BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — "We know the church has to change. It can't stay the way that it's operating now for a number of reasons,” remarked Father Bryan Zielenieski, vicar, Renewal & Development, Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.
The Buffalo Diocese’s Road to Renewal is an effort to take 161 parishes and turn them into 36 families of parishes with a shrinking Catholic population and fewer priests.
Father Byran, also the pastor at St. Mary in Swormville, was selected to lead the initiative.
There are currently 132 active priests, but by 2030 there will be only 99 and only 66 will be under the age of 70.
@BuffaloDiocese #RoadToRenewal: Six parishes in north Buffalo become a family under a pilot program."We know the church has to change. It can't stay the way that it's operating now for a number of reasons," explains Father Byran Zielenieski. @FrZkeepsmiling @WNYCatholic @WKBW pic.twitter.com/8MfcKuArKp— Eileen Buckley (@eileenwkbw) September 28, 2022
“The Road to Renewal is not just about dealing with reduced clergy numbers, but it’s about really how do we revitalize — reinvigorate — make sure their responsibilities are shared in our parishes between the laity between the clergy and making sure we are working together," responded Father Bryan.
Father Bryan tells me he feels the pressure, especially with the clergy sex abuse cases still front of mind for many.
“I think there's a lot of weight that we feel on our shoulders because we’re the next generation of priests that are coming up and there's lot of responsibility that's being handed on to us,” explained Father Bryan.
Father Byran recently served as transition leader for six churches in north Buffalo for a ‘pilot program’.
- Holy Spirit
- St. Margaret
- St. Mark
- St. Rose of Lima
- All Saints
“The north Buffalo family still has some challenges before it, but there's a renewed spirit and attitude there that I think is palpable,” reflected Father Byran.
“Personally for us, at St. Margaret’s — it was like a breath of fresh air,” remarked Rosemary O’Connell.
O’Connell has been a parishioner at St. Margaret Church on Hertel Avenue for 69 years.
“It just brought life and vitality back to the parish and it just seems to be bringing a sense of hope for us,” explained O’Connell.
Masses at the church were downsized, the 8 a.m. and the 9:30 a.m. Masses were rolled into one Sunday Mass at 9 a.m.
O’Connell, who is a eucharistic minister and lector, also serves on the renewal committee for the church. She says parishioners recognize the need to work together.
“That sense of parochialism seems to be gone — so to do that with six parishes is amazing and everybody seems to be on board,” noted O’Connell.
“One of the things I like to remind people of is that the church is not the priests. It's not the building, but it's the people,” Father Byran said.
Two priests, Father David Richards and Father Chris Emminger have been named to the north Buffalo family.
“They are the ones that are helping to lead all six of those parishes forward. I meet with Father Dave every Monday on Zoom to just make sure we touch base on what should you focus on this week — what are some goals? How are you taking care of yourself? How can I assist?,” explained Father Bryan.
O’Connell tells me they are being well received.
“I’ve had people compliment both priests — when they are saying Mass. How wonderful it is — how refreshed we feel when we walk out of the church — how joyful we feel when we walk out of the church — it’s not that old ‘fire and brim stone’ anymore,” O’Connell remarked.
Several other parishes were also part of the pilot program.
The Diocese will begin phase one for more parishes will begin November 1, phase two begins May of 2023 and all parishes will be completed by the end of 2023,