A funeral Mass will be offered March 3 at St. Joseph's Church, Troy, for Rev. Walter Baniak, who died Feb. 24. He was about to turn 102 and was the longest-tenured priest of the Albany Diocese, having been in religious life for more than 75 years.

A native of Troy, he served as an associate pastor at Sacred Heart parish in Arkville and St. Mary's and St. John the Baptist in Schenectady before becoming a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years. He returned to the Albany Diocese in 1965 and was named pastor of St. Paul's parish in Hancock and dean of Delaware County. In 1976, he became pastor of Holy Trinity parish in Troy, where he served until his retirement in 1992.

Even after retiring, Father Baniak continued to offer Masses in both English and Polish at various parishes, hear confessions and preside at novenas. A priest friend recalled a simple prayer Father Baniak wrote many years ago and recited often during the day: "Lord, I am me, but I am not mine. I belong to the one who made me. Lord, help me to know I am Thine."

Father Baniak once told The Evangelist that "my calling to the priesthood has given purpose to my life. Every moment, every day of my life is dedicated to performing my priestly ministry and serving the parishioners." Friends called him "the consummate priest" and "a man totally dedicated to prayer and to the people that he has served."

For his part, Father Baniak always said he was just grateful to serve and hoped his ministry would bear fruit. After the longest stretch of religious life in the Diocese, Father Baniak has well earned his rest. May he be welcomed into the heavenly kingdom as a "good and faithful servant."

Survivors include siblings Josephine Trela of Watervliet, Frances Printsky of Westmere, Caroline Babbett of Schoharie, Vincent of Troy and Victor of Minnesota. Interment will be in St. Joseph's Cemetery, Troy.