Despite the astonishing malfeasance of many of her leaders, resulting in a relentless drip, drip, drip of scandal, the Catholic Church in Buffalo is still showing plenty of signs of life. That was never more clear to me than in my recent visit to Saint Rose of Lima Church in North Buffalo, site of this Sunday’s Buffalo Mass Mob XXIX.
At the parish, linked with St. Mark’s, 450 families are still keeping the faith, with the help of their energetic and dynamic priest, Father Joseph Rogliano. At age 62, I found Father Joe displayed more energy than priests I’ve interviewed less than half his age. Eight years ago this month, he was handed a very difficult situation that no priest or parishioner wishes for: a linked parish. As part of the “Journey of Faith and Grace,” as the Diocese of Buffalo branded their downsizing effort, several of the churches in northeast Buffalo were paired, or linked. I wrote about these kinds of arrangements in my article two years ago about how St. Margaret’s Church became linked to Holy Spirit Church. Sadly, this kind of arrangement has been a rocky one for St. Margaret’s Church. So I couldn’t have been happier to learn that things have worked out much better for St. Rose of Lima.
A linked seesaw
In Father Rogliano’s life (see inset photo), there are two of everything. He is the priest of two linked parishes. He has two church complexes to be responsible for. He has two offices. He has two parking spots. He has two sets of vestments. He holds an equal number of Masses at each church, both on weekends and during the week. It’s not something taught at seminary, and not something that can be learned from a guidebook. In large part, Father Rogliano learned how to pastor linked parishes from seven years of doing it in Lockport. In his position, which he describes as a “seesaw,” he goes overboard to balance his time and presence equally between his two parishes, so as not to show a hint of favoritism. “They measure my every move,” he told me, to explain his policy.
That may be a bit of hyperbole at this point, eight years since the arrangement began. Because the parishes have come to accept and even embrace the arrangement, in large part because they learned they could trust Father Rogliano. “Once they knew I was committed to it, it was easier for them to commit to it,” he told me. “They know I’m with them.” And they have strongly supported him in his efforts. “They do a tremendous job with what it means to be linked,” he said. The parishes even tease each other about Hertel Avenue being the dividing line between them.
Together, the parishes were seen as so strong that they were pilot sites for the “Upon This Rock” fundraising campaign, and were among the first parishes to exceed their goals. A portion of the money raised returns to the parish for capital projects, which is a good thing, as Father Rogliano told me that the roof and mechanical systems of St. Rose Church, at their half-century mark, need a substantial overhaul. He joked that with its curves and valleys, the roof may be dramatic, but is probably more suited for a California climate than Buffalo winters.
Like everyone in an organization where budgets and personnel are stretched, Father Rogliano has additional duties. He is also the chaplain for St. Mark’s School, which involves additional Mass duties there (one of the reasons he made his residence at the St. Mark’s rectory), and assists at Nardin Academy. He currently serves as the vicar for all the northeast Buffalo churches, which means extra meetings at the churches and also serving on Diocese-wide committees.
At the parishes Father Rogliano has help from priests-in-residence Father “Butch” Mazur (who some may remember from St. Girard’s Church), and Father Andrew Lauricella, who also oversees vocations for the Diocese. A seminarian, Stephen Parisi, who has been assisting the linked parishes, will also be on the dais for the Mass Mob.
That pastoral help is essential, but Father Rogliano likes to credit the laity for keeping things going. “They are as loyal as the day is long,” he told me, and especially solid in areas such as church finance, music ministry, faith formation (teaching the faith to children and adults), and organizing events. They recently used their parking lot for a food truck night. One thing that helps is that most of the parishioners come from the community, unlike many city churches where many legacy families “commute in” from the suburbs for Mass but otherwise aren’t nearby. Father Rogliano told me that they also attract parishioners who live elsewhere in the city, but “like the energy” at St. Rose of Lima.
The church born of a firing squad
Ironically, this parish full of positive energy came about, in part, because of an incident with a very different kind of energy: two Carmelite nuns facing a Mexican firing squad a century ago. In their own history of their monastery around the corner from St. Rose of Lima, the Carmelites tell the story [sic]:
In December of 1914, Mother Mary Elias of the Blessed Sacrament was brought before a firing squad of Mexican revolutionaries, having been arrested for persevering in her vocation as a Carmelite Nun. While she and her companion knelt as the order was given to shoot, Mother interiorly offered a somewhat skeptical prayer: Little Therese, if you are a saint, as some people say you are, then deliver us, and I promise to found a Monastery in your honor. Both Nuns heard the discharge of the guns, sank to the ground and were left for dead. They later regained consciousness, and although there was blood on their clothes, they were completely unharmed. Little Therese had indeed answered Mother’s prayer in a miraculous manner! Six years later, the promise made to the Little Flower of Jesus was fulfilled when Mother Elias founded the Carmelite Monastery of Buffalo, NY. Our Chapel was officially dedicated to Saint Therese on the very day of her canonization, May 17, 1925, thus making it the first in the world to have the Little Flower as its titular Saint.
The 50th-anniversary history of St. Rose of Lima Parish, published by the parish in 1975, has more:
The Carmelite Sisters, having been driven out of Mexico, found a home on Cottage Street, and Father George Crimmen was appointed their chaplain. When he organized solemn public Novenas and the crowds began to overflow the small chapel on College Street [at the Coatsworth Mansion], it became evident that a larger chapel must be procured. The present site was selected and the newly cut-in street was named Carmel Road.
Carmel Road, where the sisters built their chapel and monastery, runs north from Hertel Avenue in North Buffalo. In the “Roaring 20s,” with a growing population in the city, growing adoption of the automobile, and free-flowing capital, North Buffalo was developing by leaps and bounds. Even the Great Depression couldn’t stop the trend, as I wrote earlier this year. Because the nearest Catholic Church was some distance away, and apparently attracted by Father Crimmen’s preaching as chaplain, there was a great deal of interest in the Masses at the Carmelite chapel, so much so that they were overcrowded. That led to Father Crimmen to circulate a petition to create a new parish in the area.
Things moved with lightning speed from that point. In November, the bishop appointed Father Crimmen to establish the new parish. According to James Napora’s history of the parish in Houses of Worship: A Guide to the Religious Architecture of Buffalo, New York,
Rev. Crimmen acquired the current site in 1925 at a cost of $39,400 and began planning for the combination church/school building on the corner of Parkside and Winston Road. He broke ground in March, 1926, placed the cornerstone on May 23, and dedicated the building in September, 1926.
To those of us living nearly a century later, who have seen it take years to get things done in Buffalo, and who have experienced decades of Diocesan decline, the establishment of a new parish and construction of a solid church all in just a year’s time may seem as miraculous as surviving a firing squad. The new parish was named in honor of St. Rose, the patron saint of the Americas, and also the first saint to be born in the Americas (in Lima, Peru). She died in 1617 and was beatified fifty years later. Especially important to Buffalo, she is – not surprisingly – the patron saint of gardeners.
The building, designed by Bley and Lyman in the Collegiate Gothic style that was popular for ecclesiastical architecture in the 1920s, was a combination church and school. The rectory, apparently constructed at the same time, was Tudor style, as is much of the residential architecture in the neighborhood, as I wrote earlier this year.
According to Napora,
The congregation worshiped in the modest sanctuary until the 1960s. At that time, pastor Msgr. Bernard McCarthy felt a need for a more substantial house of worship. Ground was broken on 6 October, 1963 on the site of a former outdoor shrine. The cornerstone was placed on the substantially completed building on 26 March, 1965. Bishop James McNulty dedicated the completed building on 23 May, 1965. At that time, the congregation converted their former place of worship into much needed classroom space.
The architect of the new church was Leroy H. Welch, who also designed the Churchill Academic Tower at Canisius College (featured in this 2015 Buffalo News article about unloved Buffalo architecture). Roundness and circular forms are common in both buildings. The 50th-anniversary history of the parish includes a photo of a man with surveyors of the project site who could be Welch.
Napora describes the architecture,
The modernist building is highly distinguished by its use of circular forms. Although designed on a traditional cruciform plan, the nave is roofed in a succession of barrel vaults perpendicular to its axis. The wall end of each arch contains an art glass window, bathing the interior in a soft diffused light. The circular forms of the confessionals are expressed on the exterior of the transept, as is that of the baptistery on the Parkside Avenue facade.
The original church building remained in use as the St. Rose of Lima school until several years ago when it was closed. As has been the case for several other former Catholic school buildings around Buffalo, Architect and Developer Karl Frizlen converted the school to housing. Sarah Maurer has that story here. Father Rogliano told me that the church retained the ability to use the parish hall in the school building for church events. That was smart. For comparison, when St. Margaret’s Church sold their school building for housing without retaining use of the parish hall in the building, they lost the ability to put on large events, which are important to parish life, and it affected the church’s ability to host weddings and funerals.
The history of the Church, consisting of imperfect people from the beginning, has included flawed individuals doing terrible things, but also flawed individuals doing great and beautiful things, sometimes giving their lives in the process. Through it all, the Church has kept on through the local efforts of those in religious vocations and lay leadership, ministering to others and attempting to follow Christ’s teachings and example. Folks Like Father Joe Rogliano and the parishioners of St. Rose of Lima – not 795 Main Street – are the Church. They abide and they endure. And they’d be delighted to see you on Sunday.