Holy Angels Parish in Buffalo will throw a party to celebrate a lifetime of service. Bob Chambers, its longtime organist, will be honored with a special Mass and reception May 13. The 4 p.m. Mass at the church will be followed by a reception at D'Youville College in Buffalo.
Chambers' roots at Holy Angels date back 105 years, when his mother, Frances, became organist for the West Side parish. Chambers, who learned piano at D'Youville College and organ from his mother, followed his mother's footsteps as a church musician.
"Both of us together are celebrating 105 years in the music ministry. Mom became organist in 1912, then she continued until 1972. I started in 1947 and I'm still at it," he said.
He sees his talents as a gift from God, and serving the Church as payback.
"I love the church. I love the music. I love the ministry. It's a great gift," he said of his 70 years of dedication. "It's a wonderful place to serve with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (who founded the parish in 1851). I just enjoy every minute of it. It's a great opportunity to thank God for the many gifts and graces that we have all received."
The idea for the celebration came from the Oblate superior general Father Louis Lougen, OMI, who served as pastor of Holy Angels from 1998-2001. He made a special request of the current staff to commemorate the work of mother and son.
"He's known Bob for a very long time," explained Father David Muñoz, OMI, parochial vicar of Holy Angels. "He wrote to our pastor and said that he has recognized how much Bob and his mother have given to the parish over the years, and that he really wanted something to be done, sort of a celebration honoring all those years. He wrote us a letter saying, 'I would like this done.' When the superior general asks for something to be done, it's like if the pope was to call."
The May 13 date, also the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparition in Fatima, Portugal, came as holy happenstance.
"We weren't planning on May 13. It was just the date that was available for the reception hall at D'Youville," Father Muñoz said. "It was kind of a coincidence. Bob Chambers has a great devotion to Our Lady of Fatima and it just happened to be May 13, the Feast Day of Our Lady of Fatima. So that was a very spiritual connection."
Chambers has been involved with Holy Angels his whole life. He was baptized there shortly after his Oct. 6, 1931 birth. He attended school there as well, before attending St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute in Kenmore and then Canisius College in Buffalo, where he earned a bachelor's and a master's degree.
For 40 years he taught English and Latin at Bishop Timon High School in South Buffalo. In 1967, the Franciscan friars who ran the school asked him to become principal, a position he held until 1992. There, his reputation as a stern administrator earned him the nickname "The Rock." When asked about it, Chambers let out a huge laugh. "Where did you hear about that? I was tough on occasions. 'Don't mock the Rock,'" he said, still laughing at the memory.
Through the years, he has served on the diocesan Liturgical Commission and pastoral council.
For his work at Timon and Holy Angels, he has been named an honorary Franciscan and an honorary Oblate, complete with habits. "It means you share in the prayers and good works," he explained. "It's an honor recognizing the service that I have given to the Franciscans, basically at Timon, and to the Oblates here. I consider it a gift. It's a great gift. I take no credit for it. God put me in this place, and thanks be to God, I was able to respond."
The Oblate habit, a cross, was given to his mother when she took on her role in the parish's music ministry. "When she died our pastor said, 'You keep it.' I have that hanging in my office along with my Franciscan habit, which I will be buried in," Chambers said.
Since retiring from Timon, Chambers devotes his time to the parish and his music ministry. He also serves as a pastoral associate, keeping an eye on all the different ministries Holy Angels offers.
What keeps him involved?
"I consider it a calling," he said. "I see serving the Church in any capacity is a call. Ministry is a call to serve, which we really receive from our baptism. I guess the gifts give you the talent, so you use them for Him. I have no desire to go beyond that in my old age. I never did really. It's a great spot to work with the Oblates. They're a wonderful congregation to work with. I look forward to every day, look forward to every Mass and funerals and weddings. It gives me an opportunity to serve the Lord and to answer the call."