The ring on Father William Graf’s left hand has been there since 1978. Back then, he was still smarting from having to turn down a coveted teaching position at the University of Notre Dame in order to assume a new priestly assignment in the Rochester Diocese.
"I put it on and promised I would dedicate myself to the people wherever I go, as much as a husband would his wife," Father Graf recalled. "It was a turning point in my life."
His dedication has served him well in three subsequent pastorates as well as a lengthy teaching career. Father Graf, who celebrated his 70th birthday on March 26, will retire as a diocesan priest in June, officially ending his pastorate at Fairport’s Church of the Resurrection. He will continue teaching full time at Pittsford’s St. John Fisher College, where he chairs the department of religious studies. He will also continue serving at Resurrection as sacramental minister.
Father Graf grew up in Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Brockport. He attended St. Bernard’s Seminary and was ordained June 4, 1960. He then served as assistant pastor at Holy Family, Rochester (1960-65); assistant pastor at Ithaca’s Immaculate Conception Parish and chaplain at Ithaca College (1965-66); full-time chaplain at Ithaca College (1966-70); director of counseling and residential services at Ithaca College (1970-71); assistant pastor at St. Thomas More in Brighton (1971-72); professor at St. Bernard’s Seminary (1972-77); and chaplain at Nazareth College (1977-78).
In 1978 Father Graf became associate pastor at Rochester’s Church of the Annunciation; a few months later he was named pastor. He served Annunciation for nine years before moving to Rochester’s Most Precious Blood Parish, where he spent 11 years as pastor. He arrived at Church of the Resurrection in 1998 as priest administrator and became pastor in 1999.
Father Graf has completed numerous graduate and doctoral studies, earning a doctorate in theology from Columbia Pacific University in 1984 and another in education from the University of Rochester in 2001. He has taught at Fisher for more than 20 years.
Along with his pastoral and professorial duties, Father Graf served as diocesan archivist from 1988-2000. Since 2001 he has been coordinator of a diocesan ministry for priests.
Father Graf is well-known for his humor in the classroom and from the pulpit.
"I’ve argued for a long time that humor is the essence of what ministry is all about," he said.
That light-heartedness is evident in his take on becoming a septuagenarian.
"I am as excited about turning 70 as a kid is to turn 16 and get his driver’s license. I’m one of those guys who likes goals. My next is to be 100, so I can get a letter from the president," he quipped.