Father Joseph McNamara, 92; pastor, chaplain

By Jennifer Burke/Catholic Courier    |    11.23.2004
Category: Obituaries


Father Joseph M. McNamara, a longtime parish priest, died Nov. 15, 2004, at Loretto Nursing Home in Syracuse after a long illness. He was 92 years old.

Father McNamara was born in 1912 in Montezuma, where his family belonged to St. Michael's Parish. He attended St. Andrew's and St. Bernard's seminaries in Rochester and was ordained to the priesthood June 3, 1939.

He served as assistant pastor at St. Mary's Parish in Auburn from 1939-43, when he became chaplain at Cornell University. In 1946 he left Cornell to serve in Rochester for a year as assistant pastor at what was then Sacred Heart pro-Cathedral. In 1947 Father McNamara became assistant pastor at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Elmira Heights, where he remained until 1949.

In 1949 Father McNamara began a 12-year term as chaplain at Elmira Classification Center, where a diagnostic staff studied the backgrounds of men between the ages of 16 and 21 to determine whether they should go to prison or a reformatory. In 1961 he became pastor of St. Anthony's Parish in Groton.

During Father McNamara's two decades as pastor at St. Anthony's, he oversaw the building of a new church, rectory and hall. Although he retired in 1981, he remained at the Groton parish until 1996, when he moved to Syracuse and took up residence in St. Pius X Home for retired priests. He remained there until 2003, when he moved to Loretto Nursing Home.

Father McNamara and Father Emmett Murphy were classmates at St. Andrew's and St. Bernard's seminaries. Father McNamara was a good man and a very friendly and sincere person, Father Murphy said.

"He was a good, holy man," he said. "He was a wonderful parish priest, very warm, very close to the people."

Elizabeth Doppel, former housekeeper at St. Anthony's, said she felt blessed to have gotten to know Father McNamara during the 10 years she worked at the parish. She described Father McNamara as a very profound, caring and loving priest with a great sense of humor. He put his responsibilities as a priest above all else, she said, recalling a time when he had to borrow a snowmobile to visit a sick parishioner during a particularly bad snowstorm.

"He was not to be stopped. When he came back, he said, 'I was sicker than the sick man.' He would always respond to any sick call, no matter how he felt himself," Doppel said.

Doppel visited Father McNamara at the nursing home the day before he passed away. Although he couldn't speak, he raised his arm and gave his priestly blessing to her and everyone else in the room. He was a priest to the core, Doppel said.

Father McNamara always referred to those who had passed away in the present tense, saying that the person hadn't ceased to exist, but just did not inhabit their body anymore, Doppel recalled. It was fitting that his funeral Mass was held on the day assigned to him on the monthly prayer calendar for diocesan priests, she added.

Father McNamara's funeral Mass took place Nov. 22 at St. Anthony's Church, with Bishop Matthew H. Clark presiding. Interment was in St. Anthony's Cemetery in Groton.

He is survived by several nieces and nephews.

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