In its next commercial for the Ford Escape, Ford Motor Corporation might want to consider making Father Dennis Mancuso the spokesman for the small sport utility vehicle. It's the vehicle he uses to cover 400 square miles of Allegany County on a regular basis.
"This morning I had to drive 26 miles just to say daily Mass," said Father Mancuso, who is the pastor of St. Patrick's in Belfast, St. Patrick's in Fillmore and Our Lady of the Angels in Cuba. "On Sunday mornings, I hit all three; 8:30 a.m. in Cuba, 10 a.m. in Belfast, and 11:30 a.m. in Fillmore. I try to make sure that the shut-ins are seen even if I can't do it all myself. I also have a hospital and a nursing home that we take care of in my territory. You just get used to the idea that it's not like suburbs, where the rectory is across the street from the church."
His attempt to go the extra mile seems to be paying off. Over the past 10 years, his Belfast parish has grown from about 60 families to 200 families. "I have to credit my parishioners for the job they've done among their own peers and family," said Father Mancuso, who notes that it's not all the result of nearby churches merging.
"A lot of the increase is getting people back to church after not going for a while. I take every opportunity at funerals, or when people want to have their children baptized. You try to make a connection there and issue an invitation, and sometimes it works, not all the time but sometimes it works."
The Belfast church also has a whole new look, thanks to a substantial bequest from its former pastor, Father Francis Jann, who passed away in 2014. The generous bequest paid most of the bill for a significant interior restoration project last fall. The project brought back the original stenciling and cherubs as they appeared on the walls when the current church was built in 1892. "The people are enthusiastic. They say it's so gorgeous," said Father Mancuso. "It brings the worship to a higher level."
On Dec. 18, 2016, Bishop Richard J. Malone consecrated a new altar which was cast from a mold of one of the side altars. It was built around an original altar stone from St. Mark Church in Rushford, which closed in 2012, according to Father Mancuso. "People tell me that their eye is immediately drawn to the altar."
The last stage of the restoration project begins in the spring. Each stained glass window will be taken out and painstakingly restored. A video of the progress was posted on Dec. 30 to the Facebook page, "NW Allegany Catholic Churches." "People have come just to see the church because they've heard from their neighbors," said Father Mancuso. "Everything is about relationship down here. After you've gone through this awhile and gone to family parties when you're invited, you kind of interact with people who you would not interact with otherwise. If you're found to be someone that they can relate to, someone that is around town that they know, then you can bring people back. It's about relationship."