In honor of its 140th anniversary as an official diocesan parish, St. Mary of the Angels in Olean held a special Mass on Oct. 30 that rolled out the red carpet for descendants of Father John Hamel, the parish's first pastor. Current pastor Father Gregory Dobson honored Father Hamel's legacy by using his refurbished chalice in the Mass, a gift from parishioners for Hamel's 25th anniversary, viewing his crypt and historical artifacts and visiting the Oratory of the Sacred Heart in Portville, which Father Hamel built generations ago.
During Mass, Father Dobson recognized Father Hamel's descendants who came from across the country to be present for this occasion, including Carolyn Scaglione of Atlanta, his great-great-great niece, who had recently found out about her relation to Father Hamel through her research on genealogy and desire to discover more about her ancestors. Bernadette, Scaglione's mother, visited Olean from Brooklyn.
"Father John Hamel was a wonderful pastor and shaped this parish and community in significant ways during his pastorate. By knowing our past and honoring it, we touch the inspiration that shaped our parish so many years ago and bring that power into the present," Father Dobson commented.
In his homily, Father Dobson gave special recognition to the contributions Father Hamel, whom he said was "much beloved by the people here." The family presented the chalice, which one of them had paid to have restored to its original beauty, at the altar. After Mass, the congregation went downstairs and blessed Father Hamel's crypt and the parish's wall of pastors, which Father Dobson moved at the request of the parishioners, noting this was not just to remember Father Hamel, but those who continue to enrich the parish.
"You stand on those folks, on their shoulders of so many years ago, and the devotion and the inspiration that they knew is what we may be called to today. We're going to remember Father Hamel, and we're going to pray that we are better priests," he said. "You might be an even better congregation than you already are because you've been touched by the example of this good man, and you show it in your lives."
Noting that Father Hamel has left a "heavy footprint" on the Olean community, Father Dobson recalled how before 1876, St. Mary of the Angels had been a "shanty church" of the Catholic community of Olean, which Franciscan friars built. In 1876, Bishop Stephen V. Ryan looked at the burgeoning of Olean and decided it was time that this church be given the distinction of being named a diocesan parish.
"It was becoming more and more affluent. There was an upper class here, the railroads were converging here. There was a great influx of population at all different levels, and the bishop. Father Hamel arrived the day before Thanksgiving in 1876, and the rest is history," Father Dobson continued.
Scaglione, whose great-great grandmother, Maria Magdalena Hammel Hillenbrand, was the older sister of Father Hamel, said her research uncovered the fact that Father Hamel spelled his name with only one "m," while the rest of the family used two." She also found out that he was a priest from Olean, so she contacted the parish and the archive departments of both St. Bonaventure University and the diocese.
"I had kind of completed my family history as far as I could go with that," Scaglione added. "(St. Mary of the Angels communications director) Jennifer Kane contacted me, telling me she was researching history of St. Mary of the Angels. We had been communicating back and forth, and she had invited me up. With me being in Georgia, it's a little bit difficult for me to get up to Western New York."
Scaglione, who has extended family in Long Island, coordinated with the other members of her family to come to the Olean area in October. That weekend, she also received a historical tour of Sacred Heart, St. Mary of the Angels and all Father Hamel did. She learned her ancestor was a "very humble man" who did things not only for the parishioners, but for the people of Olean in general, and his traits were passed on to other members of her family living today. Scaglione brought the chalice up in the Mass' procession.
When asked how she became interested in genealogy, Scaglione noted she comes from a family with all brothers and many male cousins. "It was a way of finding myself, and through that, I found out my (first) name is actually a family name," she added. "It was just the spelling and deviations that changed."
Kane confirmed the anniversary honored Father Hamel, who arrived at the parish as a 26-year-old priest. "St. Mary of the Angels was the only Catholic church in Olean at the time," she continued. "By making Father Hamel the pastor, that created the independent parish. This important document was found among Father Hamel's belongings upon his death. We have that document today in our archives, and it is on display in the church, presently, in a special display cabinet where we have various artifacts, memorabilia and photographs related to Father Hamel. That was 140 years ago. It was a great time of celebration for Catholics in this region, because previous to that, we were serviced by the Franciscan priests in the area for 20 years."
"They did a wonderful job, but at this point now, we were officially a parish in the Diocese of Buffalo with our own pastor, and God blessed us with a very good pastor, and he stayed with us for 36 years, until his death in 1912. He was a beloved figure not just in our parish, not just amongst Catholics, but among the entire community of Olean. We know this from all the historical records left to us - both secular records in the newspapers, in county records, countywide publications, and we know this also from our own parish records - parish bulletins, newsletters and what was said. We know his impact in the community."