Religions and Spirituality

Olean’s St. Mary of the Angels Church Rejoices in Being Named Minor Basilica by Pope Francis

Credits: David Andoh
Credits: David Andoh
Credits: David Andoh
Credits: David Andoh
Credits: David Andoh
Credits: David Andoh
Credits: David Andoh
Credits: David Andoh
Credits: David Andoh

OLEAN, NY—St. Mary of the Angels Church recently added another chapter to its already-rich history: Pope Francis named the church a minor basilica.

The pope's decision makes St. Mary of the Angels the third church in the Diocese of Buffalo and the 83rd nationwide to earn the distinction of minor basilica. The other two in the diocese are Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica in Lackawanna and the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Lewiston. The designation “major basilica” is reserved for the four highest-ranking Roman Catholic establishments in Rome.

“It is a great honor,” said the Rev. Gregory Dobson, the pastor at St. Mary of the Angels. “They usually name basilicas in big metropolitan areas. Olean is a little out-of-the-way place. I think that was part of the appeal.”

Sign Up for E-News

The pope signed the decree on Feb. 14, and the Diocese of Buffalo made the official public announcement on March 17. The documentation will be framed in protective glass, according to Dobson.  

To be labeled a basilica, which means “noble house,” members of a church’s staff must first submit an application responding to 119 pertinent questions from the Vatican, all of which are written out in Latin. The Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, a particular arm of the Vatican assigned by the pope to evaluate the applications, takes the quality of a church’s artistic and architectural offerings, its historical relevance and its selection of relics into account.

Dobson, 68, proposed the idea of applying for the honor amidst his plans for retirement.

“I thought that on my watch, I’d at least give it a shot,” said Dobson, who has served as the church’s pastor since January 1997.



Jennifer Kane, the communications director for St. Mary of the Angels, oversaw the year-long collection of information for the application process. Four photographers assisted by using drones and more standard photography to take interior and exterior pictures of the church.

The Rev. David Flood, OFM, a lecturer of Franciscan studies at St. Bonaventure University, translated the answers into Latin before the application was submitted to Bishop Richard Malone and later the Vatican in Spring 2016.

In August 2016, the Vatican sent back follow-up questions, and Kane added an eight-page appendix to the revised submission.

“It’s a very complicated process, as it should be,” said Kane, who became a parishioner in the early 1980s and assumed her current role in May 2016.

Kane, 55, explained that she had paged through a Mormon database to find decades worth of articles about the church, such as news of its sermons.

The Rev. Dominic Monti, OFM, a professor of Franciscan studies and former interim president at St. Bonaventure, provided the church with details of its history that were addressed in the books “Medieval Francis in Modern America: The Story of Eighty Years, 1855-1935” by Adalbert Callahan and “The First Bonaventure Men” by Walter Hammon.

According to the St. Mary of the Angels website, since its blessing and opening in 1860, the church experiences included the departure of church members during times of war and structural problems with the roof and steeples in the late 1980s. Throughout its history, the church has been the site of baptisms, first communions, weddings and funerals. On several occasions in the early 1940s, famed theologian Thomas Merton prayed in one of the church’s corners and went to confession.

Among the aesthetic features of the 102-year-old building Kane needed to determine for the application were the dimensions of the church’s Munich-style stained glass windows, sanctuary and altar.

Kane also described the church’s relics, which include the interred remains of its first two pastors, Rev. John Hamel and Monsignor Edward Rengel, as well as certified remnants of the True Cross.

“It’s such a rewarding experience to make these discoveries,” said Kane.

The application also shared how the church helps the surrounding area. For example, the church annually sponsors a Christmas Day dinner. About 300 of the 900 meals prepared are served in the dining hall in the lower level of the church; 600 are home delivered by parishioners throughout Olean and neighboring towns.     

“It all paints a picture,” said Kane. “You see a trajectory of a growing, lively faith community over the history of this parish.”

As a minor basilica, St. Mary of the Angels must carry two insignia: a tintinnabulum and a papal ombrellino, to signify readiness for a visit from the pope. For such an occasion, the tintinnabulum, which is a small gold bell mounted on a pole, would be used in a procession down the aisle. The ombrellino, a partially opened, scarlet-and-gold-striped umbrella, would be used to provide shade for the pope.

The church plans to celebrate its recognition as a basilica by holding a special, by-reservation-only inaugural Mass on June 29.

Kane said she believes the church’s new designation will strengthen its influence for the future. 

“I see it really solidifying the dignity and importance of the church in this section of the United States,” said Kane. “It provides an anchor of the faith in this region, and with this status, it will continue to be so.”

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Greater Olean

Upcoming Events

Tue, November 21, 12:30 PM

Olean Public Library, Olean

Brown Bag Book Club

Education

Tue, November 21, 6:00 PM

Olean Public Library, Olean

November Noir Film Series: Chinatown

Arts & Entertainment

Wed, November 22, 3:45 PM

Olean Public Library, Olean

Rainbow Alliance Meets at Olean Public Library

Education

That Time I Started My Journalism Career on Columbus Day

For many people, Columbus Day is a time for parades and a celebration of Italian heritage. Others contend that it is wrong to honor Christopher Columbus as a hero.

For me, Columbus Day is significant for another reason. It was on Columbus Day in 1975 that I spent my first day in a newsroom as a working journalist as a reporter for a suburban weekly named The Montclair Times.

It also was a ...

Gators Advance to Fourth Straight Section 6 Title

On The Gridiron:

Olean was the only local team to win its playoff game, beating Burgard-Math Science Tech 36-24. The Huskies jumped out to an early 29-0 lead in the first half. Senior quarterback Luke Chapman went 9-for-14, throwing for 112 yards with a pair of touchdowns. Olean managed to hold off a fierce Bulldog comeback for the victory. The Huskies will play Medina in the Funke Bowl ...

Santa Claus Lane Parade Set to Light Up All of Downtown Olean Friday

November 18, 2017

OLEAN, NY – With less than a week until the Santa Claus Lane Parade, officials from Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce have registered more than 25 units for the upcoming Friday event, in which Santa and Mrs. Claus lights thousands of lights in downtown Olean. The ever-popular Parade is the official kick-off to the holiday season in the ...

CRCF to Lead Cattaraugus Gives, County-wide Giving Day, Nov. 28

For 24 hours on Nov. 28, the community will have the opportunity to support nearly 40 nonprofits in Cattaraugus County during the first-ever day of giving in Cattaraugus County, Cattaraugus Gives.

The Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation will lead Cattaraugus Gives as part of the highly successful #NYGIVESDAY program, which last year raised over $11 million across New York ...

Cattaraugus County SPCA Seasonal PAWtique Open Until Christmas

From vintage Japanese music boxes to turkey feet dog treats to Christmas carolers, the Cattaraugus County SPCA’s Seasonal PAWtique will offer a unique experience for local shoppers.

OLEAN, NY -- The PAWtique will open Saturday and remain open every Friday through Sunday until Christmas at Olean Center Mall.

All proceeds from the PAWtique will be put toward purchasing ...