Priest, Musician Monsignor John C. Sanders, 93

STAMFORD—Reverend Monsignor John C. Sanders passed away today, January 6, 2019, the Epiphany of the Lord. He was 93 years of age.

“Known to jazz fans across the country as the priest who played in the Duke Ellington Band, Monsignor Sanders was also much loved in our own diocese as a humble priest and pastor who was grateful for the gift of his vocation. His remarkable life was a blessing and an inspiration to all of us,” said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano. “We ask for prayers for the repose of his soul and for the consolation of his family.”

John Conrad Sanders was born in Elmsford, New York, on June 30, 1925, son of Alexander and Agnes (Garcia) Sanders. He was baptized on July 19, 1925, at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Elmsford.

Following his graduation from the High School of Commerce in New York in June 1943, he served in the United States Navy at the U.S. Frontier Base in San Diego, California (1943-1945) and in U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School in Orinda, California (1945-1946). During his term of service, he played in the U.S. Navy Band and earned the rank of Musician Second Class. Returning to New York, he entered the Julliard School of Music and received a diploma in Trombone from the Orchestral Instrument Department in 1949. After completing his course work at Julliard, he worked as a trombone player, including playing in and touring with the Duke Ellington Orchestra from 1953-1959. He also worked as a classical music salesman for G. Schirmer, Inc. (1961-1962) and as the orchestral librarian at Julliard (1962-1965).

Pursuing his lifelong dream of being a priest, he began his priestly formation at Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut (1965-1968), and continued at Pope John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts (1968-1973). He was ordained to the Priesthood for the Diocese of Bridgeport by the Most Reverend Walter W. Curtis in Blessed Sacrament Church in Bridgeport on February 10, 1973.

He first served as Parochial Vicar of Blessed Sacrament Parish (1973-1974) and, in June 1974, was named Co-Pastor of Blessed Sacrament and appointed Diocesan Director of the Apostolate of African Americans. In June 1975, he was named Parochial Vicar of Holy Family Parish in Fairfield, while continuing his role in the Apostolate. In August 1985, he was appointed Parochial Vicar of Saint Mary Parish in Norwalk, where he served until his retirement in July 2000, including two terms as Temporary Administrator of the parish, one in February 1988 and another in October 1998. Throughout his years of priestly ministry in the Diocese, Monsignor Sanders also served on the Presbyteral Council, the College of Consultors, the Clergy Personnel Committee and the Advisory Board and Executive Committee of Catholic Charities.

Monsignor Sanders was appointed a Chaplain of His Holiness, with the title of Monsignor, by Pope Saint John Paul II on May 4, 1988. On May 22, 2005, Fairfield University conferred upon Monsignor Sanders an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in recognition of his contributions to the Church and to the world of music.

At the request of Monsignor Sanders, there will be no wake or Vigil Mass. The Funeral Mass will take place at Saint Bridget of Ireland Church in Stamford on Wednesday, January 9th at 11:00 AM. Bishop Frank J. Caggiano will be the principal celebrant and Monsignor William Scheyd will be the homilist.

Condolences and contributions in his memory to support retired priests can be sent to the Catherine Dennis Keefe Queen of the Clergy Residence, 274 Strawberry Hill Road, Stamford, 06902.

Click to read a profile of Msgr. Sanders from a 2018 “Catholic Culture” posting: