Man of faith, Michael Mombrea celebrates 100 years
On Sunday, Dec. 6, the family of Michael Mombrea gathered for their patriarch’s 100th birthday. The Buffalo resident can best be described as a man of faith, whose only goal is to make people happy. He credits a very spiritual experience he had in 1973 for making him that way. It’s a long story, so he doesn’t go into details, but it is part of the rich pageant that has filled the first century of his life.
“I was born a Catholic, and I was kind of a mechanical Catholic. I went to church because that’s what you did, but my faith really wasn’t engrained in me until this unique spiritual experience I had,” he explained. “From that day on, my faith has become alive. The Eucharist is my whole life. I try to go to Mass every day and receive the body and blood of Jesus, and whatever I can do to increase my faith.”
He has dedicated the past 28 years to supporting the pre-born by protesting outside abortion clinics in Buffalo and Florida.
In order to learn how he got involved, we have to go back to 1941, when he received his draft notice. Not wanting to go on 10-mile hikes with his flat feet, Mombrea joined the Air Corps to be trained as a pilot. After nearly failing out of flight school, he received his pilot’s wings on July 29, 1942. Rather than go into combat, Mombrea was told he had to be an instructor and stay behind as his buddies flew their missions. “I was devastated because I wanted to be with these guys. But the Lord knew what He was doing because three of them were shot down,” he recalled. After the war he used the GI Bill to train as a news cameraman in New York City. Television was in its infancy at the time and its potential interested him.
Even though he had a family to support, his wife Fay and two kids and had just lost a 14-month son, Fay gave her blessing for her husband to go to New York City to study. He drove 11 hours each weekend to be home with his family. This was before New York state had thruways.
After graduating, Mombrea spent a few months without a job, but then saw how the Lord was working in his life. He still recalls the small details of the very start of a career that lasted 32 years. It came about after running into an old friend at Your Host restaurant.
“We were having coffee and we were talking. What could we do for each other and so forth,” he said. “I told him I had just graduated from TV school. He told me Channel 4 news had called him that day. He said the previous summer he worked for two months for Channel 4 news as a TV news cameraman for just the summer vacation, but he had just gotten a brand new job that was permanent and he turned down Channel 4. He said, why don’t you call Channel 4, which I did the next day.”
He was hired for the summer to fill in for those camera operators who took time off, but stayed on for more than three decades, retiring in 1984, to take care of his wife after she had a heart attack and a stroke.
Now let’s move ahead to April 1992. Operation Rescue was coming to Buffalo. A minister asked Mombrea to film the rally to document the abuse and harassment the pro-lifers receive from the those who support abortion, but it rarely seen on television.
“He said the media never covers that. He said, we know because of your job that you’re eligible. Would you be willing to film many of the events that take place to document any irregularities or any harassment against the pro-lifers. I said sure. And that’s how I became active. I got hundreds of feet of film showing these pro-abortion people harassing the pro-lifers, physically beating them up, spitting at ministers and priests, and all kinds of abuse that you’ll never see in the media. Ever since then, I dedicated my life to defending the unborn,” he said.
He and his wife would pray the rosary outside Buffalo’s Women’s Services Clinic every Saturday. They would do the same in front of an abortion facility in Florida during the winter. He continued even after his wife of 70 years passed away in 2013. He only stopped a month ago due to the Coronavirus.
“Every time I see a pregnant woman, I would say, ‘Thank you for choosing life. I pray you’re going to have a healthy baby.’ Then I give them the pin (with two feet the actual size of a 10-week fetus) with a little card that tells them the whole history of their pregnancy from conception until birth. I’ve given probably 200 of them away,” he said.
“I had a great thrill a few weeks ago. I was in Wegman’s and this woman had a cart with two little children. She said, ‘Hi, Mike.’ I said, ‘Do I know you?’ She said, ‘Don’t you remember last year when I was pregnant, you prayed that I have a healthy baby. These are my twins.’”
Mombrea and his wife, were both Eucharistic ministers at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Tonawanda for 30 years. He has also shot videos for the parish to mark special occasions.
“Anything I can do to help the church with my talent, I would do that,” he said.
Just before his centennial birthday, he pondered the secret too long life. He thinks it comes from spreading joy.
“I love to talk to people. Whenever I see someone at the supermarket, I strike up a conversation and try to give them something positive to cheer them up. I have all kinds of jokes that I tell them, every category you could imagine, and I would never leave anyone sad,” he said, adding that he has no physical problems at his age. He still drives and cooks for himself. “I love people. Every person to me is a special person made by God, who deserves dignity and honor regardless of their background. That is what is keeping me young and healthy. I live alone, I drive. I take care of my household chores. I can cook. And those are the gifts that I have received from the Lord.”
Blessed Sacrament’s 11 a.m. Mass on Sunday, Dec. 6, was dedicated to Mombrea. Even though his faith has never faltered, his birthday plans sadly have. His kids had planned a big party at the Buffalo Yacht Club at the beginning of the year, when 100 people could still gather. Now with gathering limits, he decided to have a much smaller celebration at his son’s house with just the immediate family.
Blessed Sacrament parishioner Michael Mobrea celebrates his 100th birthday. Photo courtesy of Blessed Sacrament, Tonawanda.