Last Dance

Friday was my last work day at St Joseph University Church. And I’m doing a lot of reminiscing. Mostly about some first experiences and impressions here in Buffalo. Two stand out in my memory.

I stepped off the plane with my wife for the weekend interview. It was a free trip to the Falls at worst and to a city I had never visited. But secretly I wondered if this would become our new home. I wondered about new colleagues, Patty Spear and Ann Marie Eckert were two friends I had met on the conference circuit and Dan and Marcy Zicari were college friends that I knew in Buffalo, but beyond that this was a place of strangers.

Fr. Jack said that he’d meet me at the airport. A nice touch, I thought, not making me fetch a cab. I looked up and saw a man with a full Roman Collar on at the edge of the pick up area. I looked at Marion and said:

“Yeah, I don’t want to work for this guy already!”

Marion: “Why?”

Mike: “Um, cause he wore his collar to an airport! That means he’s either very clerical or an idiot. Every nervous flyer is going to latch onto him and we’ll never get out of here.” (For the record, I now think that’s a good reason for a priest to wear his collar to an airport).

Fr. Jack took Marion’s bag and welcomed us and then immediately said:

“Oh! By the way, I only wore this collar so you would be able to recognize me!” And then ripped it off, to show a simple golf shirt.

I looked at Marion and winked. He passes.

And if you know Fr. Jack well, you know that he is neither clerical nor a moron. One of the brightest guys going and he became a great mentor, teacher and a serious big brother who always had my back (He’s MUCH too young to be my father!)!

I will miss working with him daily for sure.

The second experience comes from Zach Tomasik, one of my favorite students, now a few years removed from UB and headed to physician assistant school, which he’ll be great at, by the way.

We had decided to go to NYC for an alternative break. My hometown! I was pumped to take students there. We decided to take Megabus down because that’s what poor people have to do.

We piled on with the rest of the people traveling down to the big city. I found a seat and hunkered in for the next 9 hours. The students piled in all around me. But none took the seat next to me. I was the new guy after all and apparently, I was also the old guy. Katie my colleague was much younger than me and we were leading this trip, a first venture for us together.

I looked out the window and saw Fr. Pat, Sr. Jeremy and Fr Jack waving good bye and became terrified at the obvious:

I was now the responsible adult.

My next thought was even more obvious: “Well, these folks are really screwed!”

There still was an empty seat next to me. And the last student got on the bus. It was Zach. And the only seat was next to “the old guy.”

Zach had that terror-filled look of “No! Not there. Not for 9 fricken hours!”

The only thing Zach knew about me was that I had worked in sports radio. So he leaned into the sports conversation:

“So the Sabres are looking good, huh?”

“Yeah” I replied. “I’ve never been all that into hockey, but it seems like that’s gonna change up here!”

And off we went. Talking some sports, some family, Busted Halo, his anthropology major and we generally hit it off. Fears subsided.

Fast forward years later and Zach reminded me of that conversation:

“Y’know. I was terrified to sit next to you that time and I only knew you had that sports radio background. It was fun hearing some of your stories from back then. But by the end of that ride I said to myself, ‘Wait up! Mike left that life to go and work at Busted Halo?! Mike’s crazy!”

I laughed.

“But then, I started reading Busted Halo and said ‘Well, that’s a pretty cool site. Of course, Mike left to do that. What a great venture!'”

I nodded.

“But then I said ‘Wait up! Mike left Busted Halo to come here and hang out with the likes of US! Mike IS crazy! Why would he EVER leave there?’ But now that I’ve gotten to know you and you’ve taught me a bit about Ignatian Discernment, I realize that you are exactly where you ought to be. It’s been great spending time with you.”

And I you, young Zach.

And now the time has come to leave once again. Am I crazy? Who knows? (Many are saying “Yep but not for that reason!”) St. Ignatius’ spirit has had me breathing with Ignatian lungs on this secular campus for the past 4 years and now I get to stretch into building a team around his spirituality. And if that’s crazy than I just might be the biggest loon going.

I’m looking forward to the next adventure, but continuing to grieve the loss of what has been. The great spirit of St. Joseph I will take with me. The same spirit that Ignatius shares of being “someone for others” as Joseph was for a child who was not only not his own, but God. That spirit that captures this parish clearly of treating everyone as if they were Jesus, is what I take with me. So that the stranger on the bus becomes Zach and that priest with the collar isn’t pre-judged and the person in our midst is Christ Himself.

Zach’s right. I am crazy. A fool for Christ, perhaps.

But these four years have been filled with great joy. And for that, I am filled with gratitude. There are too many of you to thank…so I’ll just say…friends, colleagues, pastoral staff, students, support staff, professors and parishioners…thanks! The community is sending me forth on Sunday June 30th with a blessing, so if you’re around, I hope to see you there.

Papal Madness: Hayes vs. Fr. James Martin, SJ

Busted Halo is running a Papal Madness Tourney with various people from all kinds of backgrounds in the running for the Pope. Obviously, we’re having some fun with this with folks in the Media/Politics Region (like Stephen Colbert and Sean Hannity), the music region (like Bruce Springsteen and Michael BublĂ©), the Hollywood Region (Martin Sheen, Mel Gibson) and the Friends of BustedHalo Region (Fr. Dave Dwyer, CSP, Fr. Jack Collins, CSP). Check it out:

But imagine my surprise when lil ‘ol me got a bid to the big dance. I’m a 7 seed (the second lowest seed) in the Friends of Busted Halo bracket and I’m going up against (gasp!) my friend and famed colleague….

Fr. James Martin, SJ, the acclaimed author and Colbert Report Chaplain.

I’m gonna get killed. So I’m playing the “I’m hoping for an upset” card.

Here are my top 5 reasons why you should vote for me.

1) Media Monopoly: The Colbert Report doesn’t need TWO people in the running for Pope. (And Stephen Colbert advanced yesterday). Do we really want the media running the Vatican?

2) Keep the laity alive! In the BH bracket there are only two lay people in the bracket (Brett Siddell and myself). Gotta let the laity stay in the game to make this interesting. As Pope I would make sure the laity has a voice and appoint a few lay people into top Vatican positions. By the way, my wife says I can be Pope as long as we keep the Vatican in Italy and she can have a gelato shoppe in the Vatican basement. Sold!

3) Jesuit Schmezuit: I’m Jesuit educated too. I’m a spiritual director and run Ignatian based retreats. I’m holding to indifference over who wins and loses because I think Fr. Martin would be a good pope. So who ever God wants to win here…(Pssst, vote for me)

4) Rally the Youth: I’ve been to World Youth Day Twice (Toronto and Sydney) and I don’t think Fr. Martin has been to one yet. I would also turn the World Youth Day event into a weekly meet up at Starbuck’s all over the world.

5) Haze the Dog Loves you: The Pope should have a dog. And Haze would be a good watchdog in the Vatican. No Vati-leaks scandals on his watch.

Regardless, come on by and play the game. It’ll be fun no matter who wins. And thanks to Busted Halo for honoring me with a bid.

Rangers Reporter and Fordham’s Own John Giannone Takes Puck to the Face

Ouch watch this:

The guy’s a gamer, breaks open the bridge to his nose and does a live shot with blood dripping down his face. Now THAT’S HOCKEY.

John’s a good guy and a former colleague. I used to have him on every Saturday with Richard Neer to talk all kinds of things, but mostly hockey. He’s also a Fordham guy, so that automatically makes him cool.

And speaking of which the Sabres gave me an early present last night with a win:

I got a little excited at the end. I’m a big Miller fan so I was glad to see him make the save and for the Sabres to end their early season slump.

Here was my favorite moment of the game though:

The cutie with the hockey jersey on is my wife, who puts up with my sports watching. She took me to the hockey game last night and we had a good time. She even was a sport and put on a jersey.

My Adopted City

Tonight I’m headed to see a short documentary-like film about University Heights, the neighborhood that my parish sits in here in Buffalo. It’s a gala event and after working hard in the neighborhood on our Help the Heights programs this year, I’m really looking forward to learning a bit more about “The Heights.”

Many people ask me why I left NYC for the snowy streets of Buffalo. When I bought my house, one friend quipped, “I hope you’ll like that house as much when it’s buried under 6 feet of snow!”

Yes, yes…we get snow here. But here’s some facts to ponder.

Since I’ve moved here….New York, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Syracuse, Rochester, Washington, DC and anywhere in New Jersey has gotten more snowfall than Buffalo did in the last three years! I joke that I brought more moderate weather with me–but the truth is that we don’t get as much snowfall as Syracuse generally and Buffalo is well equipped for snow. I don’t think I’ve ever driven on snow much since I’ve moved here.

There’s talk today of building a new retractable roof stadium on the waterfront so Buffalo would be able to host the Super Bowl. I just might become a Bills season ticket holder if that happens.

The Sabres fans here are nuts, now if only we could get them on the ice. I love going to Hockey games here.

I just saw the Indigo Girls play with the Buffalo Philharmonic–as they said, the best band ever! It was by far the coolest concert I’ve ever been to and I’ve seen Springsteen at the Garden.

Niagara Falls is about a half hour drive from my house (and I drive like grandma) and there’s not a better state park in the world. The Maid of the Mist is one of the best tourist attractions I’ve ever been on.

Buffalo could be a great city with just a few tweaks here and there. There has been much government corruption over the past 50 years or so, but that hopefully will start to turn around as the page turns into a new era.

You should come visit me sometime and see for yourself. This is a wonderful place to be. And I’m proud to say that after more than 3 years, Buffalo is starting to feel like home.

Check out this wonderful and accurate video on my adopted city.

A tailgate, a ballgame and a good friend

Last night I went to the UB football game and the tailgate before hand the news caught me on camera..see if you can find me.

The guy walking and talking on his cell phone is Fr. Tom Gibbons who came down for a brief visit. Unfortunately the Bulls couldn’t pull one out against Kent State but hey, it was a fine crisp fall night anyway with a good friend.

And those indeed…are priceless.

Pray for Abused Women Today

As the story continues to unfold regarding the ECMC murder yesterday details unfold that the criminal and coward who shot a 33 year old woman was abusing her for a long time when they were in a relationship.

The victim, Jackie Wisniewski, 33, a single mother from West Seneca who was looking forward to her son’s pre-K graduation today, had confided to friends that Jorden had abused her and that he had been stalking her.

“She told me, ‘I’m scared,'” said her friend, Heather Shipley. “She said: ‘If anything happens to me, you know who did it.'”

Jorden, 49, who had served in the Army Special Forces as a weapons expert, had been exhibiting strange behavior and had recently lost a dramatic amount of weight, colleagues and neighbors said.

Jorden recently had been driving by Wisniewski’s house and taking down license plates of vehicles in the driveway, Shipley said.

Wisniewski, who had worked on the psychiatric floor at ECMC, found a GPS system that Jordan apparently planted on her car to keep track of her movements, Shipley said.

That led Wisniewski to file a police report, according to Shipley.

The doctor also held Wisniewski hostage at knifepoint in her home, Shipley said.

“He threatened to kill her a couple of times,” she said, “but I think in her mind she wouldn’t believe it would actually happen.”

People of faith, let us not idly stand by when we know that women are being abused. We should not and can not stand for this when we hear about it, just as much as we can’t stand by when we hear children are being abused. If you hear about a woman being abused, if a woman confides in you and says she’s being abused, call the cops. It’s that simple.

Men out there, take it upon yourselves to tell your friends that you won’t tolerate this behavior. Let people know that men who hit women are cowards and should be locked up. It’s not funny or macho to beat a woman or to use terms like “bitchslap” which always gives me a visceral reaction when I hear it.

Let us honor women with our lives as men, as protectors of the good and let us live lives where women do not have to live in fear, most especially of guys like us.

And Deliver Buffalo from Evil…

A shooting occurred at Eric County Med Center (ECMC) this morning here in Buffalo. Many of my medical students do rotations there, so I’m obviously quite concerned for them.

Some details from the Buffalo News:

Buffalo police are looking for a prominent trauma surgeon in connection with the fatal shooting this morning of a woman on the campus of the Erie County Medical Center.

Timothy V. Jorden Jr., 49, of Lakeview, is described as a bald, black male, about 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds. Police also said Jorden, who served in the Army, could be “special weapons trained.”

The victim was a 33-year-old woman who worked at the hospital, and the shooting was “not a random act,” authorities said.

The shooting death prompted authorities to lock down the hospital as a huge police presence converged on the campus to find the killer. The lockdown was lifted shortly before noon.

People familiar with the case called Jorden a well-known, popular trauma surgeon at the medical center. Two sources, though, said Jorden had experienced some emotional problems in recent months.

Some news outlets are speculating that this was a domestic case involving child custody. An undisclosed school has reportedly been locked down as well. ECMC was on lockdown for some time. The suspect had taught at UB’s Med School for some time but does not have an office there at present so it is business as usual there.

One woman is dead and another unidentified woman was injured. Please pray for them and for anyone who has witnessed this.

New Buffalo Bishop Malone Googles God

Habamus Epicoparium! Which is my best attempt at bad latin to say “We have a new Bishop in Buffalo. It’s the now former Bishop of Portland, Maine Bishop Richard Malone, ThD.

When asked what he knew about Buffalo he talked about some general knowledge that he had known about Buffalo but then said…

“Google then became my best friend.”

And therefore, we hope that we become friends as well.

Welcome to the diocese, Bishop. I hope your stay is long and that we can be good servants to you and to the people of God in this diocese together.

The new Bishop is no stranger to Campus Ministers having served in that role at Harvard and in a few other places, and he taught at Emmanuel College for a bit. So we share that love for young people in university life. He’s a big expert in catechesis having served as Director of the Office of Religious Education for the Archdiocese of Boston and also as Secretary for Education.

He’s Jesuit trained (Weston in Boston) which makes me happy as a good son of Ignatius and my sources tell me that he’s a friendly guy who gets to know people well.

Seems like a perfect choice for Buffalo…a good neighbor in his own right with a little something to offer everyone.

Here’s the feed of his press conference from the morning:

So welcome, Bishop Malone. Glad you’re used to the snow from up North and hope that we can look forward to many happy years with you as our shepherd.

And a fond so long to Bishop Kmiec who has served us for 8 years. He’s been a great friend and we are glad that he’ll maintain a residence here in the Diocese.

It is this prayer for both Bishops old and new that we offer today:

Let us pray that God will grant Bishop Malone a courageous and gentle heart to serve the people of Buffalo with the gifts that he brings to this diocese. May he continue to receive the gift of wisdom from the Holy Spirit so that he may lead us well and be open to the call of the Spirit, especially during challenging times. May he know the gift that the people of Buffalo are to the diocese and may he be blessed with good and faithful people committed to the church and to seeing God in all things.

May the Lord also grant Bishop Kmiec a wonderful retirement and continue to have him bless us with his gifts as he continues to be our good neighbor and a shepherd for our community. May he know the gift he has been for all of us.

Lord, help us to welcome with prayer and open hearts our new shepherd and may you bless your people with peace. This we ask in your name. Amen.

Serving God’s People for 40 Years

It’s ordination season as you know. I was gifted to attend the ordination of 3 good friends in New York and catch up with some of my old Paulist colleagues.

But closer to my new Buffalo home, we are celebrating 40 years of priesthood for our beloved pastor, Fr. Jack Ledwon. He claims that our parish makes it easy for him to be a priest, but let’s face it, no parish makes it easy. There’s a lot that goes on in any parish and that is a lot of hard work and Fr. Jack has done this not only with fervor but with a bucketload of grace.

At first glance you would think that Fr. Jack and I would not be friends. He’s an opera buff, I’m a baseball fan. He once asked me if Derek Jeter was the pitcher when I was watching a Yankee game.

“Yeesh, we’re starting here!” was my response.

He took it in stride, “Well now you can be my go-to guy for all my sports questions.” he answered back.

Then he paused and said, “Oh wait! I don’t have any sports questions.”

He continued with “Well wait again, I can be your go-to guy for all your opera questions!”

“Um, Fr. Jack,” I offered, “I don’t have any opera questions.”

We both laughed hard. We do however share a love for the church, the people of God and especially for students and young people. We love dogs, him more of the big dog types while I’m more of a small dog person. We enjoy a good laugh and spend time together joking and telling stories, two of our favorite pastimes. We value each other’s opinions which is important in a collaborative relationship.

In short, Fr. Jack has been our pastor, but he’s also, more importantly, been our friend.

Happy Anniversary, my friend. Many more.