Earlier this year, an inquiry from a Southern Tier resident led to the rediscovery of, and renewed interest in, a piece of diocesan history: a quilt that parishioners from all existing diocesan parishes, as of 1997, contributed to that year for the 150th anniversary of the Diocese of Buffalo. For a few years after this, the completed quilt, consisting of four large, separate panels, traveled from parish to parish. Since then, it has remained safety stored in the Catholic Center in downtown Buffalo.
In April, Carol Capitano, a parishioner of Holy Trinity Parish in Dunkirk, emailed the diocesan Central Services Department about the quilt since she created the square for Holy Trinity two decades ago. Each diocesan parish in 1997 had its own square. While parishes have come and gone since, with many on the quilt no longer in existence today due to closings and mergers, it remains part of local history.
"This past April, I created two quilt squares for a State University of New York at Fredonia campus diversity quilt project," said Capitano, who works for SUNY Fredonia. "The idea was to portray who you are, what defines you. The project was open to all campus community members: students, faculty and staff. "It reminded me of the diocesan community quilt project. I saw the parallels between the two very different types of communities, and how each was looking to capture what defines them."
The similarities between the two projects led Capitano to wonder what had happened to the quilt she had helped make for the diocese, since she never saw the finished project and did not know where it had ended up. "I visited the Buffalo Diocese website looking for contact information, and found an email address," she added. "I took a chance and sent a message of inquiry. In less than a week, I had my answer."
The search for the quilt led Capitano to Patricia Millemaci, diocesan director of Central Services, which maintains the library in the Catholic Center in addition to other daily building maintenance and operations. Since it stopped traveling in the early 2000s, the quilt has been in the Catholic Center's library. Today, it is still possible to request that a portion of the quilt come to a diocesan parish for a special occasion.
In 1997, Patricia Szalkowski of East Amherst, who collected and sewed all of the individual squares to make the four panels of the quilt, sent out requests to all parishes in the diocese, with the goal of ensuring representation of all of the parishes on the quilt. Her guidelines stated that each square was to be 16" x 16" in size, with a design size of 12" x 12", with a design sewn by hand or machine. In addition to the name and location of each parish, those who made panels were asked to create a relevant design. While Szalkowski was chair of the quilt committee, others who participated were Nanette Frey and Bernadette Heins.
"There was an overwhelming response, over 200 parishes that participated. (Letters) just said, 'Please advise somebody who would be interested in making the quilt for their parish,'" Millemaci recalled, noting correspondence she saved from then.
According to Millemaci, after the quilt was included in the 150th diocesan anniversary celebration that year, it came back to the library and stayed there in between being checked out. "It was set up that it would go out, and it would be signed out by the pastor. That's how we pretty much left it," Millemaci said, noting that the women who compiled the quilt also made a typed guide to help parishioners find their square.
In the years since the quilt's completion, the quilt came out for some special events, in time spans from a month to a couple of months. Since St. Margaret Parish in Buffalo, Millemaci's home parish, has been celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, she said such an occasion is perfect to borrow the quilt. If any parish would like to do so, she stressed there must be a substantial amount of space free to display it.
"All of those people did so much work on it, and the pastors know that they can take it," she added.
"I believe it is truly wonderful that the quilt has been preserved for 20 years and that there is an interest in knowing about it and having it travel again," Capitano commented, noting the many changes parishes have undergone. "I thought viewing the quilt at this time would be especially meaningful to these parishioners in remembering what has become part of their personal history. It is important to remember and cherish memories of the past while embracing and celebrating the present as we ponder what the future may bring."