Father Robert J. Downs, who served in numerous parishes during his 55 years as a diocesan priest, died May 22, 2006, at Auburn Memorial Hospital. He was 79 years old.
Father Downs grew up in Holy Rosary Parish in Rochester. He attended Holy Rosary Grammar School and St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s seminaries in Rochester, and was ordained in 1951 by Bishop James E. Kearney at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
His first assignment after ordination was as assistant pastor at St. Mary Parish in Auburn, from 1951-54. He was then assistant pastor at Immaculate Conception in Ithaca (1954-56); St. Anthony of Padua in Rochester (1956-59); St. John the Evangelist (Humboldt Street) in Rochester (1959-62); and St. Pius Tenth in Chili (1962-70).
In 1970 he assumed his first pastorate at St. Patrick Parish in Aurora and St. Michael in Union Springs. Two years later, he became pastor at St. John the Evangelist in Spencerport. He then spent six months in 1975 as associate pastor at Guardian Angels in Henrietta.
Later that year, Father Downs became pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Van Etten. In 1982 he added duties as administrator of St. Benedict in Odessa. In 1984 he became administrator of St. Michael Parish in Montezuma and St. John in Port Byron. One year later he took up the pastorate of St. Patrick Parish in Moravia and St. Bernard in Scipio Center, where he remained until his 1997 retirement. In recent years, Father Downs continued to be visible in many parishes by lending sacramental assistance.
“I would say he took to heart the scriptural call, and he was always ready to say, ‘Here I am Lord, send me.’ I think he responded very beautifully to that,” said Father Robert C. MacNamara of Horseheads, Chemung County, who was a classmate of Father Downs’.”‘Sure, I’ll do it whatever you need’ — he was a giver.”
In his spare time, Father Downs enjoyed traveling and attended many games of his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team. He also spent considerable time at his cottage on Cayuga Lake, where he would hold an annual summer picnic. Among his other interests were reading and building full-size model ships.
“He loved Cayuga Lake, studying maps, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. And he loved life itself,” Father MacNamara said, adding that Father Downs enjoyed “many parishes and many friends,” particularly his cohorts. “He took his strength from his brother priests and sought them out socially.”
Father Downs was residing at Southfield Apartments in Auburn at the time of his death. He was to have observed the 55th anniversary of his priesthood on June 2.
Bishop Matthew H. Clark was to preside at the funeral Mass for Father Downs on May 27. Interment was set for Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester.
Father Downs is survived by a brother, William L. (Alice) Downs; one niece; one great-niece; several cousins; and special friend, Crescentia Latimer.
Donations in Father Downs’ memory may be made to the Diocese of Rochester Retired Priest Fund, 1150 Buffalo Road, Rochester, NY 14624; or the Holy Family Church Memorial Fund, 85 North St., Auburn, NY 13021.