Father George R. Norton, a diocesan priest since 1983 and beloved
hospital chaplain, died March 1, 2004, at St. Ann’s Home in Rochester
following a long illness. He was 67 years old.
Father Norton was born in Lee, Mass. He was a noted radio announcer
for many years in New England prior to entering St. Bernard’s Seminary
in 1976. In Rochester he was host of the diocesan-produced radio program.
He was ordained in 1983, at age 46, by Bishop Matthew H. Clark. He
then served as priest intern at St. Mary, Canandaigua, and as parochial
vicar at Holy Ghost, Gates. In the late 1980s and early 1990s he also
served as diocesan director of communications.
Father Norton began part-time hospital chaplaincy at Rochester
General Hospital in 1989, and moving to Genesee Hospital where he was
named full-time chaplain in 1995. He subsequently became director of
pastoral care for ViaHealth — the merged Genesee and Rochester General
hospitals — and remained in that position for Rochester General after
Genesee closed in 2001.
“I had always felt that it was the kind of ministry I could apply
myself to,” Father Norton said in a 2002 Catholic Courier
interview. “I also felt that I would be able to reach out to people.
It’s a very rewarding ministry. You see people at their most vulnerable
time, and you can be of some service to these people.”
Father Norton was a member of the National Chaplain’s Association
and National Broadcasting Group. In his free time he enjoyed visiting
Civil War sites, often traveling with his close friend, Father Leo
Reinhardt, pastor of Ithaca’s Immaculate Conception Parish.
A series of ailments hampered Father Norton in recent years,
especially his ability to walk. But he continued to thrive in his
ministry, according to the Rev. Christine Baker, who has succeeded him
as pastoral-care director at Rochester General.
“He had his little motorized scooter with the Ferrari sticker. He
was always zipping all over the hospital and he got where he needed to
go,” said Rev. Baker, a Presbyterian minister who worked with Father
Norton for three years. “He was just delightful. He gave a real strong
sense of love and support.”
Rev. Baker added that Father Norton knew numerous staff members,
patients and families on a first-name basis. “His ministry here is very
difficult to quantify. He was such a fixture here that folks are really
shocked he is gone, even though he hasn’t been here for over a year,”
she said. “He was just very gracious, very humble. He was a wonderful
mentor and colleague.”
“He was a person who truly loved people,” Father Reinhardt added.
“He’d say hello to many of the maintenance staff, people in the
cafeteria. It didn’t make any difference if they were patients,
doctors, support help. He always tried to appreciate everyone as a
Faced with mounting health problems in mid-2003, Father Norton
retired from both the hospital and the diocesan priesthood. He resided
at St. Ann’s Home until his death.
Father Norton’s funeral services were to take place at Rochester’s
Blessed Sacrament Church, where he had resided and been an assisting
priest for several years. He was to lie in state from 3 to 7 p.m. March
3, with evening prayer at 7 p.m. He was also to lie in state beginning
at 9 a.m. March 4. His funeral Mass was to follow at 10:30 a.m., with
Bishop Matthew H. Clark serving as celebrant. Interment was to be at
Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.
Father Norton is survived by several cousins. Father Reinhardt noted
that because Father Norton had no family in the Rochester area, he
became more or less adopted by Father Reinhardt’s family. “My nephews
and nieces always considered him Uncle George,” the Ithaca priest
Memorial donations can be made to the Mary Parkes Asthma Center, c/o
Maureen Prince, RN, 220 Alexander St., Suite 406, Rochester, NY