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Since 1732, the Redemptorists — a congregation of missionary priests and brothers — have followed in Jesus’ footsteps, preaching the Word and serving the poor and most abandoned.
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in memoriam

Fr. Sands, devoted to Mary, dies on her feast

Redemptorist Father Francis J. Sands, who was 88 years old, died of cancer Tuesday, Oct. 7, at St. John Neumann Residence in Saratoga Spings, NY. He was surrounded by confreres praying the rosary, a devotion that had been a favorite of his since childhood.

A Wake Service is planned for Thursday, Oct. 9, at 7 p.m. at St. John Neumann Residence. The Funeral Mass will be offered there the following morning at 11 o’clock, followed by burial in the Redemptorist Cemetery in Esopus, NY.

A native of Scotland and often referred to as "Scotty" by his confreres, Father Sands was born in Greenock, on the bank of the River Clyde, on Feb. 17, 1920. His parents, Francis J. and Bridget Callahan Sands, moved the young family to the United States, settling into Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Brooklyn.

After graduating from the parish grammar school, Father Sands was accepted as a student at St. Mary’s Seminary in North East, PA. He made his first novitiate in Ilchester, MD, and professed his first vows as a Redemptorist in 1942. He continued his studies for the priesthood at Mount St. Alphonsus in Esopus, NY, made his final profession of vows in 1945, and was ordained to the priesthood at Esopus on June 22, 1947.

A classmate of his, Father John Barry, said, "When I first heard that Frank had died, my first thought was that now his worries are over. From the first day at North East, he did enough worrying for the rest of us in the class. But this difficulty may have been a blessing because it led him to have a deep devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, and Mary saw him home safely on her feast day" (Feast of the Holy Rosary).

Father Sands began his priestly ministry in Puerto Rico, first at Fajardo, then in Vieques (1949-1951), back to Fajardo (1951-1956), an on to Caguas (1956-1961).

Returning to New York, he served until 1966 at St. Cecilia Church in East Harlem. He was sent to Tampa, FL, for a year, his first assignment in what is now the Vice Province of Richmond. In 1967 he was appointed to St. Clement Mission House in Ephrata, PA, where he served until 1974.

It was during his next assignment, to St. Joseph Church in Odenton, MD, that two young parishioners discerned their own vocations to the Redemptorist Congregation. Father Daniel Francis recalled serving at the altar there. "I was profoundly influenced by Scotty, as we called him," he said. "When I told my family about his death, they remembered him for the passion in his preaching." Father Sands did not forget his former parishioner; when Father Francis was a full-time mission preacher, he recommended him to a parish in Florida. "He came every night and helped with Confessions," added Father Francis, who remembered his elder confrere promoting the graces of the sacrament back in Odenton.

Father Kevin Murray also was a parishioner in Odenton. He remembers Father Sands as "very, very inspiring, a spiritual man and an outstanding homilist." His interest went beyond the people entrusted to his care at the parish: "He reached out to non-Catholics, helped them, and brought many of them into the Church," Father Murray said. He added that he was moved and inspired by Father Sands’s devotion to praying the rosary, to preaching about Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and to modeling his priestly actions on St. Jean Vianney, the Curé d’Ars. After serving eight years in Maryland, Father Sands was assigned to Mission Church in Boston. Two years later, he began more than a quarter of a century’s work in the South. He did parish work at Sacred Heart Church in Griffin, GA (1982-1991); Sacred Heart Church in New Smyrna Beach, FL; and St. James Church in Concord, NC, before going to St. Alphonsus Villa in New Smyrna Beach in 1999.

Richmond Vice Provincial Father Jerome Chavarria said, "He loved all the devotions; he was a man of prayer. Scotty was a nervous type and he battled it with prayer, knocking down the doors of heaven for peace. He had a fun side, too, and could be a real character. He loved to kid around."

Father Chavarria, who was visiting Father Sands at the time of his death, said that as his confrere grew older and sicker from cancer, he developed dementia. His illness "called us as a community to support him," he said. When it became clear that Father Sands needed nursing care, Sister Serafina, a Missionary Sister of St. Benedict and director of the nursing staff at St. John Neumann, flew to Florida to accompany him to Saratoga Springs. Father Chavarria said the confreres had some concerns about whether Father Sands would agree to move North. Sister Serafina said that when she asked, "Will you come with me, Father?" he replied with a smile, "With you, Sister, anywhere." ’I learned kindness from him," Sister Serafina said. "He never complained, even when he had to spend two weeks in ICU. He was so kind to all the nurses through everything he suffered." Father Chavarria, who recounted how Father Sands never missed spending two hours daily in the Villa’s chapel – "no matter how he felt, what the weather was, who might be visiting the Villa, how sick he might have been, even no matter how ’out of it’ he was because of dementia" – summed up the most important thing he learned about Father Sands:

"Our Father Scotty loved God and God loved Scotty! They were friends and old companions. God asked Scotty as a priest to share his love, his compassion, his mercy with God’s children and Scotty did the best job that he could. Scotty lived as God’s servant and died as God’s servant. Right to the end, his priesthood touched peoples lives."


Rev. Francis J. Sands C.Ss.R.

  • Born: February 17, 1920
  • Professed: August 2, 1942
  • Ordained: June 22, 1947
  • Died: October 7, 2008