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South Buffalo comes together as Family of Parishes

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The South Buffalo pilot family has finally got its new Mass schedule set. After months of planning, the family of four parishes using five worship sites has found a way to accommodate all the family members with 21 Masses and some time for adoration. The parish leaders, as well as the parishioners, have come together to strengthen the community for the future.

Father Bill Quinlivan, pastor of the Catholic Family of South Buffalo, reads over a prayer at the 14th Station of the Cross at Holy Cross Cemetery. the four parishes in his family worked together to create an outdoor Stations of the Cross last spring. (Photo by Dawn Iacono)

The new Families of Parishes model brings with it, new roles for priests, deacons and laity who will work together under one pastor to serve the needs of the family. Families range in size from three to six parishes. South Buffalo is one of six pilot families.

The Catholic Family of South Buffalo, as they are collectively known, is comprised of St. Martin of Tours, Our Lady of Charity (with St. Ambrose and Holy Family worship sites), St. Teresa and St. Thomas Aquinas, and led by Father Bill Quinlivan. A parochial vicar will be named later. Three deacons – Robert A. Dobmeier, Daniel Denecke and Timothy Maloney will serve the individual parishes.

The new model comes after the long separation due to the Covid pandemic. Many parishioners have not attended Mass or been in contact with each other in two years.

“The timing of this was not ideal,” Father Quinlivan said. “I guess it never will be ideal. There will always be something going on in your life or the life of the Church where you say, ‘Could we just wait a few more years?’”

He admits everyone involved is being asked to make some sacrifices. Mass times have been shuffled. Job descriptions will change. Some will have to drive a little farther for meetings.  

“The only way this model is going to work is with really wholehearted participation from a whole lot of more people than we normally run a parish with,” he said.

Although Father Quinlivan officially became pastor Aug. 1, the parishes have working as a family for several months. They organized an outdoor Stations of the Cross for Lent and a Eucharistic Holy Hour with close to 200 people attending. A planned appearance in the Labor Day Parade had to be cancelled due to bad weather.

Bonnie Szalda from St. Teresa’s, along with Becky Benz from St. Martin’s, and Mary Ann King from Our Lady of Charity, serves on the family Outreach Committee. Outreach/Inreach, along with Liturgy, Spiritual Life, Forming Disciples, Stewardship and Administration are the six pillars that require constant planning, monitoring and evaluation in each parish.  

Szalda has a long history of outreach service at St. Teresa’s, where the committee met monthly to plan social action programs which reflect the concern of Christ for the needy and oppressed.

“What drew me many years ago was, of course, the need,” Szalda explained. “The things we were starting to do in the parish. We have a great program called the Think Project, and it reaches out to the entire parish at St. Teresa’s. Then we started to reach out to the parishioners who are so generous in their donations to us. Then we got involved in other activities – the Genesis House and things like that. It snowballed. I love reaching out to people and seeing what good it does.”

The Think Program began in St. John the Evangelist and brought to St. Teresa when the two parishes merged in 2008. It involves using a weekly theme in the collection of food and other pantry staples. “One week we’ll have broth. One week we’ll have laundry products. Things like that. Then we distribute them to the local food pantries,” explained Szalda. “They want people to think about helping the needy.”

The program themes have already been added to the activities calendar shared by the Family of Parishes.

Szalda looks forward to working with the larger family group. “We can go further,” she said. “We can come together as a family. More people can be involved and we can do more things. It excited me a lot.”

As a family, the group is discussing ideas of how to touch people’s lives and bring those who have not returned to church since the pandemic back to Mass.

Calling the family meetings a “great experience,” Szalda thinks good things are in the future of South Buffalo.

“It’s been good. Although we’re just in the beginnings yet. Some of the small things we’ve done, the parishioners have been very agreeable and very excited,” she said. “I have a feeling all those parishes are going to be a willing part to collaborate together and do things as a family.”

Brian Meyer, director of music and worship at Our Lady of Charity, advises all the parishes to have an open mind when meeting with other family members.

“Have an open mind and hang on tight, because it changes all the time. It changes daily. You don’t know what’s coming any day of the week, so you have to roll with the punches,” he said.

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