OLEAN — Three months after the announcement from the Vatican that Pope Francis has bestowed the title of minor basilica on St. Mary of the Angels Church, the parish is preparing for its inaugural Mass to celebrate that recognition on Thursday, June 29.
"Everywhere I go, I am congratulated," said Father Gregory Dobson, pastor of what is now called Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels. "Former parishioners all over the country have seen it on Facebook, or they saw Spectrum TV coverage as far away as Texas. Everybody said, 'We thought that would happen someday. It's long overdue.' This was a dream of Father Edward Rengel, who built the church in 1915."
Bishop Richard J. Malone will celebrate the inaugural Mass solemnizing the designation of the church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Angels as a minor basilica. A ticket will be needed to get into this invitation-only event for parishioners and other invited guests like bishops, priests, civic officials and religious leaders from other ecumenical and interfaith places of worship in the Olean area.
"It will be a celebration of not just this congregation, but a celebration of the way we've lived in this community for decades," said Father Dobson. Daybreak TV Productions, the video production facility for the Diocese of Buffalo, will be on site to document the event.
The general public will have a better opportunity to visit the church during the parish's annual festival on the weekend of June 10-11. "We think the festival will be the perfect time to see and to hear the real treasures that we have," according to Father Dobson, who notes that tours of the church will be held throughout that weekend.
"I'm excited about it," said Father Dobson, who noted that the festival and the inaugural Mass will both be opportunities to demonstrate all of the aspects that made this place a basilica: its historical significance, artistic treasures and the vibrant community calling it home. "We make a significant difference in this community."
Much of the artistic significance was brought back to life in 2015, when a Buffalo restoration team spent 10 months working on the interior. "My family and my company are just honored to be a part of the process," said Brett Swiatek, president of Swiatek Studios Inc. "When we arrived, it was a blank canvas. It was off-white with some very minor decorative elements in the sanctuary. What we're most proud of is redesigning the entire interior and applying an ecclesiastical décor scheme appropriate to the basilica."
"There was already so much beauty and architecture there that we just had to fill in the blanks," said Swiatek, the third-generation owner and operator of the company."
Father Dobson credits Swiatek with making the most of the church's 33 unique windows. "Brett highlighted the right things and brought them to life, and brought the walls to life in a way that didn't detract from everything else. He would sit there and watch the sun play off the space."
The inaugural Mass is deliberately being held on June 29. First and foremost, it is the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, a day that basilicas are obliged to celebrate each year with great solemnity. It also happens to be the date that the church building was consecrated in 1919.
For more information, visit https://smaolean.org.