After a half decade of mobbing churches all around Buffalo and even in a couple of suburbs, the Buffalo Mass Mob is finally visiting one of the most active parishes in the city: St. Mark in Parkside.
Why did it take so long? Certainly nothing against the church – personally, I know some great people in Buffalo public life and community work who are or have been parishioners there. Certainly nothing against the priest – I became a fan of Father Joe Rogliano immediately upon interviewing him last year about the Mass Mob at St. Rose of Lima, where he is also the priest. Certainly nothing against Parkside – one of Buffalo’s great neighborhoods, with winding streets, stately homes, a neighborhood association formed a half-century ago to fight racist redlining, and a strong tradition of community-mindedness.
No, it was much simpler: the Buffalo Mass Mob was begun to draw attention to churches in need of a boost. But unlike most of the city churches St. Mark, in an affluent neighborhood, with an active school to help keep and attract families, seemed to be doing well – especially in comparison to churches like St. Lawrence, struggling just to replace its roof.
But in these times, in this diocese, there may not be a Catholic church that doesn’t need a boost. Last year, in my piece on St. Rose of Lima, I acknowledged the scandal engulfing the diocese and its current bishop. This scandal has now twice put Buffalo in the center of a national crisis over clergy abuse (not just in the Catholic church, it should be noted), in this report on 60 Minutes and this week’s story on Nightline. Last year, I was optimistic that churches such as St. Rose and their stalwart parishioners and priests like Father Joe would be able to stay the course and keep the churches functioning and providing vital ministries to parishioners and the community alike.
Now, I have my doubts. The bishop has steadfastly dismissed calls to resign from many quarters, and made a number of tone-deaf missteps. As I wrote last year, the bishop’s behavior has been less like a spiritual leader and more like a corporate CEO conducting a crisis management campaign – a bad crisis management campaign at that. While the faithful may not be able to vote him out of office, they can vote with their checkbooks, and we’re seeing irrefutable signs that they are. Just this month it was revealed that none other than St. Gregory the Great parish – one of the wealthiest and best-attended in the diocese, often jokingly called “St. Gregory the Rich” – is facing a $500,000 deficit and has had to lay off staff. Why? Concerns about the handling of the clergy abuse crisis has caused parishioners to rethink their giving.
What does this mean for Sunday’s Mass Mob at St. Mark? Primarily, that every church in the diocese now needs a boost. Episcopal leadership (meaning bishop-related rather than Episcopalian) comes and goes, and the Diocese of Buffalo has both enjoyed episcopal leadership that has been astonishingly adept and effective, and suffered under episcopal leadership that was almost epically bad. Through it all, the faithful and their clergy have kept on keeping on. It is primarily in parish churches where ministry happens, so highlighting and supporting our parish churches still seems to me a worthy endeavor.
The Parkside Community Association, serving the neighborhood that is home to St. Mark, was, as stated on its website, “founded in 1963 to fight then-prevalent racist tactics of redlining and blockbusting.” It is perhaps fitting, then, that St. Mark came to be in Parkside to fend off another kind of redlining prevalent generations earlier. As Steve Cichon, who literally wrote the book(s) on St. Mark Parish and also the Parkside neighborhood, tells it,
In 1908, Buffalo’s Catholic Bishop, Charles Colton, wrote of his desire to start a new parish in “the Central Park area of Buffalo,” either to be called Epiphany, or St. Mark’s. Bennett had reserved triangular islands of land throughout Central Park, upon which churches were meant to be built. Parkside Lutheran, for example, is one those “churches on an island,” where Depew Avenue, Wallace Avenue, and Linden Avenue all meet.
The people of St. Mark and the Buffalo Catholic Diocese inquired about one such island, at Beard, Starin, and Morris. Developer Bennett, whose own strong Unitarian views were greatly at odds with Catholicism, refused to allow a Catholic church on his property, or anywhere in his Central Park development.
A subtext was that these wealthy, WASPy men could scarcely imagine why a Catholic church would even want to locate near the estates and great-houses they were building in North Buffalo, the suburbs of their day. It seemed to them the only Catholics around were their own servants, many of them Irish, hailing from the waterfront. But the Catholics were not to be deterred: after the Central Park snub they quietly bought land nearby – literally, on the other side of the tracks – at Woodward and Amherst. Those Irish servants and many other families then proceeded to create what became one of Buffalo’s greatest Catholic parishes.
If you’ve never visited that parish, Sunday’s Buffalo Mass Mob (at noon, so late sleepers have no excuse) presents you a great opportunity. At a church formed to thwart religious redlining, in a neighborhood represented by a community association formed to thwart racial redlining you can be certain – as at all Buffalo Mass Mobs – that you’ll be welcomed no matter who you are or what you believe.
Recent scandals have created confusion, consternation, and even an outright crisis of conscience for many Catholics – including this one. Despite it all one thing still seems certain to me: to survive this temporal turmoil, as the church always has, it will take the ongoing, dedicated work of Catholics like Father Joe and the great parishioners of the great parish of St. Mark in their great neighborhood with its great community association, supporting the good and standing against the bad, sending a message of a better day by their very presence and refusal to give in and refusal to go away.
Like them, don’t give in and don’t go away.