At 98, Msgr. Francis Glimm was the oldest priest in the Diocese of Rockville Centre. He was also one of the most influential in the history of the diocese, church officials said, spending a half-century teaching at the diocese's seminary and helping to form hundreds of priests, deacons and lay people.
No one ever taught there as long, said Msgr. James McDonald, a former rector of the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington. He started in 1943 and stopped in 1993. "He was probably the most legendary teacher in the history of the seminary," McDonald said. "He was an institution. He had a towering intellect and an even more towering spirituality."
Glimm died July 12 at the adult home where he had lived run by the Missionary Sisters of St. Benedict in Huntington. A funeral Mass was celebrated July 17 at the seminary.
One of the ironies of Glimm's life was that, while he had so much impact on the church on Long Island, he was little known outside the seminary, said Msgr. John Bennett, pastor of St. Patrick's parish in Huntington where Glimm often celebrated Masses. "A lot of people on Long Island probably didn't know him or know of him," Bennett said. "Yet, in a very unpublicized way he's had a tremendous influence of many, many years on the life of the church on Long Island."
Glimm was also known for a huge collection of books he amassed over decades and kept stored at the seminary, McDonald said. No one is certain how many there were, but it could easily have been 10,000 or more, he said.
Deacon Fred Sykes of Sacred Heart Parish in Cutchogue wrote in that parish's bulletin last Sunday that he was one of the people who had the task of organizing Glimm's books when Glimm left the seminary. He noticed that most were underlined - and he later learned Glimm often wrote to publishers to gently suggest corrections.
"He was the most brilliant person I ever met," Sykes wrote. "He was a true Renaissance man."
Glimm was born in Brooklyn in 1912 and eventually studied for the priesthood partly in Rome, where he was ordained in 1935. He went on to serve as an associate pastor at St. John the Evangelist in Brooklyn, until he was assigned to the seminary in 1943.
His interests were extremely varied - he mastered Latin, Greek, French and German, for instance, McDonald said - and he tried to instill some of that curiosity in his students. Sykes recalled one night at about 2 a.m. he knocked on the doors of the seminarians to get them to watch a spectacular meteor shower.
"Some people are a jack-of-all-trades, but master of none. Msgr. Glimm was a master of all," Sykes wrote. "He had an insatiable appetite for knowledge and absorbed all he came across. He could have been a college professor in a dozen subjects from theology to history to philosophy to psychology."