In modern times, St. Peregrine, who lived in Italy during the 13th and 14th centuries, has become known as the patron saint of people suffering from cancer. In the Diocese of Buffalo, the Friends of St. Peregrine continue to celebrate healing Masses, as they have since 1992, to administer the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick to people who are fighting cancer. More recently, its actions led to a new Friends of St. Peregrine chapter in Ireland, courtesy of an Irishman who was inspired by his visit to Western New York.
Two years ago, Garry Westby was visiting family in the U.S. and attended a Mass that the Friends of St. Peregrine held at Good Shepherd Parish in Pendleton. As a cancer survivor, he was so inspired that he and his wife, Maura, decided to form a new chapter of the Friends of St. Peregrine in Ireland. The coordinators and founders of the Buffalo chapter, sisters Lynne and Karen Scalia, said their ministry has greatly moved survivors and families.
"We were visiting our son here, in Lockport, and we were supposed to be going home, but due to the circumstances, we had to stay another 10 days. On Sunday, we went to the local church, and I picked up a bulletin," Westby said, referring to St. Mary's in Swormville. The St. Mary's bulletin had an ad for the healing Mass at Good Shepherd. "I was lying in bed reading that night, and I said to my wife, 'Hey, gosh, look at this.' I had heard of St. Peregrine before, but had never been involved with anything."
The ministry travels throughout the diocese, and upcoming Masses will take place at Good Shepherd in Pendleton on Oct. 5, St. Francis of Assisi in Hamburg on Oct. 6 and St. Stephen on Grand Island on Nov. 3. All Masses will take place at 7 p.m. Westby had initially attended a service at Good Shepherd.
According to Lynne Scalia, she and her sister were moved to action when Father Robert Dmitri, a close friend, was diagnosed with cancer. As it became clearer that his life was near its end, a group of eight of his friends, including the two Scalias, asked what he would like them to do in his memory. He responded by saying that his dying wish was to increase local devotion to St. Peregrine in the diocese.
"After Father passed away (in 1991), the group still got together, and a very good friend of his, Father Jim Judge, that he went to school with, said, 'We've got to make Father's wish come true," Lynne Scalia continued. "Father Judge said, 'I'll have a healing Mass in honor of St. Peregrine.'" At that time, the ministry did not have a statue, and buying one from Italy would have cost them thousands of dollars.
In response to the need, Father Judge, who was the chaplain of Collins Correctional Facility, set them up with Peter Rentz, an inmate who wished to try his hand at carving a piece of ash wood from the Southern Tier into a statue of St. Peregrine to suit their needs. Although this was his first attempt at carving, the statue turned out beautifully and continues to serve the Friends of St. Peregrine at its Masses today.
In the 24 years the Friends of St. Peregrine have been doing healing Masses, the statue has accompanied them on a dolly since it weighs over 100 pounds and is too difficult to lift by itself. The ministry has a mini statue, standing at a mere 18 inches tall, that they loan out to people undergoing cancer treatment. They keep the statue in their home for a brief time before it moves on to another person in need of healing.
Each year, the Friends of St. Peregrine hold about 14 Masses, which begin in April and continue until November. After 16 years, Father Judge stepped down as the group's spiritual advisor; now, Father David Bellittiere, pastor of Fourteen Holy Helpers Parish in West Seneca, does all of the St. Peregrine healing Masses. As the ministry continues in Western New York, the Irish chapter is continuing to get off the ground, although it has been a difficult task since the ministry is new there and there has been much demand.
"The reason why they need so many additional priests, because the average attendance we get here in Western New York is between 130 and 200 people to come at our service. When Garry did the first Mass in Dublin, he had 800, and the Mass, the service and healing lasted over four hours," Karen Scalia said, noting the Friends of St. Peregrine in Ireland have had about seven Masses so far in two years. "Because it's so new over there and people are just wanting this particular blessing, this particular sacrament, he's finding it difficult to get priests to understand what his new ministry is to try to get it into more parishes."
For more about the Friends of St. Peregrine in the Diocese of Buffalo, visit www.stperry.org.