The parish staff and trustees of St. John Kanty Parish, located on Broadway and Swinburne, want the public to know that their church is open. With solid volunteer support and healthy pierogi sales, the parish is surviving in a changing neighborhood, which they think is changing for the better.
After World War II many of the Polish families moved to the suburbs and many of the homes fell into the hands of absentee landlords. Changes in the neighborhood followed. Today many of these properties have been purchased and are owner occupied, and along with new facilities such as the Erie County Health Mall, Urban Family Practice and Jericho Road to provide health care to the neighborhood, growth and improvement are underway. In addition, an apartment complex will replace the former Public School No. 44 on Broadway.
When the diocese undertook the Journey in Faith and Grace between 2005 and 2008, it was decided that St. Adalbert Church would merge with St. John Kanty Parish, with St. John Kanty named as the primary worship site. Some of St. Adalbert's parishioners opposed this action and petitioned Rome for recourse against the decree of merger, thus delaying the actual merger. In the meantime the pastor of St. John Kanty, Father Anthony Lutostanski, retired, and St. John Kanty Parish was linked with St. Stanislaus Parish. While remaining pastor of St. Adalbert, Father Thaddeus Bocianowski was also named the pastor of the linked parishes of St. Stanislaus and St. John Kanty. St. Adalbert's petition against the merger was denied by Rome in December 2010 but Rome allowed St. Adalbert to remain a worship site, to be open for four Masses a year and to be used on special occasions. The issue garnered much press at the time. "There is still a lot of misunderstanding out there in the community about the Kanty/Adalbert relationship," explained Judith Felski, a volunteer at St. John Kanty who manages the website and Facebook media.
After nearly half a decade with temporary administrators leading the parish, Father Michael H. Burzynski, Ph.D., was assigned to a six-year term as administrator last May. He continues to serve as pastor of St. John Gualbert Church & Diocesan Shrine in Cheektowaga.
Help for Father Burzynski comes in the form of the Jesuit Fathers from St. Michael's and Canisius College, as well as a number of very willing retired Diocesan priests. Father Patrick Gardocki and Father Dominik Jezierski, who serve at St. John Gualbert, also come to celebrate Mass.
Ed Bosiacki, parish trustee, has a long history with St. John Kanty. His grandparents were married at the church in 1911, back when the congregation was mostly Polish immigrants. "We've had a wide array of priests the past several years. It has been and continues to be a wonderful experience of different men, different cultures, different ways of doing things," he said.
The parish relies heavily on volunteers and fundraising. This past Lent they held their annual pierogi and placek sale, as they have for a number of years. With a team of cooks making over 11,000 pierogi and over 900 placek, people came from all over Buffalo and its suburbs, and even from as far away as Pennsylvania and Ohio, to purchase these tasty Polish treats. Team Pierogi involves friends and family of the parishioners, some who aren't even Catholic, helping out. "Our volunteer system here is probably the best on the East Side of Buffalo," boasted Bosiacki. Volunteers also held a successful Easter chocolate/craft sale at the Broadway Market. "We have no outstanding debt and we have adequate funds to hold our own," said Bosiacki. "This is why we keep doing the fundraisers we do. It has to be done."
Worth mentioning is that a large number of graduates of St. John Kanty School are still parishioners and also serve as volunteers, not only in fundraising but also the ministries related to the Mass.
St. John Kanty has a unique origin story. It was founded to save lives. In 1890, Father Jan Pitass asked Bishop Stephen Ryan to establish a church on the East Side of Buffalo after several people died crossing the railroad tracks to get to St. Stanislaus. High winds caused a partially completed wall to fall, thus delaying completion of the church, which was finally dedicated January 4, 1893.
The parish's commemorative 125th anniversary booklet recounts how gang wars wreaked havoc on the area. This made it difficult for the parish to keep a priest for any length of time. It took the arrival of Father Andrew Garstka in 1910 to turn the parish around. In the new Lyceum he started neighborhood activities such as dances and sewing lessons, turning the parish into a place for both community as well as spiritual growth.
The trustees and parishioners would love to see that happen again. The former school, convent and rectory sit on the parish grounds largely unused. With the Buffalo Medical Campus growing and a use for the Central Terminal being discussed, they think they may be able to sell or rent the buildings and see growth in the neighborhood. "I think that ultimately the neighborhood is going to experience rebirth," said Felski.
"You're already seeing it now," added Bosiacki.
"We hoped the train station decision would have gone another way. If something happens with the Central Terminal, that would benefit us," said Jennifer Snyder-Haas, another trustee.
For the anniversary celebration, which concluded last November, the parish wrote a new mission statement that honors its history while defining its current hopes. They want St. John Kanty Parish to be known as "a Christian community founded on the faith of Polish immigrants, welcoming and accepting all as brothers and sisters in Christ, working together to create one family bound by Christ's love." New faces at Mass are particularly welcomed and appreciated.
The last event of the anniversary celebration took place in February when the parish placed a time capsule in an unused tabernacle in a side altar. It contains notes of remembrance from current and past parishioners, a digitized copy of the Anniversary Closing Mass as well as a copy of the Mass and dinner programs, a souvenir ornament and a postcard-sized copy of the papal blessing.
Now the parishioners look to the future while planning their annual Polka Mass and summer festival, taking place Sunday, June 3 and offering a chicken barbecue dinner, big basket raffle and music. Other events planned include a meat raffle, Harvest Dinner in October, and Christmas Cookie Sale in December. An adult faith formation course began the week after Easter. The 10-week course is open to all people in the community. The parish continues to celebrate a Triduum to St. Ann in July and St. Therese in October, and a Fall Mission is in the planning stages. Bosiacki said people needn't be worried about going into the city's East Side. "I can't remember the last time we had trouble at any event we had."
The parish has also been included in the recent "Slow Roll" bike treks through the Holy Thursday tradition of the Seven Churches. A Buffalo Mass Mob filled the church a few years ago, and they have been a part of the Forgotten Buffalo tour in the past.
"Is it an effort?" Bosiacki asked about caring for the parish. "You're darn right it is, but anything in life you do, if you don't have to make an effort to do it, what good is it?"
"It is more rewarding to volunteer here, because you really are making a big difference," added Snyder-Haas. "You really do see the results of what you're doing. That does make it more special."
Find out more about St. John Kanty Parish Community by going to their website www.saintjohnkanty.com.