4/8/2010 YEAR FOR PRIESTS Pastor is always busy with service, sacraments
BY PETER FEUERHERD Correspondent
Rev. Francis "Frank" O'Connor, pastor for the past eight years of St. Joseph's Church in Stuyvesant Falls and Stottville, was ordained for the Albany Diocese in 1962. He has served as pastor of St. Patrick's and St. Joseph's parishes in Albany and as chaplain for Albany Medical Center.
When and why did you realize you wanted to become a priest?
I grew up in a home where the Church was the main thing. I attended Vincentian Institute in Albany from sixth grade through high school. I had four sisters and a brother. Dad ran a restaurant on State Street in Albany, O'Connor's. It was a well-known establishment. My mother went to church every day.
To me, living for God was what life was all about. We said the Rosary. My mother would close the door every night and pray for an hour. I really came to admire her for that - I didn't see another way [other than priesthood]. The priesthood was a way to serve God and preach the Gospel.
Who was your inspiration growing up?
My mother. She was a good, simple lady, very bright, [with a] good sense of humor. She would sing all the time and recite poetry.
What did your parents think about your goal of becoming a priest?
They were very much in favor of it. My father used to talk to me about priests. Whenever priests came into the restaurant, he wouldn't let them pay for a meal. In our Catholic culture, [the Church] was kind of all-encompassing.
Were your expectations met?
I don't know what my expectations were. I've been busy being busy.
Would you have done anything differently?
I was trained in a tradition that talked a lot about obedience. To do what I was asked to do was my expectation. Being a missionary was something I considered seriously, but the more I thought about it, [the more] I figured it was something more than I could do.
Still, I got a little chance at it: When I was at St. Patrick's, the parish was asked to host the Spanish Apostolate. I went down to Mexico and tried to learn Spanish. That's why I'm here in Stuyvesant Falls [which has a substantial Spanish-speaking community].
Who are the Latinos you minister to in Columbia County?
They are agricultural workers and restaurant workers. Every Sunday, we get more than 100 for Spanish Mass. We do four Masses in English and one in Spanish. Most of the Spanish-speaking community here comes from Mexico.
What's the most difficult part of being a parish priest?
I am a workaholic. Reining myself in and keeping a balance is hard.
What part of your ministry do you enjoy the most?
I spend a lot of time with the sick. Although I don't find funerals easy, I am gratified to help people at that time of their loss, and be with them in their suffering. The hardest part of being sick or dying is that you feel so alone. To show people they are not alone is a big help.
What do you do for fun?
I jogged for years. Now I want to preserve my knees, so I waddle, a cross between walking and running. I enjoy sports. I go to the Siena basketball games. I am a Red Sox fan, I like baseball. And I go to the movies once in a while, particularly with my sisters on Sunday.
What sacrament gives you the most peace?
I really enjoy the sacrament of reconciliation. Some people are very hard on themselves. You need to reassure them that forgiveness is what God is eager to do - to have a loving relationship with us, rather than have us live in fear.
What do you want others to know about what it's like being a priest?
It's a challenge. But I think living in fidelity to God is always a challenge. Being a husband or wife is a challenge, too. But priesthood has put me in a position where I really need to pray. I believe if I didn't pray, I would be a sham or a façade.
So prayer is essential to your vocation?
It's the heart of the matter. Without a personal relationship with Jesus, it wouldn't make any sense.
Musical pieces: Handel's "Messiah," the "Light Cavalry Overture"
Performer: Johnny Cash
Movie: "High Noon"
Sports: "I'm a Red Sox fan. I used to be a Yankees hater, but I gave that up. I think Yogi Berra is one of the greatest human beings who ever lived."
Last year, Pope Benedict XVI declared a "Year for Priests," which is "meant to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a stronger and more incisive witness to the Gospel in today's world." The Evangelist continues to report on the priesthood, as well as other vocations.