It is a parish that connected two cities. A parish that was begged to be built. A parish that 100 years later, still has young blood tending to its needs. Our Lady of Peace celebrated 100 years of ministry in Clarence with a Mass led by Bishop Michael W. Fisher, with pastor emeritus Father Thomas Doyle, and current pastor Father Walter J. Szczesny.
“Throughout this whole year, our parish community has celebrated 100 years of faith ministry,” Father Szczesny said from the altar. “Not only do we celebrate 100 years, but we look forward to 300 more.”
The Oct. 9 Mass came two days before the anniversary of the day Bishop William Turner blessed the cornerstone and dedicated the original parish church. The current church faces Main Street, which used to be a stagecoach line connecting Buffalo to Batavia. People making the trip from city to city would often stay overnight in Clarence Hollow. Soon, they would begin to reside there. Tired of having to travel a few miles to St. Teresa’s in Akron to attend Mass, they begged Father John Uriel, pastor of St. Teresa’s, to set up a mission in the Clarence area. He had some misgivings because Catholics were not looked upon very favorably in the predominantly Protestant area. But the residents began work on their new house of worship in March 1922, and a small church was built on East Hill. By the time Father John O’Malley arrived as pastor in 1963, the town of Clarence had grown from the 2,660 people there in 1920 to almost 16,000. The little church was no longer adequate. “Standing Room Only” was the ordinary Sunday situation, so Father O’Malley built a church as well as a combination rectory and religious education center. These were dedicated in 1965.
The small A-framed church has a simple design adorned by handcrafted woodwork, statuary and colorful stained-glass windows.
“It’s such a beautiful church, but the beauty of its buildings doesn’t match the beauty of its people,” Bishop Fisher said, opening his homily.
“One hundred years is a long time when we consider the events in our own lives. Though, probably in the scheme of things, it really isn’t that long. But so much has happened since the founding of this beautiful church. There have been a lot of events in the history of Buffalo, Western New York, the United States and the world,” the bishop said.
The parish was established between World Wars, following a pandemic of the Spanish Flu. Worry and fear were rampant.
“It seems as if nothing has changed. Here we are trying to emerge from our own pandemic, Covid-19, as well as threats of war – nuclear war – in our world today. How much more do we need the intercession of Our Lady, particularly Our Lady under the title ‘Our Lady of Peace?’”
Clarence was built on immigrants seeking freedom, opportunity, and the ability to flourish as families and in their Catholic faith. The families, parents, grandparents, great grandparents and neighbors of the current residents are part of the tapestry that makes up the parish history.
“We rejoice in 100 years of faith and struggle to continue the mission of our Lord in the proclamation of the Good News, celebration of the sacraments – especially the Eucharist, and the education of our children in the ways of faith so that they may be productive citizens, but most importantly, holy people of God,” the bishop concluded.
Following Mass, Bishop Fisher blessed the new church organ and the refurbished grotto that faces Main Street.
The grotto received a path made of stone pavers, ending with a bench, and a new Mary garden courtesy of Jacob Wind, who worked on it to earn his Eagle Scout badge.
“This church has been a big part of my life for my entire childhood. It was a good way to give back to the church,” Wind said.
Why is the church so important to a 17-year-old?
“It’s the people. Everyone here is so kind and giving. I got a lot of help from the parish in creating this. The people are just so special,” he said.
Mark and Bonnie Morgante have been attending Our Lady of Peace for 22 years. The noticed it as a peaceful church when they came into the area.
“It’s a welcoming community. When I first moved here, I bought a house and looked at a couple different parishes, but settled on this one. I had always admired it, driving by. It sort of looked peaceful,” explained Mark.
“It’s a family. Everyone is welcoming. I just love coming here,” added Bonnie.
Over their years at the parish, they have seen growth in several ministries such as the Altar and Rosary Society, the Holy Name Society and the Knights of Columbus.
Father Thomas Doyle, who served as pastor from 2003-2019, calls the people of the parish very generous.
“I think what makes it unique, especially in this part of Clarence; when people think of Clarence, they think of the rich and the wealthy. But this is a parish with the farmers – dairy farmers, egg farmers, you name it. It’s a nice blend. It’s not only rural people, but it’s farm people. It’s a nice mixture of people. I really enjoyed that,” he said.