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 Jets Fan in Bills Country

So I’m a New York Jets fan. Have been one all my life and I’m a diehard which is really tough on me because I now live in the city of one of our divisional foes the Buffalo Bills.

I remember as a kid the Bills breaking my heart in a Wild Card playoff game and since then, I’ve had a hard time having any love for the Bills.

However…the good news is that the Jets come here once a year and it’s a lot easier to get tickets for football games here than it is to get them in the spanking new Jets Meadowlands (whatever they’re calling it this week) Stadium.

So I went to the game yesterday with my friend Steve Spear, husband of my colleague Patty Bubar Spear. And yes, I wore my Jets jersey.

Now that’s a story in itself. I’ve owned a number of Jets jerseys never spending too much on them but still…when you buy the Pennington jersey and he ends up leaving the club you can’t exactly wear THAT jersey anymore.

So I’ve gotten tired of buying a new jersey every three years or so and I opted to buy a nice Jets jersey with #1 on it and my name HAYES on the back. I’ll get killed for saying this, but Haze the Dog also has a jersey (Haze Hayes #1) and wears it almost every Sunday. (Believe in the power of the Doggie jersey–when I forget to put it on him the Jets almost always lose.)

So I wore my “HAYES” Jersey yesterday–which is white with the green lettering. See, I’m a nice guy. The Bills were promoting “White out the stadium” and requested that their fans wear white and they also handed out white pompoms. I respected their plan and wore a white jersey to blend in.

I also thought it might help in not getting me killed.

So there were a lot of Jet fans at the game actually. Lots of old school Joe Klecko and Freeman McNeil jerseys two former Jets stars. Darrelle Revis jerseys were everywhere and he is our star defensive back.

But it was clearly Bills country. And I was clearly in enemy territory. If this were the Crips and the Bloods I would have been in big trouble.

Now, I know where I am. I expect the usual “Hey Jets fan—your team SUCKS!” comments walking through the parking lot. I even expect the occasional food item or even beer to be thrown at me.

I know where I am. And it’s all in good fun. I’m a good sport and I’m in your house flaunting the fact that I don’t like you–or at least, I don’t want your team to beat my guys.

I made a wrong turn and ended up in the level above where my seats were. Ralph Wilson Stadium is a bit confusing. So as I walked through the cheap seats I got a lot of extended hands—“Hey, go Jets!—Uh, no I don’t think so” and the not so original “J-E-T-S SUCK SUCK SUCK” which is a parody of our “J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS” cheer.

We hear that one in our own stadium. No big deal.

But as I walked through I got hit in the head with an M&M by some moron and I thought I had been transported back to the middle school cafeteria. As I started to exit the cheap seats a Bills fan spit water from his straw into my eye.

OK that’s just disgusting. The coward ran quickly away too. Hopefully he doesn’t have the flu.

I was seated in “The Rock Pile” —endzone seats but good ones. Mid level–not nosebleeds. As I walked in (alone–my friend Steve, had misplaced his ticket and had to ride back home for a quick retrieval–and walking in alone well, THAT wasn’t intimidating at all!), I got to my seat and found a young man, Matt wearing a green jersey: “24 Revis” and I exhaled deeply. At least the guy next to me isn’t a Bills fan.

Credit to the Bills fans in this section–they had some good taunts.

“Only QUEERS wear jerseys with their own name on it!”

“Hey, who’s Hayes? Does he play for the Jets? I don’t THINK SO!”

About half time a fan tapped me on the shoulder and said smiling—“Hey, Jet fan, who’s Hayes?”

I replied, “That would be me. I got tired of buying a new jersey every 2 years!”

The questioning fan gave me a high five and a good luck. As we went to the locker room up 3-0.

When the Bills intercepted QB Mark Sanchez in the end zone the really friendly Bills fan in front of me slapped the peak of my hat down on my face and wacked it playfully four more times.

I shut up and took the taunts that whole first half. I’m not about to trash talk in enemy territory. Don’t get me wrong I openly rooted. Clapping for good Jets plays and yelling when Nick Folk, our kicker put us on the board.

I got hit with the occasional empty candy box and someone pulled on my jersey once–but in general, Bills fans were pretty good to me in section 243. We had fun and I took every taunt in stride.

Except for one loud obnoxious woman–who called us every kind of name you could think of. When she called the guy next to me a not-so-nice term for female genitalia I looked at my buddy Steve and said:

“Classy!”

The Jets mauled them in the 2nd half. Leading 27-3 before the Bills got a garbage time TD to close to 27-11. That stadium got really quiet after that. If it had been the other way around, I wonder if I would have gotten out alive.

And it always takes some hot head to ruin an afternoon. An older man wearing a Freeman McNeil jersey was seated in the front row of our section. Three younger guys started to really razz him. At one point he hollered back. “Um, nobody’s bothering you. Grow up! It’s a game!”

“Know where you are!” the younger counterparts shouted back.

“I KNOW WHERE I AM! You think you can intimidate ME?! GROW…UP!” the old man growled back. He was pretty past his prime but I think he probably could have given these guys a run for their money.


I wanted to say to the younger guys “Dudes, you’re down 27-3. Shut up! Secondly, SHUT UP! And thirdly, um…shut up!” There’s no need to start something at this stage. They were clearly being Jim Rome’s famed “Likes to fight guy.”

All in all it was a great day. We made some friends Bills and Jets fans alike. We co-existed pretty peacefully. The two Bills fans in front of us were particularly nice and the women next to us, clad in their Buffalo hats, were perfect ladies. As both groups left the ladies gave us a “Nice game and take care, guys.” The guys in front said something to the effect of “Thanks for not being a bunch of jerks. You Jets fans are OK!”

Right back at ya, Bills fans. We’ll be beating you at our place in a few weeks and I hope that our fans treat you with the same respect that you showed to me.

You’ll have to know where you are and expect the usual taunts. I hope nobody spits at you though—classless. What is this Philadelphia?

In parting, being a Jets fan in Bills country is not always easy–but yesterday, I thought it could’ve been a lot worse. You Bills fans, for the most part, are OK.

Thanks to Steve Spear for a great day and for driving and to Stubhub.com for an affordable ticket.

Buffalo’s 75 Year Priest

In 1935 Fr. Bernard McLaughlin had no idea that he’d be a Bishop. He also probably didn’t think that 75 years later he’d still be at it at the age of 98.

Today is Bishop McLaughlin’s 75th anniversary of his ordination. Amazing!

From the Diocesan press release:

Bishop Edward U. Kmiec, the eighth bishop of Buffalo that Bishop McLaughlin has served under, paid a visit to Bishop McLaughlin’s Town of Tonawanda residence to meet with him and offer a blessing. He also celebrated with a family dinner.

“He is such an icon priest for us,” Bishop Kmiec said. “He is a wonderful symbol of priest and of priesthood. He is a priest with a capital p. What impressed me about him when I first came here was his wonderful humility. He is a priestly man, but also a very humble man. He is such a gentle person, very respectful, and very supportive of what I have done. He is very conscious of what is happening in the life of Church of the United States among the bishops and here in our diocese.”

A recent study done by CARA remarked that nearly 50% of men who applied to the priesthood from the 2009 ordination class were discouraged by someone, including parents in some cases. Bishop McLaughlin’s journey seems to confirm that trend in reverse:

During an interview with Daybreak TV Productions several years ago, Bishop McLaughlin remembered Msgr. James F. McGloin, who established the Diocesan Preparatory Seminary, as one of the people who encouraged his vocation. “He came to Visitation School to address the higher grades and encouraged the boys to become priests and the girls to become nuns. Becoming a priest came naturally to me.”

One of his teachers at Visitation School, Sister Benigna Schleh OSF(w), also influenced his decision. “You should go with him (Msgr. McGloin); you should become a priest,” she urged young Bernard on numerous occasions.

His parents were pleased with his decision to enter the priesthood. “We had a fairly large family (seven children). They were very happy about it.”

So congratulations to Bishop McLaughlin and may God bless him with many more years.

Freer Than Ever Before

Gloria Mwez, a Catholic volunteer here in Buffalo this past year did this thank you video for her community. Looks like they made quite an impact on her. For the easily offended there is some vulgarity in the song she chose in this video. She also had a great cameraman–me.

Have you considered doing a year of service? Check out CNVS.org to see some communities that you just might find interesting.

You Probably Think This Post Is About You

Qooheleth (the name means preacher and he is the narrator of Ecclesiastes) starts off Sunday’s first reading with the words: “Vanity of Vanities…all is vanity.”

Well…what exactly is vanity? And more importantly why is it sinful?

Most times we think of someone who is vain as someone who spends too much time in front of the mirror. Someone who thinks plastic surgery is just fine and fears the wrinkles and the graying or in my case, the losing, of the hair.

But vanity is also found in another place where we will immediately recognize it:

“Do not take the name of the Lord thy God, in vain!”

Again, a common misconception says that this only refers to cursing and using the name of God. “God damn it!” might be the most common example and when we think about that “curse” (or perhaps because we don’t really think about it), we discover the height of vanity.

We’re asking God to send someone or something to hell. We’re judging and saying that God in fact, SHOULD, send this person to eternal damnation. We know better than God does and we want to make sure that God is awake.

Vanity.

We also think that we know what is good for us and we try to stay in control at all times. A big mantra at work when I was in radio was “get ahead, stay ahead” in reference to workload but also to climbing the corporate ladder. The overriding theme is “This will make you happy.”

And that is what the central character of our gospel parable buys into today. He has an excess at the harvest. He has more than enough. So instead of sharing that harvest with his neighbors, he tears down the entire storage facility and builds bigger ones and then he will be set for a long time.

Sounds silly and it is. But we wouldn’t say that about someone who puts 8 million in the bank, would we?

Perhaps we should ask what he’s saving for–and does he or she really need to save that much? Aren’t there things that they can do right NOW with that excess cash?

Ecclesiastes, the great scripture scholar Lawrence Boadt, CSP, who died this week, has a theme that we might all do well to heed:

Simply put, we should “enjoy what God gives us now and use it the best we can….In the end Ecclesiastes message is one with that of Job–-trust and surrender to God’s loving care even if you cannot know where it will lead.”

In other words, you do not know better than God and do not know what God’s plan for us is. Therefore stop worrying about things and take things as they come. For tomorrow, we may perish.

The worry of not having enough, or most importantly of God not being enough is central to our readings today. Do we have enough money, food, shelter, enjoyment, sex? Can’t everything be just a wee bit better?

And there it is: vanity.

God can’t really be all that I really need? Don’t I need more than that?

Israel would value the name of God so much they wouldn’t say God’s name out loud. They’d simply breathe in (yaaaaaaaaa) and out (wuuuuuuuaaaaah)
and would say that Yahweh was even closer to us than to our own breath.

And what more could we need than that–for it gives us life.

But there is a far deeper question to ask ourselves…

Are we enough? Or are we too vain to bother?

Can we give all that we are and all that we have for others in need? Can we ransom our lives for many? Can we live our very lives not merely for ourselves but instead for those who are in need and for those who call us into their lives to be companions?

This week our Catholic Charities Volunteers in Buffalo begin to pack up their barns with the little that they have. They have spent their final week giving themselves away, if you will, to the organizations and people that they serve. I’ve seen them make gifts and videos for one another–simple gifts from their heart–so that they might remember and remind themselves of their time spent together–a precious gift all its own.

But it is the closeness that they now have with one another in community–a community that they have built that is difficult to now leave–that goes far beyond our own usual vanities. For these 8 people have seen each other that the best and worst. Women have been sans makeup and men were able to drop macho bravado for tenderness. They have cared not only for one another, but rather in the care that they are able to give each other, they empower each other to give to the world.

They give themselves away for others. They’ve done it for a year and now they cannot help but to continue to do that. They know that “One’s life does not consist of possessions.”

And that indeed makes them all richer than they ever imagined.

As am I, merely for knowing each one of them.

PHOTO CREDITS: Christina Sky Tello, Megan Crossman

Prayer Intention for Sunday’s Alternative Break

This morning I pray with gratitude for the students who have travelled with Katie and me to New York City. It has been a long journey and now we begin our work.

Lord, help us see your face in the eyes of the elderly today. May we come to value our elders and see their lives not as disposable or “used up” but rather, as imbued with your grandeur. All life is sacred and while it is hard for us to see those at the end of life deteriorating, it is helpful to remind ourselves that you Lord, were among the elderly of your time. We don’t often remember that.

I recall my own parents, now elderly themselves in their 80s, with gratitude for always listening and trusting that I would develop into the person that they hoped I could become. I am lucky to have them for this long as they did not have their own parents very long. While I learned how to be an adult and a husband from them, they learned to be parents by trial and error. And they did so with great love for my sister and me and for you, Lord.

Today be with our students, that they might celebrate old age in their youth, so that when they get old, they might be able to celebrate all that they are and all that they have been.

NYC Bound

We are headed to NYC today on Megabus to serve the needs of the poor. You can follow our meanderings here all week long as I’ll have some students doing reflections throughout the week.

We’ll be working with Kateri senior residence, Mercy Center in the Bronx, Covenant House and we’ll work with students doing a sandwich run to a local homeless shelter.

Please pray for safety and that we can see that God is indeed with us and in the lives of the poor.

Go South, Old Church?


USA Today talks of a church that has decided to up and move from Buffalo to the Southern State of Georgia.

St. Gerard’s was where her grandparents and parents were married, where she was baptized and wore the white dress, shoes and veil of First Communion. Years later, she can still hear the three great bells, still see the ceiling fresco of Mary crowned Queen of Heaven.
Sharon Wilbur took those memories of St. Gerard’s Roman Catholic Church with her when she moved decades ago to suburban Atlanta, where such a church exists only in pictures. Now, two years after it closed, her old church could be following her south.

Instead of building a neoclassical church, Wilbur’s growing parish wants to buy classical-style St. Gerard’s, take it apart and ship it 900 miles from Buffalo’s depopulated east side to Norcross, Ga., for reassembly at Mary Our Queen parish. The parish has the endorsement of the Catholic archdiocese of Atlanta, the diocese of Buffalo and St. Gerard’s former parishioners. All it needs is an additional $10 million. Advocates of the plan to move St. Gerard’s say it could be a template for saving closed church buildings by finding them new parishes in the suburbs or the Sun Belt — “preservation by relocation,” as Mary Our Queen’s website calls it.

The Catholic diocese of Buffalo and most former parishioners describe the plan as the only way to save St. Gerard’s. Buffalo has a glut of closed, empty churches — the diocese alone is trying to sell 22 other buildings — and a small congregation looking for a church probably couldn’t afford St. Gerard’s heating bill.

Historic preservation groups are split over the plan.

Some, such as Preservation Buffalo Niagara, accept the move as a necessary evil; others oppose it as what Tim Tielman, director of the Campaign for Buffalo History, Architecture and Culture, calls “a demolition and salvage operation. They want to harvest our architectural heritage and put it in a box.”

David Franczyk, president of the Buffalo city council, has a message for the Georgia parish: “Build your own church. We have enough vacant lots.”

At first glance, I thought I would agree with Mr. Franczyk. But in fairness, since I am king of fairness, there are reasons that parishes close, mostly because there is not a growing or vibrant community there. Transplanting a building to another locale is not the same as building a parish community. If there is a vibrant community in Georgia then maybe it’s a great solution. Perhaps the issue here is one of substituting the literal sacred space of a building (which, again, in fairness, can be very important) for the creation of sacred space in community with one another and developing that sense of community.

Since I’m new to the community here in Buffalo I looked into why the church closed or I should say merged with another parish in the first place. Buffalo Rising had details:

Following years of declining membership, St. Gerard closed in January, and the parish merged with Blessed Trinity on Leroy Avenue.

The diocese has received no offers for the church, which needs a new boiler, roof repairs and leading for its stained-glass windows — which would total hundreds of thousands of dollars, Keenan said.

“Do we preserve a building for nothing or are we going to preserve a building for a worship community?” asked the Rev. Francis X. Mazur, former pastor of St. Gerard, who supports moving the church.

Those opposing the idea “need to come up with a plan,” he said. “Give me an alternate plan, and I’m willing to listen to it.”

The Catch-22 in this case is that there are no buyers for the church and that leaves the diocese with choosing between letting a beautiful building fall into disrepair or moving the building and leaving another empty lot in Buffalo (of which there are a-plenty). The lesser of two less-than-ideal solutions may indeed be being employed here.

After Baptism…Nothing Was Ever the Same


This week I was gifted to be one of the many presenters at the Diocese of Buffalo’s Millennial Milestones Conference. The Diocese’s foundation is offering grants on young adult ministry initiatives and so the diocesan staff put together a two day conference providing workshops on who young adults are today (My presentation), leadership, parish initiatives and sacramentality.

Dr Jerry Galipeau, D.Min. who you can meet over at the Gotta Sing, Gotta Pray Blog provided me with the most emotional experience of baptism in some time.

He began speaking about visiting the church where he was baptized and it struck him that “my little head was in that font and from that moment on, nothing was ever the same.” He noted that his parents thought so much of him that they baptized him into the Catholic community of faith and everything from then on, changed. Because he was Catholic he had studied for the priesthood and instead of choosing ordination he chose the path of parish ministry as a lay person. A gifted musician and liturgist, he has been gift for the church for over 50 years now. It all sprang from that initial moment of water running over a little baby’s head.

Dr Galipeau had us all go to the chapel and remember those who were present at our own baptism. Parents, grandparents perhaps, Godparents. A priest. Perhaps some of us, unlike myself, were baptized as adults? What a profoundly different experience that may have been. I know my favorite moment every year is the Easter Vigil, when many adults are newly baptized. It’s an amazing experience to watch and to walk with these people as they study in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). I remember my good friend Sr. Jeanne Hamilton led RCIA classes one year at Fordham and when the Vigil was over she reported, “I feel like I just gave birth…12 times!”

I approached the font thinking of my parents and my Godparents. My parents are such strong reminders of what it means to stay faithful to God as they have lived married life for nearly 60 years together. My Godmother I can barely remember but I do remember her being very dedicated to me and to my education. She was always encouraging me to read and to learn and to most importantly, stay out of trouble. My Godfather was another story. A World War II veteran, my mother’s brother, Patrick, who every one called Bubby, returned from war changed. The big worry of my baptism day was whether or not he’d show up sober. My mother, always the encouraging one, said that she wasn’t worried and that he was going to be the godfather and that’s that. She believed in him and I think that was all that mattered to him. With his sister’s trust, he came and held me over the font and everything worked out just fine. He became someone I looked forward to visiting and who cared for my mother and my family more than most. I even read the second reading at his funeral which I think was one of the first times I was really representing my entire family at a formal event.

Nothing was ever the same.

As I took water from the font, I did so with much gratitude for that changing day. That day when I became part of the church and where indeed, nothing would ever be the same again. I scooped up a large quantity of that water, more than ever mindful, that my life has been blessed with great people, great churches, great pastors and great colleagues in ministry.

And because of my little head being dipped in the font of new life, I have been baptized into new life and need to recall that changing moment again and again.