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East Aurora Faith Fest welcomes some faces from the past


Immaculate Conception Parish in East Aurora welcomed two surprise guests at their annual Faith Fest – St. John Neumann and Venerable Nelson Baker. The two priests who have received folk hero status in the Diocese of Buffalo spoke about their role in forming the diocese.

Will Maloney in the guise of Father Nelson Baker demonstrates how the real Father Baker found a gas well on his Lackawanna parish property. The presentation took place at Immaculate Conception’s Faith Fest in East Aurora. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

Father Neumann (actually Leo Bindig) stepped right out of 1847 to tell the gym-full of children and parents that he was building a new church in Williamsville. He asked his audience if SS. Peter & Paul would be a good name.

Denise York, co-director of Faith Formation for the parish, greeted him, asking if he came by way of horse from Batavia. True to the stories of the future saint, he said he walked.

“I don’t like riding horses,” he explained.

He carried with him a backpack full of his pastoral materials such as a chalice, paten and Bible. As there were so few churches in the area (at least in his day), he would often celebrate Mass in people’s homes and needed to always be prepared. The lack of churches made him want to build some in Williamsville and North Bush (St. John the Baptist in Kenmore), as well as St. Mary Church and elementary school in Lancaster.

As York continued talking about the 175-year history of the diocese, the name of Father Baker came up, and he appeared, looking an awful lot like young parishioner Will Maloney.

After explaining his ministry of helping orphans in St. Joseph’s Protectory, Father Baker explained his goals of building a basilica dedicated to Our Lady of Victory. He then used the children present to demonstrate how he discovered the famous Victoria Gas Well that heated OLV facilities and still runs today. He led a procession of children praying the Hail Mary, until he felt he found the right spot to dig.

Following Father Baker’s exit, those in attendance were invited to write down their own histories including what countries their families came from, what parishes they joined, and their Catholic traditions.

Photos of local churches that ministered to specific immigrant populations hung on the gym walls. People could see where their ancestors would worship or where they would if the came to Buffalo 175 years earlier. 

“Hopefully, they have an appreciation of how much faith mattered when people came here. The history of Buffalo is very much intertwined with the history of the Catholic Church,” York said.

Interestingly, she found in history books that people’s faith was so a part of their identity that they would claim to be from Assumption (the parish) rather than Black Rock (the town).

Nathan and Katie Kubiak work on a word search during the Faith Fest at Immaculate Coneption Parish in East Aurora. The annual event welcomes families to learn about their parish, diocese and Catholic faith. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

The last portion of the morning had the kids going into one of the classrooms to learn about St. Joseph Cathedral, as their parents learned about Sister Karen Klimczak, SSJ, Buffalo’s apostle of peace and founder of Bissonette House.

The kids learned that while the cathedral was under construction, a disastrous storm hit, forcing people to flee their homes. Bishop John Timon opened the doors to the cathedral and set up tents as a makeshift village. “Even before the cathedral was done, it was a safe haven for people to gather,” said York

One girl coloring a picture of the cathedral, drew in a picture of the Grinch, “Because we need to love everybody,” she said.

“I think it was fun,” remarked Taylor Palizay, who attended with her kids Miles and Emma. “They certainly enjoyed it. It was interesting to learn a lot about the history.”


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