On Thursday, May 19, Father Francis R. Davis saw his life pass before his eyes — not in the traumatic sense, but actually quite the opposite.
Father Davis enjoyed a performance by 23 boys from All Saints Academy as they re-enacted his life, complete with period dress, at St. Mary’s Church in Corning. The special presentation was among several recent gestures honoring Father Davis on the occasion of his 85th birthday (which actually took place Feb. 10), as well as his 60th year as a diocesan priest and 25 years in Corning.
“It was very moving,” Father Davis said of the re-enactment.
In attendance were the All Saints student body (grades pre-kindergarten through 8) as well as several parishioners. Many of the younger students sat near Father Davis’ feet, as he looked on at the proceedings from a rocking chair that had been set up for him near the altar.
The school’s creativity was evident in the costumes and props, which portrayed Father Davis using such items as a croquet mallet, tennis racket, suitcase, fedora, altar vestments and other objects related to his past. Many of the ideas for these displays came from Father Davis himself, who had provided organizers with a short autobiography and photographs from different stages of his life. The priest noted that he got the photos from his sister, Janet, who still lives in the family homestead in Rochester.
“She ransacked the house from cellar to attic,” he remarked.
Seventh-grader Patrick Wilson, 13, dressed as Father Davis at the time of his ordination in 1945, recreating such memorable events as celebrating his first Mass and giving a blessing at his mother’s house.
“I felt really holy. With the whole school there I was a little nervous, but then I felt really good about myself,” Patrick said. “It was a lot of fun to be able to portray someone that great and special.”
Seventh-grader Quinton Clark, 13, portrayed the honoree as a retired priest.
“It was pretty cool, dressing up as Father Davis during his life and seeing what it was like,” Quinton said, adding that he got a thumbs-up from Father Davis afterward. “He said I did a good job.”
Father Davis is well-known in the Corning area, having served as pastor of the former St. Patrick’s Parish from 1980 until his 1990 retirement. He has continued to live in the city since that time, and currently resides at St. Mary’s Church. Patrick and Quinton noted that Father Davis is a highly regarded figure around the school and parish.
“I’ve altar-served at his Masses. He’s a really great guy, very patient and kind. We respect him,” Quinton said.
Students and staff also played music and presented cards and restaurant gift certificates to Father Davis. RoseAnn Ewanyk, school principal, said the assembly was arranged in part to remind students that “he’s not just a man in black. He’s very special and he’s lived a life, growing up just as they did.”
She added that Father Davis is a regular presence at All Saints Academy.
“Every Thursday, like clockwork, he has come to see the second-graders for many, many years,” Ewanyk said.
In addition to the school festivities, Father Davis celebrated a jubilee Mass on May 29 at St. Mary’s Church. A reception followed in the All Saints Academy gymnasium, where a large display featured photos of Father Davis that were submitted by family and parishioners.
“We had a high Mass with a joint choir, which sang with gusto. It was beautiful,” said Father Davis, noting that he was joined for the Mass by several concelebrating priests.
This series of jubilee festivities left Father Davis remarking that “it was really a high point” of his life.
“It was a celebration of priesthood, really,” he said.