Remembering, missing Father Robert McNamara
I write on the eve of the Mass of Christian Burial to be celebrated for Father Robert McNamara on Thursday at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Irondequoit.
At his death, he was the oldest priest in our diocese. He would have celebrated his 99th birthday on Nov. 3. That’s a generous number of years by any measure.
While we’ll miss him as the senior member of our presbyterate, none of us begrudge his departure to eternal life. In his last days, he grew weaker and weaker. When his moment came, he left us quietly and in great peace.
We’ll also miss his lively presence. Although his body weakened in recent years, his lively spirit, concern for others and very sharp mind continued to shine as they had all through his life.
I first came to know Father McNamara during my studies at St. Bernard’s Seminary in the school years of 1957 and 1958. He was a professor of church history in those days. What I remember most about him was his bright disposition and his kindness toward his students.
In those days, faculty members at St. Bernard’s -- and I think at most seminaries -- were not encouraged to much interaction with students outside the classroom. We had a detailed daily schedule of classes, meals, spiritual exercises, recreation and study. We were expected to devote ourselves to that pattern. The members of the faculty noted how we did all of this and made their judgments about us based primarily on those observations. Father Bob was among the many priests on faculty who observed the formal protocols of that era but who did so leaving us aware that they cared very much about us.
In my years as bishop here, I had the opportunity to see that warm, outgoing aspect of his personality in a fuller way. He always had an encouraging word and was timeless in his desire to assist researchers from all over the country who wanted information about our diocese or his advice about how to go about the process of writing the history of their diocese or parish.
In addition to providing such assistance to other researchers and writers, Father Bob did a great deal of writing himself. I have heard his histories of the Diocese of Rochester and the North American College are widely regarded as significant contributions to the history of the church in the United States.
Academia was not his only interest. For years, while serving on the faculty of St. Bernard’s Seminary, he assisted on weekends at St. Salome Parish in Irondequoit. For most of his retirement years, he lived and served at St. Thomas the Apostle. In both parishes he was beloved by the people among whom he developed a wide network of friends.
For the last seven years, Father Bob found a very happy home with the Sisters of Mercy on Blossom Road in Brighton. There he enjoyed warm hospitality, the chance to socialize with other residents, and the freedom to continue his research and writing.
If God favors any of us with close to 99 years of life, I hope that we can live them as fully and enjoy them as much as Father Robert McNamara did -- right to the end.
May he rest in peace.
Peace to all.