Rev. Robert McNamara, historian, author, dies at 98

May 22, 2009

Rev. Robert McNamara, 1910-2009

Father Robert McNamara, the oldest priest in the Diocese of Rochester and a respected historian and writer, died in Rochester Friday, (May 22, 2009) at the Our Lady of Mercy Motherhouse infirmary. He was 98 years old and had served as a priest for 72 years.

Father McNamara was best known for his well-received and popular history, The Diocese of Rochester in America, a richly detailed history of the Diocese of Rochester. He also wrote a history of the famous Pontifical North American College in Rome, where seminarians from the U.S. study in preparation for service as priests. Both works are considered outstanding among institutional histories in the Church.

“I am greatly saddened by Father McNamara’s death,” Bishop of Rochester Matthew Clark said. “He was our oldest priest at 98, and we were blessed with his ministry for 72 years. We were graced by his prowess as a writer, researcher, historian and archivist, and his magnificence as a minister and servant of God.”

Father McNamara was born on Nov. 3, 1910, in Corning, N.Y. He held degrees from Georgetown University (1932), Harvard University (master’s in literature, 1933) and the Gregorian University in Rome (Licentiate of Sacred Theology, 1936). He attended the Pontifical North American College in Rome as a seminarian.

He was ordained a priest on Dec. 8, 1936.

Father McNamara served as assistant at the former St. Frances Xavier Church in Rochester early in his career, as well as on the editorial staff of the Catholic Courier newspaper and as chaplain at St. Anne’s Home, Rochester. He also served as a history, Italian and liturgy professor at the former St. Bernard’s Seminary on Lake Avenue, Rochester until the seminary closed in 1981, and for many years was the diocesan archivist. In 1999, at the age of 88, he laboriously researched and updated his original 1968 history on the the Diocese for a new, expanded edition.

On Wednesday, May 27, Father McNamara will lie in state at the Mercy Motherhouse on Blossom Road, Rochester, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. with Evening Prayer at 7 p.m. On Thursday, May 28, he will lie in state at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, 4536 St. Paul Blvd., Irondequoit, from 9:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m. immediately followed by his funeral Mass, at which Bishop Clark will preside.

Interment will be in the family burial plot in Corning.

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