The Buffalo State College Newman Center will welcome back an alumnus for a special Mass as it kicks off its 79th year. Father Zachary Miller, a 2008 grad, will celebrate the Mass of the Holy Spirit, a tradition from medieval times at universities in Paris, Bologna and Salamanca to invoke the Spirit's gifts at the opening of the school year.
The Mass, to be held Sunday, Sept. 11 at 10 a.m. at the Social Hall of the Mildred Campbell Student Union, is open to all who have been a part of the Buff State Newman community.
"We gather the entire learning community - professors, staff, students, permanent community that gather around the Newman Center - and everyone celebrates the fact that God is indeed always imbuing us with His spirit of wisdom," said Newman Center director Father Patrick Zengierski.
Father Miller, from the Diocese of Syracuse, was ordained last year by Bishop Robert J. Cunningham. He is one of a few young men from the Buffalo State Newman Center to follow the call of the priesthood.
"I thought this was a good way for Zach to come back, be with people that he knew while he was a student, but in his new role as a presider at Mass as a homilist, just to show what an impact the Newman Community had on Zach and his vocation. We'd like to think we were instrumental in helping him grow in his relationship with God," explained Father Zengierski.
Father Miller recalls the Newman Center as the place where he first felt the pull on his heart to become a priest.
"I would say it was during my time in Buffalo that I felt God's call, calling me to the priesthood and to accept God's life within my heart to pursue studying for the Diocese of Syracuse. It was my involvement at the Newman Center in Buffalo that really drew me into applying to be a seminarian," the Vestal native said. "I was really looking for a community, a religious of people who were around my same age. I met the ministers there. I met Father Patrick and his staff at the Newman Center. I started to attend Sunday Masses. They provided Thursday home cooked meals from the community members who attend the Newman Center. I just started making friendships through the Newman Center."
Father Zengierski encouraged the criminal justice major to become more involved in the community, leading him to become a lector and Eucharistic minister.
"I really felt fortunate to be a part of that community because it helped me to become a part of a wider community - the Catholic community within the Buffalo Diocese, and also the Catholic community there at Buffalo State, and get to know likeminded peers and people I have developed long-term friendships with."
In January 2008, Father Miller applied to join the Diocese of Syracuse. After being accepted, he started classes at St. Mary Seminary in Baltimore that August. On June 6, 2015, Bishop Cunningham ordained him for his home diocese of Syracuse. Father Miller now serves as a parochial vicar at Immaculate Conception Parish in Fayetteville.
"One thing that I've learned in the past year is that nothing can be done without the help of the people of God. Our ministry within the Church, our ministry within our lives is really for the people, that everything about our lives is dedicated to the care of God's people and to care for the entire community that we are part of," he said.
His visit to Buffalo coincides with the Newman Center's 14th annual convocation. The Buffalo State College Newman Center is inviting all alumni of Buffalo State to return to celebrate and help plan for its 80th anniversary next year.
"I'm looking forward to coming back to the Buffalo area," he said, "to come back as a priest, to come back to really share the joy and excitement of the Catholic Church with the student community there at Buffalo State, and then pray with them to start off their new school year to show that the Holy Spirit is working always through our lives, even in the most smallest tasks that we do. It's just about realizing that God is with us and journeying with us each and every day, to come and show that excitement, to bring the joy of the Gospel back to Buffalo State and to celebrate Mass for the people who helped me in my own vocation."
Newman Centers, Catholic ministry centers at non-Catholic colleges and universities, take their name from Blessed John Henry Newman, who encouraged societies for Catholic students attending secular colleges. The Newman Center at Buffalo State takes its mission from Cardinal Newman's mission for growth in faith among college students, faculty and staff.
At the Mass, the John Henry Cardinal Newman Award will be presented to college staff members who have helped further the mission of campus ministry. This year it will go to Linda Rainforth, Pamela Steffan and Stephanie Kindzia, who work in the financial aid department.
"These ladies are phenomenal in the way they help students. They go above and beyond finding these students money to go to school. They help them with all kinds of problems. These are very deserving ladies that are being honored," said Father Zengierski.
The Newman Center, under the direction of Father Zengierski, invites students for faith, fellowship, food and fun. The center sponsors various activities, including free meals on Thursday nights, and is an integral part of Buff State's "Week of Welcome."