The History of Hispanic Catholic Ministry in the Diocese of Buffalo began in the Steel City in 1949 when Bishop John O'Hara was called to address the spiritual needs of the Spanish speaking people in Lackawanna. The numbers of the Spanish-speaking Mexicans in that area was increasing.
Later, in the 1950s, there was an increase in the numbers of Catholics coming from Puerto Rico. It was at that time that Catholic Charities hired Sister M. Hedwig, SSS, to work with the Spanish-speaking people.
Bishop O'Hara appointed Father Nicholas A. Tinney, OFM, teacher at Bishop Timon High School, to do weekend work among the Spanish-speaking people. The bishop knew that Father Tinney had been in Mexico for two years and knew the language, and would be able to say Mass, visit with the families in the area and hear confessions. He preached every Sunday at Queen of All Saints Church in Lackawanna. Bishop O'Hara himself was fluent Spanish speaker and was known at times to hear confessions and marry couples in Lackawanna.
In 1951, Msgr. Julius J. Szabo, director of Catholic Charities, hired Sister Hortensia, SSS, to work with the Spanish-speaking community. She immediately began a census. She then started a choir, boys' and girls' club, and organized various social clubs. Sister Hortensia began involving many people from the community who can still tell us about those days, people like Mary Alvira, Josephine Saldana and Lupe Sanchez.
In 1952, Puerto Rican families began to settle in Lackawanna. Father Tinney was transferred and the Redemptorist Fathers from St. Mary Church on Broadway took on the priestly duties in Lackawanna. Sister Hortensia discovered that it was obvious that a full-time priest was needed.
Bishop Burke weighed in on the situation in Lackawanna and in the migrant camps outside of Buffalo. In July 1953, he sent three newly-ordained priests, Father Thomas Dailey, Father Edward Scanlan and Father David Scheider, to serve in Puerto Rico for one year.
In the spring of 1954, Msgr. Julius Szabo was appointed the director of the Spanish-Speaking Apostolate in Lackawanna and Buffalo. The office was at Assumption Church in Lackawanna. Father Scheider became his assistant and had Mass in Spanish. Father Scheider together with Sister Hortensia started Block Rosary, altar boys club, devotions in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Holy Name Society and the Sacred Heart Society.
If you would like to read a little more of the early history join us for the Second Annual Hispanic Heritage Mass celebration that will take place on Sunday, Sept. 21, at Holy Cross Church, Buffalo, 12:30 p.m. Bishop Richard J. Malone will celebrate Mass and Father David Muñoz will be the homilist. The Mass will be followed by a reception.