This week, the Catholic community of Oléan celebrates the 145th anniversary of the appointment of its first resident pastor, Reverend John J. Hamel, and the establishment of Oléan’s first Catholic parish, Sainte Marie des Anges.
To celebrate, all are invited to two events at the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, 202 S. Union St., today and Sunday, marking the historic occasion on those dates in 1876.
Since 1912, the parishioners of the basilica have made Hamel’s arrival a special occasion. Such was his influence in the service of the community of Oléan for 36 years, his body is buried in the crypt of the basilica, a rare blessing for any parish community.
“It was integral to the development of the town of Olean at a time of significant growth in the predominantly Catholic immigrant population,” says Jennifer Kane, author of “A Place Set Apart,” which chronicles the life and ministry of Hamel in Olean. “He was loved by the whole town, not just his parishioners. “
On November 24, 1876, Bishop Stephen Vincent Ryan established Sainte-Marie-des-Anges as a parish in the diocese of Buffalo and appointed Hamel, a 26-year-old former student of Saint-Bonaventure College, as the first resident pastor.
Hamel arrived in Olean the day before Thanksgiving on November 29 to lead what the bishop called “the Church of Olean” and remained there until his death at 62 in 1912.
In 1926, the parish commemorated the 50th anniversary of Hamel’s arrival in Olean with a mass celebrated by Cardinal Dougherty of Philadelphia in the presence of Father Nelson Baker. In the stairwell of the west tower, the parish installed a window depicting Hamel, the old church and the bishop’s document attributing it to Olean.
As official memories waned in the 1960s, the parish resumed commemorative celebrations in Hamel’s honor in 2012.
A visit to the basilica led by Kane is today at 11 a.m. followed by a solemn thanksgiving mass at 12:15 p.m.
Then, at 1 p.m., there will be a Thanksgiving and Renewal Prayer in the crypt of the basilica where Hamel is buried. This is followed by light refreshments in the parish’s Bradley Centennial Hall. The expanded third edition of “A Place Set Apart”, with additional stories and photos, will also be released.
On Sunday, in addition to the Masses celebrating the first Sunday of Advent, the basilica will host a performance of “God’s Son, My Son”, a solo piece on the life of Saint Joseph, at 9:30 am. Another visit to Kane Basilica will take place at noon.
Reverend John Adams, rector of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and pastor of the Basilica and Church of St. John the Evangelist, said he was incorporating the diocesan “Route of Renewal” program into the celebrations to aid in the healing of the local Catholic community in these difficult times.
“The Church is faced with the need for reparation and renewal as it tries to recover from crises, scandals and secular influence in society,” he said. “With the faith and determination of God’s people, we pray and trust in the Lord that the betrayals, struggles and disappointments of the past do not prevent us from committing to and fulfilling the mission of Jesus Christ. “