Father John J. Steger; founder of Gates' St. Jude the Apostle Church - Catholic Courier

Father John J. Steger; founder of Gates’ St. Jude the Apostle Church

Father John J. Steger, founder of St. Jude the Apostle Parish in Gates and its pastor for nearly four decades, died March 4, 2008. He was 81.

In 2001, Father Steger became the first priest in 30 years to continue in a pastorate of the Diocese of Rochester beyond his 75th birthday. In a 2001 interview, he explained that his parish was his family.

“If I left the parish, I’d fold up, probably,” the priest said at the time. “This is my family, this is my life.”

In 2006, Father Steger was placed on administrative leave when he was charged with two misdemeanor counts of second-degree sexual abuse and two misdemeanor counts of child endangerment in connection with two alleged incidents involving a 12-year-old girl at St. Jude’s rectory.

Father Steger pleaded not guilty to the charges, but the allegations were never resolved due to repeated court adjournments. According to the diocese, he retired from St. Jude’s pastorate on Jan. 29, 2008.

Father Steger grew up in Rochester’s Holy Family Parish and attended Holy Family Grammar School, Aquinas Institute, and St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s seminaries. He was ordained June 2, 1951, at Sacred Heart Cathedral by Bishop James E. Kearney.

In addition to his years at St. Jude Parish, he was assistant pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Wayland from 1951-53; St. Alphonsus Parish in Auburn from 1953-54; and St. Theodore Parish in Gates from 1954-68.

Father William Cosgrove said he didn’t know what a hard worker Father Steger was until helping out at St. Jude in 2000 after retiring from his pastorate at St. Dominic Parish in Shortsville. At St. Jude, Father Steger presided over all baptisms, weddings, funeral Masses and visitations of the sick. Even after Father Steger’s knees began to fail, he still was able to get around using a scooter, Father Cosgrove said.

“He was totally committed to the people of St. Jude’s,” said Father Cosgrove, whose brother, James, was in the same seminary class as Father Steger.

And the priest always was filled with energy, noted Father Frederick Bush, who was in Father Steger’s seminary class.

“He used to say, ‘If you want a clean church, get a group to clean it,’” Father Bush recalled.

It was this energy that drove Father Steger to found St. Jude nearly 40 years ago. Parishioners first met in the former Elmgrove Methodist Church in Gates before converting a former dairy barn into a worship space. In 1993, a new church building and gymnasium were opened on the St. Jude campus.

Father Cosgrove recalled being impressed with the barn’s transformation.

“He had a knack for building,” Father Cosgrove said of Father Steger. “He was on the diocesan building committee, so I think they recognized his talent there.“

Father Steger also served as faithful friar of the John W. Steger Assembly Knights of Columbus, which was named for his father; charter member of St. Jude the Apostle Council 10758 Knights of Columbus; commissioner of the Gates Fire District; chaplain and lifetime member of the state Association of Fire Chiefs; charter member of the state Association of Fire Chaplains; member of the International Association of Fire Chiefs; member and chaplain of the state Association of Fire Districts; member of the Rochester Bowling Association Hall of Fame; and sponsor of the Steger Housing Development St. Jude’s I and II apartments.

Father Steger is survived by his brother, George (Nancy) Steger of Spencerport; his sister, Ann (James) Hesek of Marlton, N.J.; and many nieces and nephews, cousins, great-nieces and great-nephews.

Father Steger will lie in state from 3 to 7 p.m. Friday, March 7, at St. Jude, 4100 Lyell Road. Evening prayer will follow at 7 p.m. He will lie in state at the church again from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday, March 8, and Bishop Matthew H. Clark is scheduled to celebrate his funeral Mass that day at 10:30 a.m.

Masses may be offered for the repose of his soul or memorials may be made to the Station of the Cross Catholic Radio Station in care of Robert Brown, 23 Grovewood Lane, Rochester, NY 14624.

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