to their surprise.
“Neither one of us had any thoughts about remarrying,” recalled Rosemary Yanaitis, who married the widower on June 22, 1968.
At the time the Yanaitis’ blended family consisted of seven children under the age of 19, and Deacon Yanaitis worked hard at Rochester Products for 30 years to support his family. He’d always been a faith-filled man, but in the late 1970s he realized he wanted to take that faith to another level.
“He just felt a calling and wanted to do more for the church,” his wife said.
In 1979 Deacon Yanaitis was accepted into the second class of men studying for the permanent diaconate. He was ordained by Bishop Matthew H. Clark on April 11, 1983, and Deacon Yanaitis immediately took up his first assignment at his home parish, St. Pius Tenth in Chili. The next year he began ministering at St. Paul of the Cross Parish in Honeoye Falls, but still continued to preach regularly at St. Pius Tenth, his wife said.
Deacon Yanaitis loved preaching, and throughout his nearly 25-year career as a deacon, he preached at a number of other parishes, including St. Mark in Greece, Church of the Annunciation in Rochester, St. Joseph in Rush, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Hamlin and St. Columba/St. Patrick in Mumford and Caledonia, his wife said.
“People just loved him and his homilies. They said he was really down to earth and they could always remember the theme of his homilies and take it home with them,” she said.
In addition to preaching, Deacon Yanaitis also taught religious education and defensive driving, served as treasurer of the Holy Name Society at St. Pius Tenth and led the parish’s Seasoned People group for senior citizens. He also worked with St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality, a Catholic Worker shelter in Rochester.
“He had a very good prayer life and he was always looking out for people that were on the margins,” recalled Deacon William Coffey, a good friend and former classmate of Deacon Yanaitis.
Deacon Yanaitis suffered from a number of health problems, but he never let those problems shake his strong faith, and his love of the church and its people was constant, Deacon Coffey added.
“He had illnesses, very serious ones, but he never was upset. He was a man of deep faith, a good role model,” noted Father Michael Mayer, pastor of Annunciation and St. Andrew parishes in Rochester. Father Mayer worked with Deacon Yanaitis when both served at St. Pius Tenth from 1998-2000.
Indeed, Deacon Yanaitis never complained about his health, but instead lived his sickness in a very holy and prayerful way, Deacon Coffey added. Deacon Coffey saw his friend for the last time several weeks before his death, when Deacon Yanaitis asked him to preside over the vigil service the night before his funeral.
“It was typical Vic. He wasn’t scared at all. He said, ‘Don’t worry. I’m dying, and it’s going to be great,'” Deacon Coffey said.
Death did not scare her husband, Rosemary Yanaitis agreed. In fact, when his family was gathered by his side shortly after his death, one of her children noticed it looked like he was smiling, she said.
“He looked so much younger. It was like, ‘I’ve struggled all my life and here I am, in heaven and seeing God,'” she said.
“That’s the way he was,” Father Mayer added. “He wouldn’t want people to mourn, because he’s gotten his heart’s desire.”
In addition to his wife, Deacon Yanaitis is survived by the couple’s children, Robert (Sharon) Yanaitis, Daniel Porter, Therese Porter Mooney, Charles (Rene) Yanaitis, Paula (Dave) Potter and Brian Porter; 15 grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his first wife, Elinor Yanaitis; daughter, Mary Ellen Yanaitis Frisch; and grandson, Andre Ross Potter.
Bishop Clark celebrated Deacon Yanaitis’ funeral liturgy Feb. 23, 2008, at St. Pius Tenth Church. Interment was at St. Pius Cemetery. Memorial contributions may be made to Highland Hospital, care of 7th Floor Hospice, 1000 South Ave., Rochester, NY 14620.