South East Buffalo celebrates past, looks to future

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 Gregory Dobson delivers tells Bishop Michael W. Fisher and the diocese that is all in on the Renewal. Father Dobson delivered the homily at the South East Buffalo Vicariate’s anniversary Mass on Oct. 2 at Our Lady of Charity’s Holy Family worship site. (Photo by Joe Martone)

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. 

Knots begin to untie at second annual Renewal Mass

The Diocese of Buffalo is cruising down the Road to Renewal and picking up speed. During the second annual diocesan Renewal Mass, held Aug. 28 at the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels in Olean, Father Bryan Zielenieski, vicar for renewal, gave an update on the progress.

Several families of parishes have begun working together, sharing programs and holding gatherings. A Southern Tier family hosted a “Reunion Mass” with 250 guests. Pilot and Phase One families have started Life in the Eucharist programs. The Alpha Catholic program has come to Cheektowaga and Amherst.

“Creating understanding and enthusiasm is needed for our renewal and people in the parishes are realizing what the fruits of working together can be – better programming, greater participation, shared costs, greater understanding of the body of Christ at work,” Father Zielenieski said. “When we look at our presbyterates – our priests – we look at the growing conversation about future assignments. And what priests themselves have revealed to us is that they are actually excited and looking forward to renewal.”

Father Zielenieski also revealed some positive findings from the Disciple Maker Index survey that 19,000 people from the Diocese of Buffalo participated in over the summer. Eighty-seven percent of the people surveyed believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Eighty-eight percent believe Scripture is the living word of God. Eighty-six percent would recommend their parish to others.

“That means they find life and vibrancy in their faith communities. We need to know this in our diocese,” Father Zielenieski said.

On a sadder note, only 42 percent share their personal faith story with others, and 88 percent have never encouraged someone to consider the priesthood or religious life.

The afternoon Mass was preceded by praying the rosary. Parish representatives brought a length of rope that they knotted last year to mark the struggles of abuse, indifference, mistrust, faithlessness and isolation, then untied one of the five knots.

“The untying of a single knot is not identifying any one struggle and saying that it is resolved,” Father Zielenieski explained. “The untying of a knot is symbolic, signifying that the effort the body of Christ in our diocese has made throughout this past year. The people of God have prayed, sacrificed and served, so that the Diocese of Buffalo can be better and experience true renewal. That effort is recognized in the untying of our first knot.”

Bishop Michael W. Fisher served as main celebrant of a Mass along with 11 priests and two deacons joining him at altar. “Today our commitment to the renewal challenges us to put aside our pride and our selfishness and to do things different in order to make sure all are welcome and have a room at the Eucharist table,” Bishop Fisher said in his homily. “All of us are to be given an opportunity for spiritual rejuvenation, evangelistic sharing with others, the joy of our faith. Isn’t that what draws others to the table? Our joy, improving the ways we do things, and not letting our pride keep us from the inclusion of others, and opportunities to teach, to preach to sanctify, a wider group with our work. In collaboration with one another. Whether we belong to the basilica whether we belong St. Bonaventure Parish, whatever parish we belong to, we are one Church. We are a church of God. We are Catholic Church. We are church here in Western New York. Renewal is not easy. It challenges our pride in not allowing us to function only by ourselves. We’re dependent on any one person except for Christ. We continue to call upon that wonderful example of humility in our lives and in our Church, as we call upon our Blessed Mother, Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. Pray for us.”

Following the Mass, many attended a reception and socialized with friends and made new acquaintances. 

Bob Schumacher attends Holy Trinity in Medina, part of a Phase 1 family. He said things are going “pretty good.”

“We’re coming along. We have some difficulties here and there. Some of the older people have a hard time with the change,” he said, adding there are concerns that parishes may close.

The family met at a vicariate meeting. “We were talking about the things that we do. A lot of people thought some good ideas from us. We got some really good ideas from (the other parishes). So, I think it’s going to work out pretty well,” Schumacher said.

Second Renewal Mass in August

The faithful of the Diocese are invited to the second Renewal Mass which will be taking place on August 28th at the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels at 3:00 p.m. All representative are asked to bring their knotted ropes from the first Renewal Mass at Our Lady of Fatima Shrine as we will untie one knot. The undoing of a knot symbolizes the renewed life and hope of our diocesan renewal. If you have any questions or concerns please reach out to the Renewal team at renewal@buffalodiocese.org

Pastors sought for new Families of Parishes

The new Families of Parishes model will bring with it a new role for priests and laity serving in the Diocese of Buffalo. Currently, the diocese is seeking applications for pastors who will lead the 36 Families of Parishes. Currently, the diocese has 161 parishes.

The application to become a pastor of a Family can be found in the Clergy Portal at roadtorenewal.org. The fillable PDF can be submitted to PriestPersonnelOffice@buffalodiocese.org. Applications should be turned into the Priest Personnel Office by Monday, May 23 at noon. The priests that apply for a family will be interviewed by the Priest Personnel Office. This follows current procedures for naming a pastor.

Once pastors are assigned to a Family, the application process for parochial vicars and specialized parochial vicars will begin. Families will be posted with their respective pastor, so parochial vicars will know with whom they will be working.

The number of parochial vicars serving each family will vary. “Several factors were used to determine the number of priests per family – number of Catholics per priest, mileage expected to cover, and there were some specialized families with particular ministries,” explained Father Bryan Zielenieski, vicar for Renewal and Development.

Specialized parochial vicars who have a specific area of responsibility, such as the Catholic School in the family or the faith formation program, will also be named.

t is important to note that filling the role of pastor in the pilot Families is a top priority, so the pastors of those families will be announced first.

A very important note for all applying as a pastor of a Family is that the priestly compensation scale is currently under review. It has been recognized that with the expectations of a pastor in a Family, there needs to be fair compensation. The dialogue on this is currently underway and the Priestly Life Committee of the Renewal is working on this in conjunction with the vicar general and a recommendation will be made to the Temporalities Committee of the Presbyteral Council. The term for a pastor will be six years.

Priests can access data on each Family in the Families of Parishes Playbook found in the Clergy Portal. All information presented reflects the information submitted by parishes in a recent request. The Renewal Team has found that historical data on file with the diocese since Covid is not reliable or accurate. Some parishes do not have Mass times listed in the profile. It is recommended that for specific Mass times of parishes that you look at parish websites. It is important to note that in the Renewal, Mass times will be changing. Sacramental, financial and the other data provided is more important at this time.

Phase one of the Families of Parishes will begin this October.

Renewal training committee meet in prayer; prepare for ‘Life in Eucharist’ program

Led by Sister Joanne Suranni, CSSF, and coordinated by Theodore Musco, the event saw the training committee come together in prayer, much like the Families of Parishes will do when they participate in the Life in the Eucharist Program. The six pilot families will be given a training session at the end of May to learn how to implement Living the Eucharist into their parishes.

“Life in the Eucharist: Sacramental Reflections” is a five-session program that presents five specific themes framed in the categories of Celebration, Contemplation and Communion with the Suffering. Topics include God’s Love as nourishment in Jesus Christ; God’s love as Reconciliation in Jesus Christ; God’s love as Transformation in Jesus Christ; God’s love as Abiding Presence in Jesus Christ; God’s love as Mission in Jesus Christ. Meetings will take place on campus in the church or parish hall and are meant to create a bond among members of the new parish families through prayer.

Each family is required to participate in the Living the Eucharist program and a service project.

“It’s really to get them to come together; to bring the parishes together to unite under a common theme,” explained Musco, director of Renewal Mission, Evangelization, and Lay Formation. “We chose Life in the Eucharist because here in the United States we’re going to have the National Eucharist Revival starting at the Feast of Corpus Christi. So, it really fits in nicely.”

Over three years, every Catholic diocese, parish, school, apostolate, and family is invited to be a part of renewing the Church by enkindling a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

This Revival launches on the Feast of Corpus Christi, June 19. Over the next three years, dioceses will host Eucharistic Congresses and processions. Parishes will increase or begin Eucharistic Adoration. There will be a revival of faithful adherence to the liturgical norms in all their richness – the ars celebrandi. Families and friends will gather in small groups to learn and pray together. Missionary disciples will go to the margins, recognizing the mystery of Jesus’ presence in the poor.

All of this will culminate in the first National Eucharistic Congress in the United States in almost 50 years held July 17-21, 2024.

Progress in Key Areas

Since our first round of Renewal Gathering for Parish Lay Leaders in December 2021, we’ve been moving along the Road to Renewal, attending to the pastoral guideposts of mission, evangelization and lay formation. We are sharing this update as a means of demonstrating progress due to the dedication of many. 

Included in these areas is outreach to young adults including college and university students, youth and youth ministers, parish catechetical leaders including directors and coordinators of religious education for youth and adults, parishioners, those exploring the Catholic Church, and those interested in learning more about how to best evangelize and renew our Church.

We are glad to report the activity that has taken place in the following three areas:

Mission

A Lenten Morning of Reflection, led by Sister Louise Alff, OSF, consultant for evangelization, was held on Saturday, March 19,  at St. Joseph University Church in Buffalo. The theme for the morning was “May the dust of the Master cover you.” During the morning the group engaged in the theme through prayer, discussion and reflection. Additional times of reflection will be provided throughout the year in various locations throughout the diocese and will be promoted on our new formation website soon to be activated.

These times of reflection are available to everyone who is on the Road to Renewal, reminding us of the mission we have to follow Jesus.

Evangelization

Father Frank DeSiano, CSP, president of the Paulist Evangelization Ministries, has collaborated with me to develop a diocesan evangelization framework and a schema for evangelization. 

This framework provides the parish/family of parishes with a basic overview of principles of evangelization and missionary discipleship. Every parish/family of parishes implementation of this framework will be unique, based on history, resources and culture. The diocese and others will provide opportunities to learn more about implementation of this framework in the parish/family of parishes over a period of time so that the love of God becomes ever more present. 

The schema for evangelization indicates parish and family of parishes as well as diocesan level activities, initiatives and goals all based on the discipleship model.

Soon, we will begin to implement various initiatives such as ALPHA Catholic that will assist in bringing new people into the life of our Church as well as providing a place for anyone to share their faith. 

ALPHA is a series of sessions exploring the Christian faith, typically run over 11 weeks. Each talk looks at a different question around faith and is designed to create conversation during the day. ALPHA is run around the globe and will become a major evangelization initiative in the diocese.

Currently, a pilot ALPHA program consisting of a meal, viewing of a video, and discussion period is taking place at St. Margaret Parish in North Buffalo, and on May 5, an orientation workshop will be offered for all parishes and families to learn more about the benefits and practical implementation of the ALPHA program. 

Please refer to the website www.roadtorenewal.org for more information.  It is the work of everyone to fulfill the mission to “Go make disciples.”  

The establishment and formation of evangelization teams throughout the Diocese is a priority. Father Frank DeSiano, CSP, president of Paulist Evangelization Ministries, Washington, D.C.,  will be instrumental in helping us accomplish this goal. My experience so far has been that many parishioners are looking for ways to assist others reconnect or connect for the first time with the community of faith. We have several tools that will be able to assist us in this regard.

Lay Formation

The Young Adults Group meets regularly to discuss involvement in the parish, family of parishes, and diocese; service on the diocesan Pastoral Council; assistance to the Communication Department and the Renewal Office; and preparation of a Theology on Tap series.  

Youth ministers have gathered to share information regarding upcoming programs and events, network with other youth ministers, and collaborate with me regarding the formation of a Youth Council with two groups (students in grades 6-8 and students in grades 9-12) as well as a Youth Advisory Board made up of selected adults who will serve by providing formation and consultation. Planning for World Youth Day in Lisbon in 2023 is currently underway. 

Catechetical Leaders met both in person and by Zoom with Lisa Benzer, diocesan director of Faith Formation, and me to discuss a number of important issues related to their ministry.  During the afternoon presentation, we considered the value of working collaboratively with those in associated ministries, using the Encounter, Accompany, Community and Send model for evangelization among families in the parish and eventually in the family of parishes, and working to implement the goals of the Renewal.  

In mid-May, we will be proud to present the new adult faith formation platform aptly named On the Road. The website will be located at Formation.OnTheRoad.org. Once activated, this site will be the center for faith formation and training opportunities organized under six headings: Becoming Catholic; Sacraments; Bringing Faith to Life; Parents, Teachers, Learners; Priests, Deacons, Religious Women and Men; and Families of Families, Family of Parishes, Catholic Center.  Anyone seeking faith formation or training will be able to create an online account, where a transcript will be established; allowing the learner to track progress and the learner’s transcript can be shared when necessary.  

We look forward to providing an update each month. Please continue to join us on the Road to Renewal and invite others as well.

The Transitional leaders named in pilot families

With the activation of the 26 parishes in the pilot stage of the Road to Renewal, transitional leaders were named on Jan. 19 as the pilot families were activated. The transitional leader is the point person for communication to the Diocesan Renewal Team. There is one transition leader per family.

  • Msgr. Richard Siepka leads Family #9 that includes Sacred Heart of Jesus, Bowmansville; St. Mary of the Assumption, Lancaster; Our Lady of Pompeii, Lancaster; St. Philip the Apostle, Cheektowaga; Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Depew; and St. Martha, Depew.
  • Family #10 is led by Father Andrew Lauricella that includes St. John the Baptist, Lockport; All Saints, Lockport; Immaculate Conception, Ransomville; and St. Brendan on the Lake, Newfane.
  • Father Michael LaMarca is the transitional leader of Family #14 composed of St. Michael, Warsaw; Mary Immaculate, East Bethany; and St. Isidore, Perry. 
  • Family #20 is led by Father Bryan Zielenieski and includes Assumption, Holy Spirit, St. Margaret, St. Mark, St. Rose of Lima and All Saints all in Buffalo.
  • Father F. Patrick Melfi is transitional leader in Family #25 which includes Holy Name of Mary, Ellicottville; St. Philomena, Franklinville; and Our Lady of Peace, Salamanca.
  • Family #31 is headed by Father Steve Jekielek and includes Buffalo parishes St. Martin of Tours, St. Teresa, St. Thomas Aquinas and Our Lady of Charity. 

All transition teams have met to date. The team, comprised of two lay leaders from every parish in the pilot family, assists in the major evaluation, assessment and drafting of the family’s pastoral plan. Their primary goal is to develop the pastoral plan. 

Road to Renewal team hosts encounters

“Encounter and Accompaniment” was the theme of three meetings that the Road to Renewal team held this past November and December. Over 350 parish ministry leaders and others, including priests, deacons, youth and young leaders, faith formation directors and coordinators, and school principals, received an overview of the Renewal process by Father Bryan Zielenieski; Deacon Greg Moran; and myself, Ted Musco, director of Renewal Mission, Evangelization and Formation, who moderated the sessions.

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Families of Parishes are now finalized

After a year in the consultative process, the Diocese of Buffalo’s Families of Parishes are now finalized. A total of 36 families will be formed by the current 161 parishes in the diocese. These parishes will join together in small groups to share resources and staff under one pastor with an increased role for the laity.

“The goal of the families is to have lay leaders who are elevated and are in positions to share the leadership of the family with the clergy. We’re definitely going to have fewer clergy in the future and we really need them to be focused in on our sacramental and religious ministry. So, having a strong lay leader partnership is going to be a critical part of forming a family,” explained Carrie Frank, member of the Diocesan Renewal Task Force.

Families range in size from three to six parishes and can expect priests, deacons and laity working together as teams to serve the needs of the family. Two families will be split into A and B sections with two pastors. This is due to geographical distance and parishes already established working relationships. Several listening sessions have taken place over the year, along with surveys, meetings, and emails, to gather input from clergy, staff, adult parishioners and youth.

“We wanted to make sure families were not too large or too small, both geographically and parishioner base. The schools were considered while crafting the families as well,” said Father Bryan Zielenieski, vicar for Renewal and Development for the diocese. “Other than geography, we looked at relationships between parishes. Were parishes working together, were they collaborating in some way already, do they share a township, school district, is there something that naturally connects them? Do parishes have a history together, such as a mother/daughter parish. We looked at ministries, do parishes have ministries that could benefit another nearby parish? Socioeconomic data was part of our consideration. We looked at many factors when making these decisions, including the input of the vicar foranes of each vicariate, asking them who they believed would work well together.”

Six pilot families have been selected and will be activated Jan. 17, 2022. Those pilots include the parishes of Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. Mary of the Assumption, Our Lady of Pompeii, St. Philip the Apostle, Blessed Mother of Teresa and St. Martha in the Cheektowaga, Depew, Lancaster area; St. John the Baptist, All Saints, Immaculate Conception, St. Brendan on the Lake in Niagara County; St. Michael, St. Isidore and Mary Immaculate in Wyoming County; Assumption, Holy Spirit, St. Margaret, St. Mark, St. Rose of Lima and All Saints in North Buffalo; Holy Name of Mary, St. Philomena and Our Lady of Peace in Cattaraugus County; and St. Martin of Tours, St. Teresa, St. Thomas Aquinas and Our Lady of Charity in South Buffalo.

Pastors will be announced in April.

“The pilots are an important part of the process as they allow the Renewal team to focus particular attention on making sure these families are successful, and learning about all that is involved in the implementation process,” Bishop Michael W. Fisher said in a letter to all priests.

The rest of the families of parishes will be activated in three phases taking place, October 2022, October 2023 and October 2024.  

“The other important thing is that families do some real discerning about what they want to accomplish, what they really can be together, how can they enrich ministry, how can they build more outreach, how can they be disciples and how can they really serve people in need. Really recreating what Church means to that community as they serve as a family is a real important part,” said Frank.

The last of the families will be a Campus Ministry Family comprised of 27 campuses. This family will bring together the mission of campus ministry, but the colleges will have a territorial relationship to the Family of Parishes in which they are geographically located. The Campus Ministry Family will serve as a parent to all campus ministries, providing guidance and leadership among all of the college campus ministries.

The Road to Renewal initiative was launched in August 2020 with a goal to reinvigorate Catholic faith, more fully optimize parish and diocesan resources, and increase the reach and impact of Catholic ministries.


Originally posted on WNYCatholic

Young Catholics gather for listening session

group of multiethnic people gathering around female speaker in studio

The pace on the Road to Renewal within the Diocese of Buffalo accelerates following the review of draft parish families by the Diocesan Pastoral Council on Oct. 30.

Of the 36 parish families that were originally drafted, 12 families submitted proposed changes to their families. On Nov. 5, Father Bryan Zielenieski sent communication to those pastors/administrators updating them on the proposed changes.

Before the final review and confirmation of parish families by Bishop Michael W. Fisher, he has asked that the Presbyteral Council be presented the final draft of families at their Nov. 23 meeting. After that presentation and Bishop Fisher’s final signature on families the announcement of pilot families will be made. 

  • A priestly life survey has been sent to all priests and the results will soon be shared
  • On Tuesday, Nov. 16  at 7 p.m., a Young Adult Listening session will be held at St. Leo the Great Parish Center, 885 Sweet Home Road, Amherst. The listening session is for anyone who has graduated from high school through age 30 and will provide an opportunity to talk about our church and the renewal. 
  • Lay parish ministry leader information and sharing sessions are planned for:

Option One: Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021 6:30-8 p.m. at St. Gregory the Great Ministry Center, 200 St. Gregory Court, Williamsville                

Option Two: Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021 6:30-8 p.m. at St. Mary of the Lake Church, 4737 Lakeshore Road, Hamburg