For most practicing Catholics in Western New York, going to Mass involves a short walk to the church on their corner, or a brief drive to a neighboring town or city. For Daniel Gangi, a parishioner of St. Joseph Parish in LeRoy and a grand knight of the Knights of Columbus' Edward Powers Council in LeRoy, going to church involved attending Mass in every church in the eight-county Diocese of Buffalo.
Between 1986 and 1995, Gangi visited all 292 churches of the diocese, before closings and mergings in the diocese since then. Initially, he attended Mass at St. Joseph, but his job as a courier required him to travel to other areas and attend Mass at other churches, which gave him the idea to visit all of them.
"Back in the mid-1980s, I saw a map in the Western New York Catholic, and it had little dots all over the place where each church was located," Gangi said. "I thought, 'Look at that; that's kind of neat, and wouldn't it be something to try to visit them all?' I do like seeing other churches, so that's what got me started."
Gangi started by visited the 17 Catholic churches in Genesee County at the time, the ones nearest to him. He proceeded into Orleans County, Wyoming County and the other five. In order to help him plan out which churches to visit next, Gangi used a map of the diocese, much like the one he saw in the newspaper, which had included all eight of the diocese's counties and the Buffalo metro area.
"Whenever I would go to a church, I'd put a little dot on the map where the church was located, on the corner of this street and that street. I checked them all off in the directory," he said.
This process continued until he had been to all of them, Gangi said. While it started on a whim, it was a project that kept him busy for several years. Since there have been new parishes created via merging, Gangi said this means he still needs to travel more in order to complete his goal.
"As a matter of fact, there's probably one that I haven't been to right now, and that would be St. Martin de Porres in the inner city, because that opened up after I finished," Gangi said.
Gangi, a graduate of Le Roy Central School, said since the 1980s, he had always maintained a job that required him to stay on the road, which made traveling between counties easier.
"It wasn't as difficult as you might think to get to all of them," he said. "(The most difficult thing was) coordinating which Masses I was going to go to. I've been to five and six Masses in a day at places. They weren't all Sunday Masses, daily Masses, so kind of looking at the directory and coordinating, 'I'm going to go to this Mass at 7:30, and this Mass at 8:30,' and so on and so forth."
Gangi said during his cross-county expedition, his only regret was that he did not bring a camera to get pictures of all of the churches he visited, citing the beauty and varying architecture in all of the buildings he has been inside. Although all Liturgies are the same in one way or another, he added, there were different ways the celebrating priests would run the Mass, and he was able to see these nuances.
"Some are very boisterous; some are very quiet. Some have a lot going on during the Mass, for some, it's just plodding through the Mass, just the diversity in the actual saying of the Mass," Gangi said. When asked what he got from the experience, Gangi said he got satisfaction from seeing "really beautiful architecture," and visiting the Blessed Sacrament housed in each of the individual churches.
In addition to traveling the Diocese of Buffalo, Gangi has also visited all of the churches in the Diocese of Rochester, two-thirds of the churches in Syracuse and one-third of the ones in Ogdensburg. All in all, he said he has visited "probably about 600 churches" during his mission across the state.
"I like to travel and love the Mass," Gangi said. "I enjoy doing it, seeing different places. I'm the kind of person who likes to see what's over the next horizon, or around the next corner."
When asked about his favorite churches to visit, Gangi said it was difficult to pin down one individual church where the Mass was the most enjoyable. In terms of the churches' architecture, he said Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica in Lackawanna and St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Buffalo were at the top of his list of most beautiful churches, but he also liked others as well.
"To see the diversity - the Catholic Church is beautiful, not just in the way the churches look, but in our beliefs and faith," Gangi commented. "Regardless of how attractive the church was or how plain or unattractive the church was, the structure of the Liturgy was always the same."
Gangi also said while many of the churches were different, all of the environments were welcoming to him and felt like home. He never experienced a situation where the priest or anyone in the congregation made him feel unwelcome, he said, and the diversity was especially inspiring to him.
"It really shows you the beauty of Western New York, all four corners of the diocese and all points in between. You get a pretty good overview of what the geography of the diocese looks like, and there are some absolutely beautiful areas in Western New York," Gangi said.