IRONDEQUOIT — June 29 marked the coming together of a mutual admiration society: hundreds of parishioners, and the priests who served them for decades.
“An Evening of Thanks and Memories” took place in the St. Kateri Tekakwitha School gymnasium, with more than 350 people turning out to extend farewells and best wishes to clergy from the Congregation of St. Basil. Hugs and handshakes were in abundance — and although the gala event was mostly upbeat, expressions of sadness also were evident due to the Basilians’ longtime service in Irondequoit formally ending two days later.
“I just have to keep myself from crying,” remarked Maryfran Fettinger, event organizer, as guests poured into the school gym located at Christ the King Church.
The evening’s program was hosted by Michael Theisen, a member of St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish who also is the former diocesan director of youth ministry. Video and slide presentations were combined with several speakers coming forward to share their memories about the Basilian priests who have served their parish.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Father Paul English, CSB, pastor of St. Kateri Tekakwitha since 2012, said of the sizable get-together. He was one of nine Basilian clergy in attendance; the others were Fathers Joseph Trovato, Morgan Rice, Norman Tanck, Albert Cylwicki, Dennis Noelke, Kevin Mannara, Thomas Dugan and Warren Schmidt.
The Basilians’ presence in the Diocese of Rochester dates back to 1927, when they began teaching at Aquinas Institute before taking over leadership of the high school in 1937. They went on to establish St. John Fisher College in 1948, and assumed priestly staffing for Christ the King Parish beginning in 1976. The religious order’s role in Irondequoit expanded in 2010 when St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish was formed; it comprises Christ the King, St. Cecilia and St. Margaret Mary churches along with the Latin Mass community at St. Thomas the Apostle Church.
However, in November 2018, Bishop Salvatore R. Matano announced that he had been informed by Father Kevin J. Storey, CSB, superior general of the Basilians, that the order would be leaving the parish due to declining priest availability. By that point, there no longer were Basilian priests teaching at Aquinas or St. John Fisher. The only Basilian currently active in the Diocese of Rochester is Father Mannara, who directs St. John Fisher’s campus-ministry program.
The new pastor of St. Kateri Tekakwitha is Father Lance Gonyo, a diocesan priest who comes to Irondequoit from the pastorate of St. Rita in Webster. Father English has relocated to Houston, Texas, to become the Basilians’ master of novices and scholastics, ministering to men in formation for the religious order. And Father Trovato, who had been a senior priest-in-residence for three decades, has moved to the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse.
These developments do not affect the two non-Basilian priests currently serving St. Kateri Tekakwitha. They are Father Evan Simington, parochial vicar; and Father Walter Cushing, senior priest-in-residence. Father Simington, a priest of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, also serves as parochial administrator of St. Alban’s Catholic Church, a group mostly made up of former Anglicans who use St. Cecilia as their worship space.
Whereas priestly staffing will continue at St. Kateri Tekakwitha, Fettinger is wistful that the group will no longer include the religious order that is near and dear to her.
“They have treated us like family,” she said of the Basilians.
Echoing that sentiment was another St. Kateri Tekakwitha parishioner, Ray Manuszak. A retired teacher from Aquinas, Manuszak recalled when his daughter, Keri Ann, died in 1990 at age 21 after a short illness. He was surprised and deeply gratified to see nine Basilian priests on hand for her funeral Mass.
“They’re always there (for people),” Manuszak said of the Basilians.
Fathers English and Trovato had equally kind words for the St. Kateri Tekakwitha community.
“There are so many good people here, and we’ve really accomplished a lot together,” Father English said. “I love all these people.”
Meanwhile, Father Trovato noted that his time at St. Kateri Tekakwitha ended up equaling his tenure as a language professor and chaplain at St. John Fisher: 30 years at each place.
“This has been a beautiful experience, to work for the parish and getting to know the people,” Father Trovato said of St. Kateri Tekakwitha. “They’re a great joy, a great blessing.”