St. Mary of the Angels is looking back as it plans its future. As the Olean parish prepares for the centennial celebration of its church in 2015, the building is being restored to its 1915 look and feel. The parish has also built a chapel dedicated to the children who witnessed the apparition of Fatima in 1917.
The parish was actually founded in 1876, but three church buildings have stood on the South Union Street property. Msgr. Nelson H. Baker formally opened the current building on Sept. 26, 1915. Bishop William Turner, sixth bishop of Buffalo, and Cardinal Patrick Hayes of New York consecrated the church two years later.
"The church was consecrated in 1917, the exact year as the apparition in Fatima. There was a great deal of excitement in this town when that happened," said Father Gregory Dobson, pastor of St. Mary's. "What I want to do is get in touch with the faith life of the people 100 years ago, and Fatima was a very strong part of that 100 years ago when the church was open and then consecrated."
The chapel, which rests in the former school, now the parish life center, houses a new mural depicting the three children who claim to have seen a vision of Mary in a Portuguese village. Titled "Asciancas de Fatima" or "Children of Fatima" the painting measures 10 by 5 feet, spans three canvases, and was painted by St. Bonaventure Friar, Brother David Haack, OFM.
The painting shows the three shepherd children responding to a light not seen by the viewer. There is only the illusion of a sun spinning. They have a childlike wonder-filled response to something happening. One child, Francisco, is looking outward as if inviting the viewer into the experience.
"There's a sense of spontaneity and wonder about it because that's the way children are," Father Dobson said. "Those are the kind of people close to God and it seems the Blessed Mother chooses to make her presence felt to."
Father Dobson commissioned the painting, saying he wanted it to be child friendly, as a way to celebrate the faith of the young people of this parish. He knew Brother David from St. Bonaventure University, where he just retired from teaching art. His work is exhibited all over the United States.
"I've seen his work all through the years and I thought it was the kind of work I would want to appeal to children," he said, describing the friar's work as colorful, whimsical and captivating. Parishioner Bernard (Buz) Wenke built the frame. Stan and Mary Cygan funded the painting as a tribute to their daughter Margaret Mary, who was killed in a 2001 car accident.
The rest of the chapel is a composite of elements from other neighboring churches that have closed over the years. Professional interior decorators from Ashley Furniture HomeStore tastefully designed the chapel that includes the altar and pews from St. John the Baptist in Vandalia, stained glass windows and Stations of the Cross from Sacred Heart in Knapp Creek, and an exterior crucifix from Sacred Heart in Portville.
There is also a crucifix from St. Michael the Archangel, Weston Mills; a tabernacle from St. Joseph's Manor; and candelabra from St. Patrick's, Salamanca. There are also two small antique statues from John and Mary Kerner. Bishop Richard J. Malone blessed the chapel in May and will help celebrate the centennial of the church in September 2015.
Visitors can view the painting in the chapel during regular business hours.