BUFFALO, N.Y. — As a colossal winter storm dumped more than seven feet of snow on the Western New York area from Nov. 18 to 21, the area shut down. Vehicles were abandoned in snow banks. Schools and offices closed. People hunkered down in their homes, watching the snow bury everything around them.
At St. Patrick Friary, all six friars — Timothy Dauenhauer, OFM, Gregory Jakubowicz, OFM, Vianney Justin, OFM, Steven Pavignano, OFM, Francis Pompei, OFM, and Jud Weiksnar, OFM — were at home when the storm hit. Travel bans and unplowed streets soon made it impossible to leave.
The City of Good Neighbors
As a blanket of snow three feet deep covered Larkinville, the friars looked with concern to their neighbors and began to wonder: Was everyone all right? Did everyone have enough food?
Since visiting people by car was impossible, the friars relied on a mode of transportation used by St. Francis himself — their feet.
Together, Francis Pompei and Jud waded through snowdrifts that rose higher than their kneecaps to bring food from St. Patrick’s Food Pantry to their neighbors at St. Patrick Village Apartments. This low-income housing sits where St. Patrick’s Church was located, before the structure was razed in the 1980s.
Going door-to-door on Wednesday, Nov. 19, the friars introduced themselves to 10 families, offering them canned and frozen food, and loaves of bread.
“This was a great way to meet the neighbors,” said Jud, who has been the friary’s guardian since the summer. “They were very grateful. A lot of them didn’t know who the Franciscans were or what we were about. Meeting them was very positive.”
They left people the telephone number to the friary, in case of emergency. Many of the families they visited were single parents with small children.
‘The Sky Looks Like Armageddon’
Despite receiving nearly four feet of snow, St. Patrick Friary was spared the worst of the storm. The Larkin District of Buffalo remained precariously on the edge of the line of clouds, with only a few miles difference between getting a manageable and a disastrous amount of snow. The highest snowfall recorded this week was 85 inches in Hamburg, where Greg works at Hilbert College. The average annual snowfall for the region is typically 93.6 inches, according to USA Today.
If the friars looked out of a window on the south side of the building, they could see the storm clouds pummeling towns with snow. On the north side of the friary, skies were blue and the sun shone.
“There were times when it was brilliant here in the city,” said Francis. “And then we would look two, three miles south and the sky looked like Armageddon.”
Communities south of Buffalo received as much as seven feet of snow in three days. Roofs have begun to collapse, and snow has pushed in doors, walls and windows. BonaResponds, St. Bonaventure University’s emergency response group, is preparing to assist with recovery efforts this weekend. The university has received only a few inches of snow.
St. Patrick Friary did not lose power during the storm and remains in good condition, but Western New York will face more weather challenges this weekend. Rain is expected and officials fear more roofs will collapse as the snow soaks up the water and grows heavier. Rising temperatures will cause flooding. Some towns still have travel bans or advisories in effect.
Preparing for the Future
Already, the Buffalo friars are planning for the next snowstorm. In the future, they hope to have a snowmobile so they can better help their neighbors.
“We have gotten calls from people who need assistance and, because of the snow, we’re not able to get to them,” explained Jud. “If we had a snowmobile, we could do more to help people in the area. We could get to people’s homes. Even if this kind of snowstorm happens just once a year, the cost would be worth it.”
The friars also plan to purchase a snow blower so they can help their neighbors with snow removal. The friary’s snow blower was stolen last year.
“When Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, called us yesterday morning, wanting to know if we were okay and wondering if there was anything the Province could do, Jud said, ‘Well, it would be really nice if we could get a snow blower,'” said Fran. “So our wonderful Provincial said, ‘Go out and get one when you can, and the Province will provide for it.”
The friars’ willingness to help echoes the community spirit in an area known for being the City of Good Neighbors.
“We’re already hearing about thousands of people helping their neighbors,” said Fran. “People have been sacrificing their time and comfort, volunteering to help in hospitals and care facilities when staff and employees have been unable to go to work. People have been helping to literally find and dig out cars hidden in the snow banks, and to clear out fire hydrants.”
Fran grew up in Oswego, N.Y., an area that sees large amounts of snow each year.
“I experienced the mega storm, back in the ‘60s, that holds the record of 103 inches of snow,” he said. “I’ve been here before. Yes, there has been and will be more suffering and fear before this is over, but new friendships have been created among neighbors. Ethnic, economic, racial and religious divisions have been and will continue to be bridged and overcome in the days ahead.”
He continued: “The world will call this storm an ‘act of God,’ as if God caused the storm and the suffering. People of faith know that if God should be blamed for anything, it should be for the incredible love that’s happening in Western New York. There is no comparison between the amount of snow here and the amount of good will, sacrifice and love that has come of the storm. Thank you, Lord, and thank you to all for your concern and prayers.”
Despite the inconvenience and devastation this storm has wrought, the storm brought the friars several unexpected blessings.
“This morning, Tim said to me, ‘You know what I’ve really enjoyed? We’ve been together, all six of us, for supper every night,’” said Fran, adding “There’s nobody leaving after supper, so we can spend time together, eating and laughing.”
With a smile, he pointed out that there is no better way to build fraternity than to be stuck inside together during a snowstorm.
“Our experience has been, if you want to have a good fraternity, have an epic storm like this,” he said. “You can’t go out and there’s been no work. We’ve been in this friary now for four days in a row. We’re able to have more conversations and do things that we’ve been meaning to do for a while now.”
Photos and updates about the storm were posted on the friary’s Facebook page.
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province and a native of Western New York.