As a priest Jim served as Assistant Pastor of St. Lucy’s Church, Syracuse (1956-63), then on the faculty of a brand-new Rome (N.Y.) Catholic High School, first as Guidance Director (1963-67), then as Principal (1967-71). He was a priest in residence at St. Peter’s Church in Rome, N.Y. (1963-66) and was part-time pastor of St. Mary’s, Florence, and St. Paul’s, Redfield (1966-1971). Jim was founding pastor of Pope John XXIII Church in Liverpool, a/k/a St. John’s Church, oversaw construction of the rectory (1971), church (1973), and rel. ed. addition (1979), while parish membership grew from around 240 families in 1971 to over 1,400 families in 1984. In the 1970’s Jim was active in several diocesan, statewide and national associations of priests, including one term (1976-78) representing priests of New York and New England on the (mainly lay) U.S. Catholic Bishops Advisory Council. Jim resigned from active ministry in January 1984 in order to marry.
Jim married Sharon K. Alexander in August, 1984. He completed legal studies at Syracuse University College of Law in May, 1985, and was admitted to practice law in February 1986. Jim’s entire legal career (1985-2020) was spent in the law office led by his friend Dennis G. O’Hara, known in 1986 as O’Hara, Felice: & Crough, later as O’Hara, O’Connell & Ciotoli. Jim practiced civil law, particularly Education Law, real estate purchases and sales, estate planning and estate administration, tax assessment matters, and municipal finance. He retired from the practice of law in 2020.
Jim was a Democratic activist from the age of 15. He served as CoChair or Vice Chair of CNY campaigns of Governor Carey in 1978, Ted Kennedy in 1980 and Mario Cuomo in 1982. From 1988 to 2018 he served many terms on the NYS Democratic Committee and, in 2016-18, on its Executive Committee. In 2018 the Onondaga County Democratic Committee honored Jim with a lifetime achievement award.
Jim is survived by his wife Sharon K. O’Connell, their sons, James A., of Skaneateles, and Daniel J. of Rochester, his sister, Helen M. (George) Lettko, of Troy, twenty nieces and nephews (9 Wilsons in Albany, 6 Holtons in Watervliet, and 5 Lettkos in Troy) and numerous other relatives and friends. He was predeceased by his parents and by two of his sisters, Betty (Fred) Wilson and Mary (Tom) Holton.
The family will welcome relatives and friends for calling hours from 10:30 A.M. to 12:00 noon on Saturday, February 22nd at St. Mary’s of the Lake Church, 81 Jordan St., Skaneateles, with a Mass of Christian Burial at 12:00 noon. A spring burial at St. Mary’s Cemetery at the convenience of the family. No flowers please. Memorial donations, if any, may be directed to Friends of St. Mary’s Florence (a 501c3 corp.), Community Bank, 41 Harden Blvd., Camden, NY 13316.
To send condolences, visit robertdgrayfuneralhome.com.