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175 flashback: Bishop Timon, founder of the diocese

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Bishop John Timon, CM, left a lasting impression on the Diocese of Buffalo, the full scope of which is probably not well known.

 Bishop Timon, who served in Buffalo from 1847 to 1867, was not only the founder of the diocese, but the foundation as well. He built the first hospital in the city, as well as Catholic colleges and high schools where he saw a need. Bishop Timon oversaw the building of St. Joseph Cathedral, Sisters of Charity Hospital, St. Mary’s School for the Deaf, Niagara University, Nardin Academy, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s local chapter. All but one institution, Holy Angels Academy, still stand 155 after his death.

Bishop John Timon, CM, first Bishop of Buffalo

“The thing about Timon was, he was very strategic. He established institutions that the area needed,” Former Christ the King Seminary Professor Dennis Castillo explained. “He would do no duplication of services. The only case where there was duplication was the orphanage, where he was concerned that Catholic boys were being placed into Protestant farms, as well as Catholic clergy were not allowed to visit.”

He founded very few elementary schools because there was nothing anti-Catholic in the public school curriculum. He focused on what the diocese didn’t have, such as high schools and colleges.

“The genius was, he would find something that the community lacked and then he would form partnerships with the doctors, with the University at Buffalo, to make it non-sectarian so that he could get state funding,” Castillo said.

One surprise move was putting St. Joseph Cathedral in the heart of downtown, in a Protestant area, near the Episcopal cathedral. He wanted the Catholics to be a part of the general society, not segregated into a Catholic area the way Archbishop John Hughes ran New York City.

Castillo admires his zeal. “His putting the community first and doing whatever he could to serve the people. I think he’s a beautiful son of St. Vincent. He has a great devotion to the poor and a zeal for spreading the gospel. He’s really a model in that sense. The biographer called him a man in a hurry. I think that’s a good way of labeling him. He was always on to the next project. He didn’t waste time.”

Legend has it that while riding a train to Buffalo, the train stopped short and, rather than wait, Timon walked. He died after catching an infection while giving the last rites.

“He was always a priest,” said Castillo.

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