The Rev. Msgr. Francis R. Seymour, in residence at St. Cecilia Church, Kearny, for the last 30 years — and the only archivist in the history of the Archdiocese of Newark — died Thursday, Dec. 27, following a cardiac event and trauma suffered in a Dec. 22 car crash in Bayonne.
He was 81.
Five years ago, when Msgr. Seymour was celebrating the 50th anniversary of his 1963 ordination to the priesthood, this newspaper offered a look back at his life and priestly ministry in a feature story written by Karen Zautyk.
The following is excerpted from that story along with new additions.
Msgr. Seymour spent 5+ decades as a priest, a career that saw him serve as pastor or administrator of 31 parishes in the Archdiocese of Newark and in various other archdiocesan posts, working alongside countless members of the clergy, religious sisters and laity.
The monsignor 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, then in Mahwah, and was ordained by Archbishop Thomas Boland on May 25, 1963, at Sacred Heart Cathedral (now Basilica), Newark.
His first parish assignment was at 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 and also an assistant to the Matrimonial Tribunal. At that time, he took up residence at Holy Cross rectory in Harrison.
He was named a monsignor in 1979 by the-late Pope John Paul II.
Eleven years later, he was appointed secretary to Archbishop Peter Leo Gerety, a position the monsignor held until Gerety’s death in 2016. At the time, the archbishop emeritus was the oldest living bishop in the world — at 104.
Seymour served as a commentator on Channel 9 during Pope John Paul II’s historic visit to New Jersey in 1995. He wrote articles for The Advocate, the newspaper of the archdiocese, and was also the chaplain to the Harrison Police and Fire departments.
On weekdays, the monsignor could be found at Walsh Library at Seton Hall University, South Orange, where he was “the first and only” archdiocesan archivist.
“You have to like what you’re doing,” Msgr. Seymour said in 2013 of his role as archivist. “I never had any formal training for this. The staff is trained. My knowledge is what I have lived through.”
That and he was blessed with an extraordinary memory. While many can’t recall what day it is, the monsignor could cite names from long ago and accurate significant dates.
Just as Msgr. Seymour apparently was born to lead a priestly life (“I never gave much thought to anything else,” he said), 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.”
In 2001, Msgr. Seymour said, he confided to then newly 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.”
Though an expert of all things historical, the monsignor was also known to be a current events buff. He said he read seven newspapers a day, plus 50 weekly papers and magazines per week, including this newspaper.
Sean R. McDonald, of Kearny, was the monsignor’s colleague at Saints from 2004-2009.
“Msgr. Seymour was a friend of mine for many years. There is a lot I can say about him but what stands out the most for me is that he was always present, he always seemed to be right where he was needed. Whether at an important Mass, a wake or funeral, a wedding or birthday party, a celebration or solemn remembrance — Msgr. Seymour was there.
“He was a gifted homilist, a priest’s priest, a legend in the Archdiocese of Newark where he faithfully served for more than 50 years. I will miss his wit and his wisdom. He has fought the good fight, he has finished the race, he has kept the faith. May he rest in peace.”
Linda Dalzell Guziejewski, a long-time parishioner at Saints, recalled that Msgr. Seymour also had a great sense of humor. Her family, including sister Lori Dalzell Grant, had him over for a holiday gathering not too long ago.
“A few years ago, Msgr. Seymour stopped by with Fr. Mike (Ward) for a burger on the 4th of July,” she recalled. “We were sitting in the backyard when monsignor asked if I had a bathroom. I said ‘yes,’ and brought him into the house. His response was ‘Good! Every Catholic house should have one!’”
Like the Dalzell sisters, Omar Oscar Fernandez has also been a long-time parishioner at Saints. Fernandez, who will experience the sacrament of marriage at the Kearny Avenue church this week, took time to reflect on monsignor’s life and impact on his own life.
“He was always the ‘tall priest’ at St. Cecilia, but what I will always remember about him is his awesome sense of humor. Once you got to know him, he had jokes and great one-liners. Also, for the past couple of years, we had a tradition of going to dinner every Good Friday. We always had great conversations about life, faith and the Church. I will miss him tremendously.”
Harrison’s James P. Doran recalled Msgr. Seymour as a “true Harrisonian.”
“Msgr. Seymour … became a member of everyone’s family as he baptized, married and cared for many,” the Harrison councilman said. “He was a people’s priest who will be missed by many.”
Similarly, Laura Comppen, of Lyndhurst, a Harrison teacher, said she always looked forward to seeing the monsignor marching in March.
“I can remember Fr. Seymour from when I was a little kid,” she said. “And I always looked forward to seeing him marching in the St Patrick’s Day parade.”
Funeral arrangements are as follows:
Reception of the Body at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, 89 Ridge St., Newark, is scheduled for 2:30 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 30. Viewing will take place between 3 and 7 p.m. A vigil service will then take place starting at 7:30 p.m. The Rev. Marco F. Schad will deliver the homily. Viewing will resume on Monday, Dec. 31, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.
A Mass of Christian Burial for the repose of his soul is scheduled for Monday, Dec/ 31 at 10:30 a.m., at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark. The Most Rev. Manuel A. Cruz, regional bishop of Newark, will preside, and the Rev. Msgr. Franklyn M. Casale will be the homilist.
Following the funeral, Msgr. Seymour will be laid to rest in the Priests’ Circle of Holy Name Cemetery, Jersey City.
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.