Papal honors bestowed on thirteen individuals at vespers service
By Claudia Mathis
Thirteen distinguished leaders in the Diocese of Syracuse received papal honors from Pope Benedict XVI on Feb. 3. The honors were bestowed on the Holy Father’s behalf by Bishop Robert Cunningham during a vespers service at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse. The presentation honored individuals from various regions and ministries of the diocese.
Bishop Robert Cunningham said he thought it was fitting to honor them as the diocese was celebrating its 125th anniversary. “It is a special occasion when people are honored and recognized by the Holy Father,” said Bishop Cunningham.
Papal honors were most recently presented in the Diocese of Syracuse to eleven clergy and two business leaders in 2006 and to four laypeople in 2008.
The Cathedral was filled to capacity Feb. 3 with the honorees’ families, friends and fellow parishioners.
The recipients included five clergy who were elevated to the ranks of Monsignor, bringing the total number of Monsignors in the Syracuse Diocese to 32. Rules dictate that not more than 10 percent of the priests in a diocese can be named Monsignor.
The title Monsignor is an honorary ecclesiastical title ordinarily bestowed by the pope on diocesan clerics in recognition of service rendered to the church. Monsignors are designated as members of the three ranks: Prothonotaries Apostolic, Honorary Prelates or Chaplains of His Holiness.
Mary Mihalko, a parishioner at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Binghamton, attended the special ceremony to honor her pastor, Msgr. John P. Putano, who was named Chaplain of His Holiness. “The hymns and readings were beautiful,” Mihalko commented.
Msgr. Putano is the Episcopal Vicar of the Southern Region of the diocese. He also serves as the pastor of the canonically linked parishes of St. Patrick and St. Thomas Aquinas in Binghamton. He has ministered as a priest of the diocese for over forty years, serving as a parochial vicar to St. John the Evangelist in Binghamton, St. Anthony of Padua in Utica, Our Lady of the Angels in Endwell, St. Mary of the Assumption in Binghamton, St. Margaret’s Church in Mattydale and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse. His first pastorate was at St. Anthony of Padua in Endicott and he also served as pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Vestal.
Msgr. Putano is a member of the Diocesan College of Consultors and the Presbyteral Council.
Msgr. Putano said that he was very surprised to learn he would be receiving papal honors last December. “I feel very grateful to the bishop,” he said. “It’s wonderful for the parishes and the people.”
Parishioners from his parish, St. Patrick’s and St. Thomas Aquinas, in addition to the parishes he served in the past, attended the special ceremony. “We love him,” said Mihalko. “He’s always there for his parishioners. “He’s been the glue that’s held St. Thomas and St. Patrick’s together and he’s moving them forward.”
Msgr. Putano is gratified by the work that has been accomplished in the southern tier during his service as Episcopal Vicar of the region. “We’ve done some good things down here,” remarked Msgr. Putano. “I’m happy about that.”
Msgr. J. Robert Yeazel was elevated to Honorary Prelate. Msgr. Yeazel serves as the Vicar General of the diocese and pastor of Holy Cross Church in DeWitt. Through his years of priestly ministry, he has served five bishops of Syracuse as Chancellor, Vicar for Priests and Pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Fayetteville. He was named Monsignor in 2006.
Msgr. Timothy S. Elmer was named Chaplain of His Holiness. Msgr. Elmer is the Chancellor and Judicial Vicar of the diocese. He is a member of the Presbyteral Council and the diocesan College of Consultors. During his 39 years of priestly ministry, in addition to his work in the Tribunal, he has served as pastor of St. Margaret’s Church in Mattydale, St. Patrick’s Church in Chittenango and as parochial vicar at St. Ann’s Church in Syracuse and Blessed Sacrament Church in Syracuse.
Msgr. Elmer said that he was surprised
and pleased when he heard that he would receive the papal honors. “There are so many other deserving priests in the diocese,” he said. “We all share the honor.”
Msgr. James P. Lang was named Chaplain of His Holiness. He is the Episcopal Vicar for Parishes. Msgr. Lang has served on various committees during his priesthood. They include the Priests’ Personnel Committee, the Priests’ Senate, the Diocesan Administrative Committee, the College of Consultors and the Diocesan Pastoral Council. He has also served as a parochial vicar, a Newman Club chaplain and campus minister at the State University of New York at Oswego and at Syracuse University.
Msgr. James T. O’Brien named Chaplain of His Holiness. Msgr. O’Brien currently serves as pastor of Pope John XXIII Parish in Liverpool. He has devoted over forty years of service as a priest of the diocese in pastoral ministry. He served as a member of the faculty at Bishop Ludden Jr./Sr. High School and as superintendent of the diocesan Catholic schools. He was the rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church in Syracuse. He serves on the Priests’ Personnel Committee, is Chairman of the Diocesan Presbyteral Council and is the Vicar of the Western Region of the diocese.
Eight individuals received the Pontifical Cross: Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (Latin: For the Church and the Pope). This medal is given for distinguished service to the church by laypeople, religious and clergy. It is the highest medal that can be awarded to the laity by the Papacy. The medal was established by Pope Leo XIII on July 17, 1888, to commemorate his 50th anniversary to the priesthood.
Sister Patricia Burkard, OSF, recently completed her term as General Minister of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities. She had previously served as Major Superior of the Third Order Franciscan Sisters of Williamsville. Under her leadership, four communities of the Franciscan Sisters merged to form one community.
Sister Marie Wilson, CSJ, is celebrating her 70th anniversary as a member of her community. She served as both teacher and administrator in the Syracuse Diocese Catholic schools. For the past 40 years she has served at St. Paul’s Parish in Rome, N. Y., serving as a Pastoral Associate, Parish Visitor to the Sick, Extraordinary Eucharistic Minister and as a volunteer wherever needed.
Kathleen (Tina) Dyer is the Executive Secretary to the Diocesan Pastoral Council, a volunteer position she has held for 20 years. She is a retired speech teacher in the public school system and has dedicated her retirement years to special service in the church. Dyer is a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Fulton.
Elizabeth Frank is a lifelong parishioner of St. Joseph-St. Patrick’s Parish in Utica. Frank has been a member of the secular Franciscans for the last 64 years, has attended daily Mass for decades and has shown special care for the elderly in the Utica community. She has organized devotion to Divine Mercy, Perpetual Adoration and prayer groups in her parish for over 20 years.
Frank feels truly honored to receive the Papal Honors. As a devout Catholic, Frank credits her strong faith formation to the religious education she received from the Franciscan Sisters when she was a child. When asked why she attends daily Mass, she replied, “I go to get strength — I need it to start every day.” Frank said that her faith mirrors her parents’ devotion to the Sacred Heart. She has displayed a photo of the enthronement of the Sacred Heart on her dining room wall, which was brought from her childhood home.
Virginia Lostumbo, a parishioner of Our Lady of Pompei-St. Peter’s Church in Syracuse, served as co-chairperson of the diocese’s 125th anniversary observance. She has served the diocese in many capacities over the years.
“I am very humbled to receive the honors,” said Lostumbo. “I’m amazed and awed that I’m included in a group of outstanding people. I feel that I am accepting not only for myself, but for my parents who taught their children to do service in our community.”
John Marshall is also a parishioner of Our Lady of Pompei-St. Peter’s Church in Syracuse and served as the co-chairman of the 125th anniversary observance of the diocese. John is an active member of his parish.
Mary Jane Osada has served as the Executive Assistant to the Director of Catholic\ Charities for over 35 years. During this time she has faithfully served six different diocesan directors and continues to work on a part-time basis in the Catholic Charities Office. “I love to come here every single day,” Osada said. She is a parishioner of St. Ann’s Church in Syracuse. “I feel very honored and excited to receive the Papal Honors,” she said.
Kathleen Pfaffenbach is a parishioner of St. James Parish in Johnson City and has worked 30 years for Catholic Charities. She is presently the supervisor of the two food pantries in Binghamton and Endicott.
Pfaffenbach has worked with young women, placing infants for adoption and assists those who work with the hungry, flood victims, and numerous needy families.
Pfaffenbach felt extremely humbled to receive the papal honors. “I don’t feel like I deserve this,” Pfaffenbach said. “When you do something you love, making people’s lives better, serving the clients is reward enough.”
In his homily, Bishop Cunningham said that several days before the vespers service, he thought of the words of St. Paul.
“There are different gifts for the same ministry,” said the bishop. “From various parts of the diocese, each has made a distinctive contribution and together they have served the faithful people of this diocese in a variety of ways.”
Bishop Cunningham said that the ceremony that day created “a chain of loving devotion that binds the priest, religious and laity of our diocese to the Holy Father.”