Father Robert J. Kanka, a priest of the Diocese of Rochester for 55 years, died Oct. 19, 2011, at St. Ann’s Home in Rochester, following a brief illness. He was 87.
Born in Rochester, Father Kanka grew up in St. Mary Parish, Geneseo. He graduated from Geneseo High School in 1941 and served with the U.S. Army’s 25th Medical Depot Company from 1942 to 1946, reaching the rank of master sergeant.
He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Rochester. During his senior year there, he first discerned a call to the priesthood as he began attending daily Mass during Lent.
"It struck me like a thunderbolt," Father Kanka recalled in an interview with the Catholic Courier earlier this year. "I’ve been going to daily Mass ever since."
He completed his seminary training at Rochester’s St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s seminaries and was ordained June 9, 1956, by Bishop James E. Kearney at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
He served as assistant pastor of St. Anne (1956-61) and Holy Family (1961-65) in Rochester. In 1965 he became associate editor of the Catholic Courier-Journal, one of the former names of the current Catholic Courier.
Father Kanka served as assistant pastor of St. Michael, Rochester (1968-69); and Ss. Peter and Paul (1969-72) and St. Cecilia, Elmira (1972). He was pastor of St. Patrick, Mount Morris (1972-74); associate pastor at St. Patrick, Seneca Falls (1974-78); and associate pastor at St. Mary, Auburn, and St. Patrick, Elmira, for several months in 1978 and 1979.
He became pastor of St. James in Trumansburg in 1980 and remained there until retiring in 1994. In retirement, he lived at St. Ann Church, Hornell, which is part of Our Lady of the Valley Parish, and ministered there, at a local nursing home and at St. James Mercy Hospital.
"He was a quiet man who could enjoy people," said Msgr. Gerard Krieg, a longtime friend of Father Kanka. "He was a man of simple faith, and what you saw was what you got. He was a man of integrity. Sometimes he was a little enigmatic because he was so quiet, but those who knew him had no difficulty in liking Robert."
Msgr. Krieg said the priest was a voracious reader of detective stories and a devoted brother to his sister, Kay.
"He was a wonderful priest," said Bill Bishop, a former parishioner. "He always had a smile on his face and he would work tirelessly every day. He maintained a full schedule every day even in retirement. The people of Our Lady of the Valley Parish just loved him."
Most recently, he lived in Rochester, helping out at St. Anne, Rochester, and Our Lady of Lourdes, Brighton.
Father Kanka lay in state Oct. 21 and 22 at St. Ann’s, 31 Erie Ave., Hornell. A funeral liturgy was celebrated there by Bishop Matthew H. Clark Oct. 22 and was followed by committal prayers and interment, with military honors, at St. James Cemetery in Trumansburg.
Surviving are his sister, Kathryn "Kay" Kanka of Rochester; and his cousins, Kathleen (Soren) Thomas, Gertrude Houston, Eleanor Houston and Emmett Houston.
Memorials may be made to the Madonna House, 2888 Dafoe Road, Comberemere, Ontario KOJ1L0, Canada.