Bishop John Timon left a lasting impression on the Diocese of Buffalo, the full scope of which is probably not well known. Two seminary professors plan to change that with a series of lectures on the diocese's founding shepherd.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the passing of Bishop Timon. To commemorate, Dennis Castillo, professor of Church History at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, and Paul Lubienecki, adjunct professor at CKS, will offer a lecture on Sept. 22 at the CKS Main Dining Room beginning at 1 p.m. Guest speakers include Pat Moscato from Sisters of Charity Hospital; Timothy Kelly from St. Mary's School for the Deaf, Father Kevin Creagh, CM, from Niagara University, and a representative from Nardin Academy, all institutions founded by Bishop Timon. Msgr. Paul J.E. Burkard, president of Baker Victory Services, will close the afternoon by detailing how the diocese has cared for orphans from the time of Timon to that of Venerable Nelson H. Baker. Bishop Richard J. Malone will offer a welcome and opening prayer.
A Memorial Mass will take place on Sunday, September 24 at 10:30 a.m. at St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Buffalo.
"One of the things we're hoping people will realize is that the first bishop was really a hot commodity," Castillo said. "Dr. Lubienecki did a paper on Timon's work in Texas, where he was sent to help reorganize the Church in Texas after it became an independent country. We had a Vincentian scholar who spoke of the importance of Timon's Vincentian identity. There was even an attempt to make Timon the head of the entire order. A scholar from Texas, whose work was mainly on Archbishop (Jean-Marie) Odin of New Orleans, but on Odin's youth with Timon, as seminarians who were sent to Arkansas to do missionary work. So, he focused on how missionary work was important to Timon. All that came to Buffalo."
Bishop Timon, who served in Buffalo from 1847 to 1867, was not only the founder of the diocese, but the foundation as well. He built the first hospital in the city, as well as Catholic colleges and high schools where he saw a need. All but one institution, Holy Angels Academy, still stand.
"This thing about Timon was, he was very strategic. He established institutions that the area needed," Castillo explained. "He would do no duplication of services. The only case where there was duplication was the orphanage, where he was concerned that Catholic boys were being placed into Protestant farms, as well as Catholic clergy were not allowed to visit."
He founded very few parochial schools because there was nothing anti-Catholic in the public school curriculum. He focused on what the diocese didn't have, such as high schools and colleges.
"The genius was, he would find something that the community lacked and then he would form partnerships with the doctors, with the University at Buffalo, to make it non-sectarian so that he could get state funding," Castillo said.
One surprise move was putting St. Joseph Cathedral in the heart of downtown, in a Protestant area, near the Episcopal cathedral. He wanted the Catholics to be a part of the general society, not segregated into a Catholic area the way Archbishop John Hughes ran New York.
"The one thing I've taken away from all the things I've read about Timon had done, his quote was, 'There should be no hyphen in the word American Catholic.' He wanted Catholics so much a part of American society and culture, whereas Hughes just wanted to segregate Catholics from society," Lubienecki said.
Lubienecki, who hails from Philadelphia, was introduced to Bishop Timon while working on his doctorate. He decided to write a paper on him after seeing a display at the seminary. The more he read, the more fascinated he became with the tireless shepherd.
"I liked his moxie. He was fighting with this one Protestant minister. They were going at it back and forth, Catholic vs. anti-Catholic is the only way to describe it, and Timon wouldn't back down," he said. "Catholics had issues with him, even the placement of the Cathedral. The Irish Catholics wanted it in the Old First Ward. He knew what he was doing."
Castillo admires his zeal. "His putting the community first and doing whatever he could to serve the people. I think he's a beautiful son of St. Vincent. He has a great devotion to the poor and a zeal for spreading the gospel. He's really a model in that sense. The biographer called him a man in a hurry. I think that's a good way of labeling him. He was always on to the next project. He didn't waste time."
Legend has it that while riding a train to Buffalo, the train stopped short and, rather than wait, Timon walked. He died after catching an infection while giving the last rites.
"He was always a priest."
There is no cost for the program, but registration is required. Register online at www.cks.edu/timon or call (716) 805-1438.