BUFFALO, N.Y. – On Dec. 2, a new era began in the 149-year history of the Franciscans in Buffalo, with a Mass inaugurating the newly-formed St. Clare Parish Community.
The new parish, led by James Czerwinski, OFM, is the result of a major reconfiguration of parishes in the diocese of Buffalo, announced last summer. The St. Clare Parish Community consists of five merged parishes in the Southeast Buffalo Vicariate, one of which was Sts. Rita & Patrick Parish, staffed by the friars for many years. Jim had been pastor at Sts. Rita and Patrick.
Other parishes involved in the merger include Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, Precious Blood, St. Stephen and St. Valentine. Bishop Edward Kmiec selected the name of the new parish community as a tribute to the long Franciscan presence in Buffalo.
The Inaugural Mass
The inaugural Mass took place at 10:30 a.m. at St. Stephen Church, only a few blocks from Sts. Rita and Patrick, which will serve as the worship space for the new parish community. A lively celebration included all representatives of the former parishes. During the offertory procession, delegates carried in the banners of each of the five parishes with their baptismal records, symbolizing the people who will form the new community.
Principal celebrant and homilist was Dominic Monti, OFM, Provincial Vicar. Concelebrants were Jim, Msgr. Robert Mack, former administrator of St. Stephen’s, and Ron Bagienski, former pastor of Holy Apostles. Maurice “Moe” Swartout, OFM, guardian of the friar community and long-time pastoral associate, served as thurifer.
The previous Sunday, Nov. 25, marked the bittersweet celebration at Sts. Rita & Patrick Church to close 153 years of parish history. Jim, pastor since 2005, presided at the Mass, joined by former pastors Ronald Pecci, OFM (1987-1999), and John Alderson, OFM (1999-2005).
The closing liturgy was both emotional and very upbeat, according to Michael Oberst, OFM, who has lived in the Buffalo friary since 1983.
“Because the previous pastors were there, it was really a celebration of the life that the friars had together,” Michael said. “The Mass represented that the new parish community will be as life-giving as the previous parishes were.”
“Dominic’s homily drew on history,” he added. “He tied the event into Advent and the theme of new beginnings.”
St. Patrick’s Parish was founded in 1854. In 1858, Bishop John Timon asked the friars from Allegany, N.Y., who had just opened St. Bonaventure College, to come to Buffalo and minister in the new parish. Meanwhile, in 1919, Slovak Catholics in the area formed St. Rita’s parish, which was staffed by the friars of the Holy Savior Custody. In 1981, the two Franciscan parishes merged, forming Sts. Rita & Patrick, and the former St. Patrick’s Church was demolished.
The friar community is still considering its future living arrangements. For now, friars are living at the old St. Patrick’s Friary, constructed in 1892, probably the oldest friary in the Province.
Jim summed up recent events: “During these past two months, we have had five closing luiturgies.Our new parish community — St. Clare’s — provides quite a challenge — orchestrating and amalgamating the many ministries and providing good liturgy. So far, so good.”
A passage by Thomas Merton titled A Time of Change that was included in the program for the Dec. 2 Mass sums up the potential of the situation:
|“In a time of change, individuals can be too preoccupied with what is ending, or too obsessed with what seems to be beginning. In either case, one can lose touch with the present and its obscure and dynamic possibilities. What really matters is openness, readiness, attention and courage to face risk.
“One need not know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What one needs is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them, with courage, faith and hope.
In such an event, courage is the authentic form taken by love.”