OLEAN — The Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels will celebrate its first anniversary by “saluting the past, celebrating the present and challenging the future,” said St. Mary’s pastor, the Very Rev. Gregory Dobson.
During a special Mass Sunday, St. Mary’s officials plan to salute those who founded the 103-year-old church, celebrate its one-year anniversary of being designated a minor basilica, and challenge future generations to live up to the lofty expectations that come with being a basilica.
The 11:30 a.m. Mass will include the announcement of a proclamation received by the Most Rev. Richard J. Malone, bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo, which will affect future pilgrimages to the basilica, and the unveiling of a work of art that will be displayed at the basilica in perpetuity. There will also be a public tour of St. Mary’s held beforehand at 10:15 a.m.
St. Mary’s was named the 83rd basilica in the U.S. last year after a rigorous, two-year application process. While the official decree of Pope Francis’ designation was signed Feb. 14, 2017, St. Mary’s scheduled the celebratory Mass for Sunday because Feb. 14 falls on Ash Wednesday this year.
Dobson said his expectations of what it would mean to be a basilica have been surpassed over the last year, with hundreds of out-of-town visitors arriving to view St. Mary’s decorated ceilings and Munich-style stained glass windows.
“Some of them break into tears,” he said. “... It’s been enjoyable to see this excitement about this particular place and the interest that it’s generating.”
With visitors often arriving by the bus load in groups of 50, Dobson estimated St. Mary’s has had 400 new visitors since the basilica designation. He feels the visitors are having an impact on the local economy, too, adding they’ve gone out to places like Sprague's Restaurant, Cuba Cheese Shoppe and the Seneca Allegany Casino afterward.
The visitors often ask what a church like St. Mary’s is doing “in a place so out of the way,” Dobson said.
St. Mary’s parishioners 100 years ago deserve the credit for making a financial investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars, said the pastor, adding there can be some “really deep faith” in rural areas.
“We don’t know why, but they wanted to do something extraordinary,” Dobson continued. “They hired world-class architects, they hired a world-class company, imported things from other places.”
St. Mary’s is still improving on that vision. Expanded air conditioning, new lighting and sound systems, and an organ refurbishing are some recent projects.
Dobson, who has not been shy about the fact he’s nearing retirement, said his successors will be expected to continue upgrading St. Mary’s and meeting the high standards of music and celebrations that come with being a basilica.
“I’m giving my successors some challenges here, as my predecessors did to me,” he said.
(Contact reporter Tom Dinki at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @tomdinki)