St. Michael Parish hopes to be a light in the darkness for Catholics everywhere, especially in downtown Buffalo. The Jesuit-run parish has installed a light in its bell tower as a beacon for those lost in faith and those lost on Washington Street.
"The idea is to make the church more visible once the sun goes down, because it's very dark on Washington Street on our end," explained Father Benjamin Fiore, SJ, pastor. "This will make the church really stand out. The idea is to really let people know in the area that we're here and have it as an invitation. We're here, we're open and you're welcome to come."
An illumination ceremony on Jan. 6 drew an estimated 200 people who braved the nothing-degree temperatures to witness the light in the bell tower, as well as a spotlight focused on a statue of . Michael the Archangel himself, housed in front of the 167-year-old building. The ceremony marked the end of a fundraising project connected to the general renovation of the church, which started with the stabilizing and protecting of the stained glass windows.
A reception to thank the donors, catered by Giancarlo's Sicilian Steakhouse & Pizzeria, followed the ceremony.
The new lights at the church work in conjunction with the city's effort to have the important buildings in downtown Buffalo illuminated. St. Michael's is located just down the street from the Iskalo Electric Tower, which shown a bright red, white and blue. St. Michael's lights are set to go on every evening at 6.
"This is our way of cooperating with the city, so when you look down Washington Street now you'll see our building and you'll see the Electric Building. Those will be the two standout buildings on Washington," said Father Fiore, adding, "It has that religious sense of we want to be a spiritual home for people downtown, so this gives them a beacon that they can follow."
At the 5:15 Mass that preceded the illumination ceremony, Father Fiore compared their efforts to that of Jesus Christ, whose birth created a light followed by the three wise men.
The wise men of old saw mystery. They saw a light that had come to shine on the world, "so we could find a way of finding our sense back to God's world," he said.
"So, as we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, we celebrate the mystery of God entering our world to illuminate a path for us back to the world of God. We will illuminate our church as well at the end of this service at the bell tower, taking our place among all the wonderful buildings here in the new downtown Buffalo that were illuminated. Those were illuminated so that people will know where they are and how important (business) goes on inside those buildings. We illuminate our building, not to point out who we are, but rather, the place where God is, so that we can welcome people here."
Nell Kavanaugh, a parishioner of St. Martin of Tours in South Buffalo, sponsored a window and outdoor sign in memory of her parents, Anne Courtney and Lawrence Kavanaugh. Her mother made a regular pilgrimage to St. Michael's as a thank you for a healing she had as a child.
"My mom started coming down for the novena when she was 12 years old," Kavanaugh said. "She came down here faithfully until she was 90 years old, every Thanksgiving, for what she feels was a healing from St. Francis when she was a young child when they thought she had a brain tumor. She attended the novena and after that it was gone. So, in thanksgiving to St. Francis, she came down every year for that novena."
Anne Courtney died a year ago, so it seemed fitting to have a monument at St. Michael's.
"I think it's an amazing parish. The liveliness down here is just, there really are no words. Everyone is welcome and you come as you are. You feel like you're in a family," Kavanagh said.
The illumination ceremony left her nearly speechless.
"In the darkness of the world that we're living in right now, to see the light, to see so many people have the faith, to know that things are going to change, it was a physical sign of the faith that we have that the world is a good place," she said.