Father Francis R. Davis, a diocesan priest whose 63-year career was spent primarily at St. Bernard’s Seminary and in parishes of the Southern Tier, died Aug. 6, 2008, at the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse in Pittsford following a short illness. He was 88 years old.
Father Davis was born in Washington, D.C., but grew up in Rochester’s Holy Rosary Parish and attended the parish school. He went on to St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s seminaries as well as Catholic University of America in Washington, where he earned a master’s degree in library science.
He was ordained March 17, 1945, by Bishop James E. Kearney at Sacred Heart Cathedral. His first priestly assignment was as assistant pastor of Rochester’s St. Ambrose Parish from 1945-50. From there he became the librarian at St. Bernard’s Seminary, a position he would hold for the next 19 years. He also served as professor of sacred eloquence and professor of literature during his time at St. Bernard’s.
In 1969 Father Davis became pastor of Elmira’s Our Lady of Lourdes Parish. He remained in that role until 1978, when he took the pastorate at St. Mary Parish in Dansville. After two years at St. Mary he moved to St. Patrick Parish in Corning, where he served as pastor for 10 years until retiring in 1990.
Father Davis remained an active and beloved presence in Corning during his retirement years, assisting at area churches and also serving as spiritual director and chaplain for several religious groups.
“He was very well-respected,” said Father Michael Conboy, who was pastor from 1996-2000 of what was then called the Corning-Painted Post Roman Catholic Community cluster.
Father Conboy added that Father Davis “was a great housemate,” noting that the priest emphasized early on he didn’t intend to spend his retirement years in a rocking chair.
“And he didn’t. He’d put in a full day’s work, especially visiting the sick in the hospitals,” said Father Conboy, who currently serves as diocesan director of priest personnel.
Father Davis enjoyed collecting books, with a collection numbering in the thousands.
“He was not interested in wealth. He was certainly interested in books,” Father Conboy remarked.
“He had no illusions of grandeur or that kind of thing. He was nuts and bolts. He did things with people kindly and generously. He was that kind of a guy, a good priest,” added Father Jerome Schifferli, pastor emeritus of St. Matthew Parish in Livonia and one of Father Davis’ two surviving classmates along with Father Robert Meng.
Father Davis remained in Corning until March 2006, when he moved to the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse near Rochester due to mounting health difficulties. Michael Costik, a Livonia native who is now a seminarian at The American College in Louvain, Belgium, said he visited Father Davis often during the past year.
“He was really interested in vocations, always happy to see guys who were thinking about the priesthood, and very supportive,” Costik said.
Father Davis is survived by his sisters, Virginia (Richard) Mahns and Janet T. Davis; nieces and nephews; and great-nieces and great-nephews.
He will lie in state Sunday, Aug. 10, at the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse from 4:30 to 7 p.m. with evening prayer to follow. He will then lie in state Monday, Aug. 11, at Sacred Heart Cathedral from 9 to 10 a.m. Immediately thereafter, Bishop Matthew H. Clark is scheduled to celebrate the funeral Mass for Father Davis, and interment will be at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.
A memorial Mass for Father Davis also will take place Wednesday, Aug. 13, at 7 p.m. at St. Mary Church in Corning.
Contributions in his memory may be made to the Sisters of St. Joseph, 150 French Road, Rochester, NY 14618.