By Karen Zautyk
Next month, the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Newark, will be the setting for a Mass of Thanksgiving in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the ordination of the Rev. Msgr. Francis R. Seymour, KHS (which in this case, despite this story’s dateline, does not stand for Kearny High School, but rather, Knight of the Holy Sepulchre).
Msgr. Seymour, who has been in residence at St. Cecilia’s in Kearny since 1988, was invested into the Knights of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre in 2010 at a ceremony in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York.
It is just one of many honors bestowed on him during his five decades in the priesthood, a religious career that has seen him serve at as pastor or administrator of 31 parishes in the Archdiocese of Newark and in various other archdiocesan posts, working with countless fellow members of the clergy.
In fact, if all those who are invited attend, there could be no fewer than 1,000 priests at the cathedral for the Sunday, June 9, commemoration. And the monsignor is on a firstname basis with all of them.
Presiding at the 3 p.m. Mass will be the Most Rev. Peter L. Gerety, Archbishop Emeritus of Newark.
Auxiliary Bishop Manuel A. Cruz will deliver the homily.
In the evening, Msgr. Seymour will be feted at a dinner at The Fiesta in Wood- Ridge.
The monsignor, now 75, was born in Bayonne, the son of George and Mary Boyle Seymour. Following graduation from Seton Hall University, he studied for the priesthood at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Mahwah and was ordained by Archbishop Thomas Boland on May 25, 1963, in Sacred Heart Cathedral.
His first parish assignment was to St. Charles Borromeo Church in Newark, where he served concurrently as Catholic chaplain at Beth Israel Hospital.
In 1969, he was named as the first Archdiocesan Archivist — a position he still holds — and also an assistant to the Matrimonial Tribunal. At that time, he took up residence at Holy Cross in Harrison and served as moderator of the parish Catholic Youth Organization.
He was named a monsignor in 1979 by Pope John Paul II.
Among the other highlights in Seymour’s curriculum vitae:
1973 – Appointed Vice Chancellor of the Newark Archdiocese
1974 – Named director of Catholic Relief Services 1980 — Rector of Sacred Heart Cathedral
1982 – Pastor of Guardian Angel Church, Allendale, where he also served as president of the Ministerial Association and chaplain to the Police and Fire Departments
1987 – Named Administrative Assistant to the Office of the Archbishop and as Director of Ministry to Retired Priests, with residence at Sacred Heart Cathedral Basilica rectory
1988 – Named Associate Director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith; took up residence at St. Cecilia’s
1990 – Appointed as Secretary to the Archbishop Emeritus, Peter L. Gerety
1994 – Named editor of the annual Directory and Almanac of the Archdiocese 1999 — Elevated to the rank of Prelate of Honor by Pope John Paul II.
2000 – Appointed full-time to Seton Hall University, where he continues his work as Archdiocesan Archivist
2009 – Named chairman of the New Jersey Catholic Historical Commission
In his “spare” time, Seymour has also worked on most of the major liturgical functions at the Cathedral Basilica, was a member of the Board of Trustees at Seton Hall and was secretary of the Archdiocesan College of Consultors. He served as a commentator on WOR-TV during Pope John Paul II’s visit to New Jersey in 1995. He writes articles for The Advocate, the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese. And he is also the chaplain to the Harrison Police and Fire Departments.
On weekdays, the monsignor commutes daily to South Orange, where, the Walsh Library at Seton Hall, he continues in his role as “the first and only” Archdiocesan Archivist.
“You have to like what you’re doing,” he said, adding modestly, “I never had any formal training for this. The staff is trained. My knowledge is what I have lived through.”
Well, that and what he has garnered through decades of study. Plus, he is blessed with an extraordinary memory. While some of us sometimes can’t recall what day it is, the monsignor can cite names from long ago and accurate significant dates.
While we were chatting with him in St. Cecilia’s rectory, he gave us a brief history lesson on the Archdiocese of Newark, which was created in 1937. But predating it was the Diocese of Newark, established in 1853 to include all of New Jersey. Until that year, northern New Jersey had been a part of the Archdiocese of New York; southern New Jersey, the Diocese of Philadelphia.
Just as Seymour apparently was born to lead a priestly life (“I never gave much thought to anything else”), he appeared destined to be an archivist.
In 1961, he started the archives for the Darlington Seminary. But long before, as a child in Bayonne, he already was culling and collecting information.
“When the other kids were out playing ball,” he said, “I was home, cutting out newspaper articles about churches and priests and putting them in a scrapbook.”
Back in 2001, Seymour said, he confided to thennewly appointed Newark Archbishop John J. Myers that “nobody knows what I’m supposed to be doing” as Archivist. “He told me to just keep doing what I’d been doing.” Seymour said.
Obviously, the plan has been working well.
Seymour explained that he basically oversees things and organizes the historical diocesan records. The archives, he noted, are now the repository for the baptismal records of all the Archdiocesan parishes that have been closed. Many of the individuals who contact the archives are doing genealogical research, “and there is a chance I might be of assistance,” either in finding the information sought or directing the person to where they might go for the data.
“I love doing this,” Seymour said. “Every day is different.”
The monsignor is also still chairman of the New Jersey Catholic Historical Commission, which was founded in 1976 to examine and study and produce a history of Catholic churches in the Garden State. Under its auspices, individual parishes have compiled their own histories, Seymour said, and recently the commission sponsored a program at Caldwell College to help people research and write these accounts.
But lest you think Msgr. Seymour is one of those people happiest living amongst dust-covered books, you should know that he is likely more up to date on current events than anyone else you might know.
He reads seven newspapers a day. Plus 50 weekly papers and magazines per week. (Including The Observer. Thank you, Monsignor.)
As for the future?
“I just hope to keep doing what I’m doing.”