But there was another class to which Frank Woolever belonged, and
who were also in attendance at his funeral Mass. Woolever, a lifelong
Syracusan and a dedicated activist who brought his humble brand of
intelligence and kindness to whatever he did, passed away on July 5 at
age 77. He left his mark on so many areas of civic life, among them
low-income housing, treatment of prisoners, substance abuse, family
therapy, dignified housing for the homeless, amateur athletics, racial
justice, police-community relations, and the struggle for peace in
Central America, Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s a full life.
He belonged to a class of men who came of age in a church struggling
with itself. They entered religious life in a time when priests spoke
Latin and faced the wall and found themselves serving in a world they
had to look squarely in the eye and speak to on its own terms. They
grew up in the world of separate but equal and came to serve in a
society in which African Americans insisted on genuine equality. They
grew up during “the Good War” and were forced by a younger generation,
and by the presence in Syracuse of a Jesuit named Daniel Berrigan, to
cast a critical eye on the cauldron of violence our nation was stirring
in Southeast Asia.
These were men who took vows of obedience and of celibacy and were
later forced to ask themselves if there was not something greater
calling them to step outside the bounds of the priesthood as Rome
understood it. Many remained within the ordained ministry. Others, like
Frank Woolever, left the celibate priesthood and continued to serve.
If we look at the landscape of Syracuse today, it is hard to imagine
what our town would look like without the dedicated efforts of those
who, like Woolever, chose to leave the celibate priesthood and continue
a life dedicated to service. Any number of social service agencies and
social change organizations have been founded, supported and nurtured
by this class of priests, most of whom were forced to choose between
the role the church would allow them and the family life they yearned
The man who delivered Woolever’s eulogy was Bill Cuddy, a priest of
Woolever’s generation, now married, who has devoted his entire life to
the lives of prisoners, nurturing the Jail Ministry program from its
infancy. Near the Woolever family sat Dick Keough, a former priest who
for years ran the HELP (Help Ex-
Offenders and Low-Income People) program for newly released inmates and
currently serves families of the ill and hospitalized through Sarah
House. David Pasinski, who was a priest at the Cathedral of the
Immaculate Conception as a young man before leaving and getting
married, later served as a chaplain for Hospice and currently directs
Huntington Family Services, just across the street from where the
funeral Mass was being held.
The list goes on and on. The pews at Woolever’s funeral contained a
collection of experienced and talented men and women who never stopped
stretching their definition of service. You cannot turn over a stone in
Syracuse without finding traces of the good works done by former
priests and nuns, not to mention those who considered the ministry but
were put off by the demands of compulsory celibacy. In health, in
education, in human services, in government—their marks are everywhere.
Like Frank Woolever, they went about their work quietly, but with
The Roman Catholic priesthood remains still the one profession that
makes celibacy a job requirement. That such a rule persists in a time
when church doors are being shuttered for lack of priests remains a
mystery to many. Fortunately for all of us, men of Frank Woolever’s
class did not let that obstacle keep them from doing the work they saw
needed doing. He rests now in peace, leaving the rest of us to carry on.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary weekly in the Syracuse New Times.