On a brilliantly sunny fall day – with the strong wind reminding everyone of the weather to come – the Diocese of Buffalo celebrated its 175th Anniversary Mass for the Vicariate of Southeast Buffalo with Bishop Michael W. Fisher presiding.
The vicariate that encompasses 14 parishes on the East Side of Buffalo, South Buffalo and Cheektowaga was celebrated in Mass and song on Oct. 2 by a beautifully voiced choir with the full force of a traditional pipe organ at Our Lady of Charity Parish’s, Holy Family worship site.
Bishop Fisher took time out to praise the quality and power of the choir and remarked on the many contributions that these vicariate parishes have brought to the diocese since its founding in 1847.
Father Gregory Dobson, a retired diocesan priest, teased the congregation that his homily would be lengthy and consume most of the afternoon. He told them to settle in as nervous laughter filled the church.
His words outlined the history of the area, and he related how that history ties to the Road to Renewal program currently in effect in the diocese. Father Dobson spoke of the late Paul Fitzpatrick, renowned Bishop Timon High School football player and longtime coach, who said whether he played in a practice, a scrimmage or a championship game, “Coach I’m all in.” Father Dobson then turned to Bishop Fisher and said, “Bishop, when it comes to the renewal, I’m all in.”
Father Dobson said the vicariate parishes are a microcosm of the diocese – rich in diversity, tradition, custom and service.
“Our history here gives us some lessons on the road to renewal,” Father Dobson related.
Originally the land of the vicariate was Seneca Nation territory and following their forced resettlement, Buffalo city fathers wanted to open the frontier to the south and east for development. Craftsmen of German and Polish descent came from Buffalo’s East Side to build the roads and sewers of this new frontier on the city’s south side. A large farm, Tifft, dominated the landscape at that time. In deference to the Senecas, area streets have such Native American names as Oschawa, Tuscarora and Minnetonka. A streetcar ran down Seneca Street and in the early days of development, many German-owned businesses thrived, Father Dobson continued. German names adorned many thoroughfares in the neighborhoods including Hammerschmidt, Duerstein, Hayden, Norman and Zittel. The former St. John the Evangelist church on Seneca Street has German crosses on its stone floor built before the symbol was appropriated by the Nazis.
Father Dobson explained that as the area grew, large numbers of Irish Americans moved from Buffalo’s 1st Ward, Italian Americans came from Swan Street and a new influx of Polish Americans and German Americans resettled from the Kaisertown area of the city.
“It was an incredibly diverse area and such a Catholic community,” Father Dobson said. Many religious orders provided support to the people of the neighborhood. As time passed, a new sense of affluence emerged as residents secured good jobs in city hall, in the schools, the postal department, police and fire, recreation and streets departments.
“These residents had a commitment to the community and to the church. And they looked beyond the community marked by their hard work and sacrifice,” he continued.
What does this mean for the Road to Renewal? Let’s respect the past and acknowledge this diversity of this community and the diversity of parish traditions within it. Let’s extend it beyond Seneca Street, and beyond the East Side.
He encouraged attendees to get involved in the Renewal effort.
“We need your joy, we need your effort, we need your love, we need your leadership and organizational skills, your talent, and your support.”
And like Paul Fitzpatrick, Bishop, we are all in.
We are all called to pray for the Road to Renewal Our Lady of Mercy.