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Buffalo Mass Mob Returns to the Old First Ward

This Sunday morning, the Buffalo Mass Mob returns to a very special place.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help in the Ward was the site of the second Mass Mob in January, 2014, an event that was well-covered by the media, including Buffalo Rising, the Buffalo News, and this AP story.

The wire service story made the Mass Mob something of a phenomenon, with several cities around the country creating their own Mass Mobs. Co-founders, including Chris Byrd of Broadway-Fillmore Alive and I were invited on radio programs to talk all things Mass Mob.

But even more precious were the friends we made there. Following the Mass Mob was a big bash at the Old First Ward Community Center, organized by then-director Laura Kelly and then-housing coordinator Matt Fisher of the Old First Ward Community Association. Afterward, Bert Hyde invited us over to the remarkable Waterfront Memories and More, a history museum devoted to the Old First Ward. Bert Hyde became an early, faithful friend of the Buffalo Mass Mob, attending nearly all.

Chris Clemens of Exploring Upstate was there, too. He blogs about unique places and historic sites in that vast part of New York State where we say “my Wegmans.” Hailing from my hometown, Rochester, Chris became quite the fan of the Buffalo Mass Mob, even trying to start a Mass Mob in Rochester.

This Sunday, the gang returns to the church known to her friends as “Pets” for an unprecedented third Mass Mob. Why? Because of a cry for help from Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

A note from Bert Hyde

This fall, when the Buffalo Mass Mob resumed after a pandemic hiatus with a Mass Mob at Corpus Christi Church, Bert Hyde sounded the alarm that Pets needed another Mass Mob. It turned out a lot had happened there since our last Mass Mob there in 2019.

As recently as last year, it looked like Pets was in danger of closing. Their long-time priest was put on administrative leave over an abuse allegation from the 1970s at another parish. Key supporters had passed away, and the church lost not only their presence, but their tithes. “The handwriting is on the wall,” a parishioner told me last year, resigned to the idea of having to find a new home parish.

Then, as is not unknown in religious matters, a miracle occurred. Deacon Michael Comerford from Our Lady of Victory Basilica was filling in at Pets, where his family has deep ties, and began having conversations with Father Paul Seil, then the priest of St. Bernadette’s in Orchard Park. Father Seil was interested in taking on the challenge at Pets.

And that was a good thing. Father Seil (profiled here) is one of the most beloved priests in the diocese, not just for his decades-long cooking show Our Daily Bread, and his service as chaplain to the Buffalo Fire Department, but because he has a human touch and sensibility ironically uncommon in the clergy.

And a great sense of humor, too. In recently offering the funeral Mass for Mary Dyczek (née Comerford), a beloved member of a large Irish-American family with deep roots in the Old First Ward, he invited her grandchildren to speak. When one of them said he had never heard her say an unkind word about anyone, Father Seil, from a large Irish family himself, remarked, “Never an unkind word? Never? That must have been the Polish in her,” drawing a laugh from those gathered.

But even with the pastoral care of Father Seil, our beloved Pets is not out of the woods yet. On his taking over, there were found to be plenty of deferred issues with the church complex that needed urgent attention. Parishioners spent hours removing decades of accumulated junk, and recently a youth group from a church in Wyoming County spent a day helping refurbish the pews.

Church restoration contractors from McHugh examining the Nativity window

But the most pressing issue is the large stained-glass window in the western transept: the Nativity window. Recently, after a heavy storm, a handful of pieces of the structure holding the 125-year-old window in place were found in the aisle. The church needed to take immediate remedial action if the window was to be saved before the winter – either repaired or boarded up. After an urgent fundraising appeal and raffle, repairs got underway this week.

And that’s where Sunday’s Buffalo Mass Mob comes in. You can help support and celebrate the “rescue” of the window – and Pets itself – just by showing up and showing you care. And if you’re moved to contribute to either effort, well, in the neighborhood where St. Patrick’s Day rivals Christmas as the biggest holiday, green is always the right color.

Link to the window raffle below

As Father Seil told the Buffalo Mass Mob,

We would like folks to know that “Pets” is not only a religious institution but has played an important role in the history of the City of Buffalo particularly with regard to Irish Immigrants, waterfront workers (Longshoremen, grain workers) and the labor movement in the US.

Founded by Bishop James Quigley (who went on to be the Archbishop of Chicago), there are strong ties to the “Old Neighborhood” while redevelopment in the area has brought an influx of new people and new perspectives. The stained glass windows, original to the 1903 structure, are under repair. They were created by Tyrolean Glass Works in Bavaria and are considered some of the finest windows in the Northeast. In addition to the one-day influx of people, we hope to shed light on the fact that Pets is open and would like to renew our commitment and ministry in the Old First Ward. We are rebuilding and want to make a place for everyone who is seeking service, fulfillment, and faith.

The Nativity window

Sunday’s Mass Mob also comes against the backdrop of the recent announcement by the Diocese of Buffalo of its intent to create a “parish family” for the downtown churches. This reorganization is a result of the “Road to Renewal” restructuring program, which plans to create two dozen such families of churches throughout the diocese.

The downtown parish family will include Pets along with these churches:

St. Louis
St. Joseph Cathedral
Blessed Sacrament
St. Anthony of Padua
St. Michael

As a co-founder of the Buffalo Mass Mob, I’ve had the opportunity to visit all of these downtown churches. Each of them has its own strengths and unique culture and traditions that may go back decades. I hope the parish family concept will be about drawing from and sharing these uniquenesses and strengths, and not just teeing up another round of church closings.

Get connected:

Buffalo Mass Mob XXXVIII at Our Lady of Perpetual Help (“Pets”) in the Old First Ward
There will be light refreshments in the church immediately following Mass.
Please adhere to all Covid19 precautions while attending Mass. The church will have free masks available if you should happen to forget yours.
Buffalo Mass Mob XXXVIII FB event
Save the Windows raffle
Pets on FB
Pets on Twitter
Father Seil on Twitter

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