Longtime Rochester priest dies from complications of ALS

Father Lawrence Tracy was 78 years old. (WHAM photo)

Father Laurence Tracy, a longtime Rochester Catholic priest and tireless advocate for the Puerto Rican community, died Thursday morning from complications of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

"I lost a friend, I lost a mentor, I lost a spiritual adviser," said Julio Vasquez, who has worked along side Fr. Tracy for decades.

Ordained in 1966, Father Tracy was a priest with boots on the ground. In the 1960s and 70s, he took his faith and activism to the neighborhoods and homes of Rochester's Hispanic community. He became fluent in Spanish, first leading a fight for migrant workers, then for bilingual education in Rochester City Schools.

"We say he was more Puerto Rican than some of us because he understood the culture and the language and the history," said Vasquez.

Fr. Tracy was also a champion of the poor. "He saw folks most in need as the ones we should be focusing on and want to help. He just saw the humanity in all of us," said Julio Seanz. That's a lesson he cold not fully understand as a little boy sitting in the pew at St. Michael's. Fr. Tracy was his priest.

Now, he says it has shaped his adult life, working at Ibero-American Action League - which Ft. Tracy helped build. Earlier this year, when they named the building on East Main Street after him, Fr. Tracy's struggle with Lou Gehrig's was clear. His ability to speak, the very voice that long stood up for this community, would be lost.

It did not stop his mission. "Up until a few days ago, when he went to the hospital, he still had his door open. Anyone that didn't have a place to stay or something to eat could come into his home even when he was in a wheelchair," said Seanz.

"We were chatting of what Jesus would be like if he were to live today, and without hesitation I said, 'That's Fr. Tracy.' He ministered to the homeless and the needy and would also care about social justice," said Vasquez.

The Diocese of Rochester released a statement about Tracy's death about 'Padre Tracy.'

Father Tracy faithfully served the Diocese of Rochester as a priest for more than 50 years. His ministry was especially dedicated to serving the Rochester Hispanic community, who affectionately called him “Padre Tracy.” He was not only a spiritual mentor, but a friend and ally of thousands of families over his many decades of service and he made a positive difference in the community. We deeply mourn his loss.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said in a statement: "If any man deserved sainthood, it was Father Tracy. He was a man of integrity, wisdom, love, but most of all, faith. He truly embodied and lived God’s Word. He did so much for our Hispanic and most challenged communities – from housing to advocacy to employment to prayer. He gave a voice to those who felt their voices were not heard."

Father Tracy was 78 years old.

Arrangements are as follows:

Viewing: August 20, 21 - 2PM to 7PM at St Michael's Church

Funeral: August 22 - 10AM at St Michael's Church (Overflow at St. Michael's Hall)

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