OLEAN — The Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels celebrated its first anniversary Sunday by unveiling new artwork, announcing a new celebration and looking toward the future.
St. Mary’s officials and parishioners gathered at the 103-year-old West Henley Street church to reflect on last year’s basilica designation from Pope Francis. The actual anniversary of the designation is Feb. 14 — the day Pope Francis’ decree was signed — but Feb. 14 falls on Ash Wednesday this year so the Mass was held Sunday instead.
For the Most Rev. Gregory Dobson, St. Mary’s pastor, the Mass was about celebrating not only the basilica’s present, but also its future.
“With the bishop’s blessing and the blessing of this community, we will continue to do things like this to enhance this space not only in this generation, but in the generation to come,” Dobson told the Olean Times Herald after Mass. “And that’s why I was so happy to see some of our young people here and singing so that the next generation is being entrusted with this responsibility.”
Parishioners for the first time Sunday saw the basilica’s latest addition: Pope Francis’ coat of arms. The canvas painting was worked on over the last month in Buffalo and installed after Mass Saturday. St. Mary’s Communication Director Jennifer Kane pulled back a cloth and unveiled the work of art, which still needs some minor finishing touches, before the congregation during Sunday’s Mass.
Dobson said having the coat of arms displayed in the church signifies St. Mary’s connection with Pope Francis, and that he and other officials chose to place it inside the church as opposed to outside to avoid weather damage. It will be displayed for as long as the basilica stands.
“We thought by putting it here it would be safe, secure and accessible,” Dobson told a group of parishioners shortly after they took turns seeing the artwork up close.
The artwork was sponsored by parishioner Dr. Dominic Colarusso Jr. and his family. Standing before it Sunday, he said he made the donation in dedication to his grandparents Felice and Francesca, and their oldest son and Colarusso’s uncle, Francis.
“They were very faithful servants of God, Roman Catholics and they practiced their faith and lived it,” Colarusso said. “... We’ve had so many people in this parish help out. It’s a giving parish.”
Parishioners also got some news that the Feast of St. Francis has been added to St. Mary’s calendar.
The Most Rev. Richard J. Malone, bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo, has granted Oct. 4 as the fourth date of the year in which St. Mary’s visitors can partake in a plenary indulgence. In a letter to St. Mary’s, Malone noted St. Mary’s Franciscan heritage and ties with St. Bonaventure University made the celebration a fitting addition to the calendar.
Dobson focused his sermon on the two-year application process to make St. Mary’s a basilica and how things have changed for St. Mary’s over the last year since being named a basilica. He noted another church in Georgia is even asking St. Mary’s for advice on applying to become a basilica.
He again turned attention to the future of the basilica.
“The people of past, really faithful, very good Catholics, but it’s for the future, too,” he told the congregation. “I have great hope for the people and the families of Olean.”
(Contact reporter Tom Dinki at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @tomdinki)