By Colleen Rahill-Beuler
Last month Buffalo said goodbye to an inspirational, holy, kindhearted man, Rev. Ronald Sams, SJ. Father Sams was our “family priest.” He became acquainted with my parents when he and Dad went to Canisius High School together. Family lore had it that Father Sams was Mom’s date for her Holy Angels prom (a story neither parent confirmed or denied).
After my parents married and Father Sams was ordained, he baptized a slew of baby Rahills, married us, married our children, said countless Masses for us in churches, living rooms and backyards, and anointed Mom and Dad prior to surgeries, as well as hours before their deaths. Simply said, he was always there for us.
His funeral Mass, attended by over 600 people, made me realize that our “family priest” was also countless others’ family priest. There was a reason St. Michael’s was packed with mourners and those coming to show their respect. That reason? Father Ronald Sams was a true servant. He was a humble, gentle man who led with actions and encouraging words. He showed us how to live with and for one another.
Father Sams’ mere presence was calming and reassuring. After he spent time with you, you knew that somehow everything would work out as it should.
There are countless lessons to be gained from Father Sams’ life. He did more than preach the Gospel – he lived it. He had a clear set of guiding values and a vision for what a Catholic, Christian life should look like. Yet, whatever his personal judgment may have been about questionable decisions or choices that were made by others, he treated people with respect and kindness and provided graceful direction when it was needed.
Father Sams gave tirelessly to his communities. He taught at Regis High School in Manhattan, played a pivotal role in establishing McQuaid Jesuit High School in Rochester and was the director of development at Buffalo’s Canisius High School. While at Canisius he helped create GAMBIT, one of Canisius’ most important fundraisers.
The two roles I remember the most of Father Sams were his missionary work in Guam and his leadership at St. Michael’s Church on Washington Street in Buffalo.
Father Sams would regale us with his stories of the people of Guam. In telling his stories of missionary work he would laugh at his own foibles, be amazed by the resiliency of the people of Guam, and express genuine appreciation in the opportunity to be immersed in their culture and learn from them as they undoubtedly learned from him.
He shared his “treasures” from Guam with us and was an early inspiration for me to truly understand and believe in the importance of not judging others until you have walked in their shoes.
Father Sams taught me that much is expected from those to whom much has been given. This is a life lesson that is too often cast aside in our quests for “self-fulfillment” or self-centered righteousness.
Father Sams accepted the role of pastor of St. Michael’s at the age of 75! His energy and stamina were that of a 25-year-old. He served in this capacity until he was 85 years old.
Father Sams had the secret to eternal youth – he was hard to keep up with. At his funeral Mass we were reminded of words spoken by Pope John XXXIII: “Do not walk through time without leaving worthy evidence of your passage.”
The evidence of Father Sams’ legacy was loud and clear on July 1 in the form of 600-plus individuals, each deeply and personally touched by this remarkable man.