Bishop Richard J. Malone has declared Father Michael H. Burzynski's relic collection a diocesan shrine to be housed at St. John Gualbert Parish in Cheektowaga. The bishop approved a decree designating the Shrine of the Holy Relics of the Saints in November.
The decree came after Father Burzynski, who has served as pastor since 2011, donated his collection of relics to the parish. Accompanying this donation are associated reliquaries and display cases, and the ecclesiastical documentation for the relics.
The Catholic Church recognizes three classes of sacred relics. The first class is a part of the saint's body, usually a drop of blood or bone fragment. The second class is a piece of the saint's clothing or something used by the saint. The third class is an object which has been touched to a first-class relic.
Father Burzynski's collection, which has over 1,100 pieces, began in 1977, while he was a student at Notre Dame University. The young student had helped out with the canonization effort of John Neumann, and as a thank you, received his relic.
"They sent me a relic, which I then gave to the parish, but they sent me another one saying, 'No, we intended it for you,'" he recalled. He then received some more from the brothers at Notre Dame. While running Our Lady Help of Christians' Pilgrimage Day, he would receive relics from parishioners every year.
"(They) would say, 'Our uncle was a priest. We have these relics at home. We don't know what to do with them,'" he said. "This is the merger of probably 25 collections over the last 150 years here in the diocese."
The shrine is one of a kind in the Diocese of Buffalo. It contains over 1,100 relics of the saints, mostly first class, and all with proper ecclesiastical authentications. The relics have attracted scores of pilgrims and formal pilgrimage groups who have come to venerate the saints since being put on display in 2013.
"In years past I used to bring them out for All Saints Day," Father Burzynski said. "When I was at St. Mary's (of the Cataract in Niagara Falls), we used to bring it out a little longer. People would say, 'Well, why don't you have it out for a month or so?' When I came here, I made it a permanent display."
The relics sit behind a metal gate, leaving them both visible and protected.
The collection includes a tiny piece of the veil of Mary, first class relics of all Twelve Apostles, the saints that served or lived in America including St. John Neumann, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Francis Cabrini. He also has relics of the American born, but not yet canonized venerables, Father Michael J. McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, and Buffalo's own Msgr. Nelson H. Baker. At St. Mary of the Cataract, Father McGivney and Father Baker were sort of "eyeing each other, seeing who is going to be the first native born male American saint."
Father Burzynski hopes the shrine will continue to grow. He promises that any relics donated to him will be placed in a respectful environment, where they're not going to get lost in the years ahead.
"They will be available for the people for their veneration. It's not collecting baseball cards. They have a spiritual value. This way I know they will always be available to people," he said.
The declaration also grants partial indulgence from temporal punishment to any member of the Christian faithful who visits the shrine on the liturgical feast day of St. John Gualbert, July 12.
The relics will remain at St. John Gualbert Church as long as the church is in operation. If the church should ever be closed, the relics would be transferred to another secure location for the devotion of the faithful at the discretion of the bishop of Buffalo. St. John Gualbert Parish was founded in 1917 as the first foundation in the diocese to serve people of Polish nationality outside of the cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls.