This is the sixth in a series of profiles of friars commemorating anniversaries of profession in 2013. The previous issue of HNP Today featured Emeric Meier, OFM. All are welcome to the Province’s annual jubilee celebration Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church, New York City, which will be held June 20.
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Michael Putich, OFM, a friar at St. Patrick Friary, describes his 50-year ministry as three fold: education, financial administration, and pastoral caring for the sick and elderly.
Aside from stints at Walsh University in Ohio, and at a ministry in Providence, R.I., all of this jubilarian’s service has been spent near his home in Western New York, where the winters are harsh, he jokes, but the summers are cool and mild. Through his rich and diverse ministry, this Buffalo native has worked at two schools associated with the Province — Bishop Timon High School, Buffalo, which was founded by Franciscans, and St. Bonaventure University, Allegany.
He says that one of the most rewarding assignments has been his current role in ministering to men at the Veterans Administration Medical Center, Buffalo, where he is chaplain and a member of the palliative care consult team.
“This has been terrific,” said Michael. He describes his ministry: “To be with veterans in the end-of-life setting and assisting them. To reinforce the meaningfulness of their life and talk about experiences, we discuss what their post-military life is all about. They let me into their family lives. How amazing it is to walk in to a guy’s room and start chatting them up.”
Michael says he enjoys spending 30 hours a week ministering to men of all faith traditions, recalling an atheist who invited him to come back to chat after a recent visit. Through his time with veterans, he sees the connection to St. Francis’ life, especially his war experiences. Talking about dying and giving communion to someone at the end of life, Michael says, “keeps me humble.”
As with all his ministries, Michael says this is one for which he never prepared. “It was an organic process,” he adds. It’s a ministry, he says, that he “bumped into.” “Some people have a gift for this, others don’t,” he said,
Being called to religious life also happened by chance. “I have no idea how I got into it,” he says with a smile. Growing up attending Catholic grammar school, his mother asked him which high school he wanted to go to.
“Two kids in my graduating class said they were going to Callicoon, so I said, ‘I want to go to there, too.’” He recalls his mother saying to him, “maybe you should have a backup plan, like Bishop Timon.” But an alternate plan wasn’t in the picture.
From 1956 to 1962, Michael spent high school and his first two years of college at St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y. He entered the Order at St. Raphael’s Novitiate, Lafayette, N.J., in 1962 and professed his first vows there the following year. Michael attended St Francis College, Rye Beach, N.H., from 1963 to 1965. He professed his final vows in 1967 at Christ the King Seminary in Allegany, and was ordained in 1968 at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, D.C. During his time in formation, Michael earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from St. Bonaventure University and a theology degree from The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.
In 1969, he began working at Bishop Timon High School, where he stayed until 1986, serving in various roles such as director of development, treasurer, instructor, and moderator of the Franciscan movement. During that time, Michael earned a master’s in education, with certification in social studies, from Niagara University, completing his degree in 1975. From 1986 to 1989, he served as parochial vicar of St. Martin of Tours Parish, Buffalo. In 1990, he earned an MBA from Canisius College in Buffalo.
From 1990 to 1992, Michael was assistant to the vice president for business and finance, and an adjunct faculty member at St. Bonaventure University. Later, he served as director of strategic information and auxiliary services at Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio, and director of finance of St. Francis Chapel in Providence.
In 2002, he returned to St. Martin of Tours Parish, where he served again as parochial vicar until 2006. From 2005 to 2009, he assisted the pastoral care team at Mercy Hospital in Buffalo. This ministry overlapped with his work as parochial vicar of St. Gregory the Great Parish in Williamsville, N.Y., where he served from 2006 to 2008. From 2009 to 2011, he was pastor at St. Clare Parish, Buffalo.
At 70 years of age, Michael is still on his feet all day at the veterans’ hospital, and jokes that the walking around keeps him fit. “I’m only 10 pounds overweight,” he says with a smile. He also finds time to read action novels, especially those by Patricia Cornwell or David Baldacci, and to reflect on the scriptures every day. “I like to be quiet and listen to my thoughts and reflect on why I’m thinking what I’m thinking.”
He said he would like to be remembered as someone who was flexible but not wishy-washy. “I’d like people to know that I was available, approachable, accessible.”
Michael also likes to keep in touch with family, especially a sister and nieces and nephews in the area, and siblings in Las Vegas and New Jersey.
He lists as his “heroes, helpers and rabbis” the late Joel Campbell, OFM,Salvator Fink, OFM, and Pascal Foley, OFM, along with former friar Marc Fernandez. He also admires books by former friar Daniel Sulmasy, a well-known medical ethicist.
The best part of being a member of Holy Name Province, he says, is celebrating its diversity. “Early on, the diversity in our ministries was good. Now it’s the diversity of people — not just all from the Northeast.”
— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today. Jubilarians who will be featured in upcoming installments of this series include William Scully, OFM, and Henry Fulmer, OFM, William Herbst, OFM, and Barry Langley, OFM, who are commemorating silver anniversaries