SARATOGA SPRINGS — Rev. (Cornelius) Neil J. Draves-Arpaia, 65, passed away Monday, April 14.
Born on April 4, 1949 in Saratoga Springs, he was the son of Rose Arpey Draves and the late Kenneth R. Draves. His maternal grandparents, Vincenzo and Cristina Cappella Arpaia (Arpey), were immigrants from the commune of Formicola in the Province of Caserta, Italy.
Fr. Neil was supremely proud of his Italian ancestry and made family history and genealogy one of his great interests. His early years were spent in his grandmother’s Italian grocery store on the corner of Elm and Oak Streets in Saratoga. In this environment, he observed the art of storytelling from his grandmother and his beloved uncle, Joseph C. Arpey, whom Fr. Neil considered his first and best mentor.
Educated in local public and Catholic schools, he graduated from St. Peter’s Academy (Saratoga Central Catholic), class of 1967. Under the guidance of the late M. Helen Doherty, he began to devour the writings of Willa Cather, who remained for him a lifelong literary interest.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in English from Marist College, Class of 1971. During these college years, Father’s commitment to non-violent living intensified and his unwavering respect for human life blossomed into a lifelong dedication to personal pacifism.
He prepared for the Roman Catholic priesthood at St. Mary’s Seminary and University, in Baltimore, where he earned a Master’s of Divinity. During these years, Father taught in the English Department of Mercy High School in Baltimore. Following seminary training, he worked for the Saratoga Springs Police Department, being the original visionary for the Juvenile Aide Division program, which became a pilot program for the state of New York. He also worked as Student Advocate for the Saratoga Springs Junior and Senior High Schools from 1977-78.
Fr. Neil was ordained into the Roman Catholic priesthood for the Diocese of Phoenix on May 19, 1979, by the Most Rev. James Rausch, at the Cathedral of Sts. Simon and Jude, Phoenix. He celebrated his first Mass on May 27, 1979 at St. Peter’s Parish, Saratoga Springs. Since 1985, he has been a Mercy Associate of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.
Earning a master's degree in Christian spirituality from Creighton University in 1984, he did advanced graduate studies in theology and psychology at Boston College. From 1986-1991 he taught as adjunct faculty in the School of Education, Boston College.
His priestly assignments in the Diocese of Phoenix included Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Scottsdale, Xavier College Prep, and St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, both in Phoenix. He also served as Director of Continuing Education for Clergy for his diocese, and assisted in various Mexican parishes. Fr. Neil was a frequent presenter in adult spirituality at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Paradise Valley, Arizona, where he preached his first retreat in 1979. Subsequently, he devoted himself to adult spiritual direction and retreat ministries becoming an internationally known retreat director. Over the course of thirty years, Fr. Neil preached retreats and parish mission through the United States and Canada. His reputation as a prolific preacher and storyteller was vast. His personal dedication to justice for immigrants was unflinching beginning with his apprenticeship at the Italian Catholic Center in Paterson, New Jersey in 1974.
Fr. Neil served on several commissions, boards and committees including the Albany Diocesan Peace and Justice Commission, the Phoenix Diocesan Liturgy Commission, the board of Catholic Charities of Saratoga, Warren and Washington Counties, the Phoenix Diocese Catholic Charities Advisory Council, the Hispanic Advisory Board for the Diocese of Albany, and the Ethics Committee of St. Joseph’s Hospital, Phoenix, and the Albany Diocesan Committee for the Continuing Education of Priests.
He also served for a brief period as spiritual care-giver for Hospice of Saratoga in the early 1990s.
From 2005-12 Fr. Neil served as Director of Whole Community Catechesis for St. Clement’s Parish, was Catholic sacramental minister for Skidmore College and in 2009 was appointed Catholic Chaplain for the Saratoga Springs Fire Department. In November 2012, he was appointed administrator of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Northville and St. Joseph Parish, Broadalbin.
His two collections of intercessory prayers, “Graciously Hear Us” and “Come Light Our Hearts,” published through Ave Maria Press, are known throughout the English speaking world.
Fr. Neil’s greatest love was celebrating the Eucharist for God’s people and proclaiming the good news that God is rich in mercy. His heart’s singular desire was to be a priest to the honor and glory of God and the good of the church.
In addition to his father, he was predeceased by his maternal uncles and aunts, Dominick Arpey, Frank Arpey Sr., James Arpey, William Arpey Sr., Patrick Arpey, Joseph Arpey, Antonio Arpey, and Agostino Arpey; his maternal aunts, Antoinette Arpey Bardino, Mamie Arpey Doty and Mary Arpey Pietruccia, all of whom he held in high esteem.
Survivors include his mother, Rose Arpey; one sister, Nadine Draves, both of Saratoga Springs; two nephews, Paul Pugh II and Jeffrey Pugh; his niece, Sarah Attanasio; one uncle, Joseph Pieturccia; his Godson and great-nephew, Jordan Pugh, two great-nieces, Julia Pugh and Adelyn Pierce and many cousins.
Reception of the Body will be at 4 p.m. Monday, April 21 in The Church of St. Peter, 241 Broadway; relatives and friends may call at the church until 7 p.m.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be 11 a.m. on Tuesday, April 22 in The Church of St. Peter. Principal Celebrant will be Most Rev. Edward B. Scharfenberger, Bishop of Albany.
Burial will follow in the family plot at St. Peter’s Cemetery, West Avenue.
Any memorials may be made in Father's name to Catholic Charities of Saratoga, Warren and Washington Counties, 142 Regent St. Saratoga Springs, NY 12866.
Arrangements are under the direction of the William J. Burke & Sons/Bussing & Cunniff Funeral Homes of 628 North Broadway (518) 584-5373.
Online remembrances may be made at burkefuneralhome.com.