"We have much to celebrate this day," said Bishop Richard J.
Malone to more than 600 parishioners who gathered for the Inaugural Mass, four months after the bishop received word
from the Vatican that St. Mary of the Angels had been designated as the 83rd minor
basilica in the United States. "You have been chosen and honored by Pope
Francis for special distinction. Your distinction will be your one and only
life mission as a community of Jesus' followers who come here to be nourished
and energized in our word and sacraments and then go out as missionary
disciples ready to re-propose the Gospel to a culture that desperately needs to
Bishop Malone read, in Latin, the official Vatican decree
designating the 102 year-old gothic revival church as a basilica. It is
classified as a "minor" basilica because only a handful of basilicas are classified
as "major," and they are all in Rome.
"This is the most significant hour in the 165-year history
of the parish," said Father Gregory Dobson, VF, rector of the basilica. "Pope
Francis said 'We have to find new ways to spread the Word of God to every
corner of the world.' I wonder if he was thinking Olean. His designation of
this church in such a rural corner of our nation acknowledges that God's people
in this place, through the years, have done just that."
The Mass was an invitation-only event for parishioners and
other invited guests—bishops, priests, civic officials and religious leaders
from other ecumenical and interfaith places of worship in the Olean area. It
marked the first time the congregation had ever seen the ombrellino and bell
known as a tintinnabulum. These are permanent fixtures in a minor basilica
which serve as reminders of the church's deep union with the Universal Church,
the Holy See and the Holy Father. The parish also has a new coat of arms, which
creatively congers up the image of the Enchanted Mountains which surround the
The Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels is now held to a high
set of standards as the basilica is expected to be an example of liturgical,
ministerial and charitable offerings in the region. Since the announcement on March
17 by Bishop Malone, the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels has undergone a
name change to add "basilica" to its title and has enjoyed its distinction as a
Catholic pilgrimage site with many pilgrims from the region stopping in for
anything from lighting a candle, to taking a formal tour of the church, to
taking part in various liturgies and sacraments.
"May we always lift up our eyes to the mountains from where
God's help will come," said Father Dobson, who thanked Pope Francis, Bishop
Malone and everyone involved in the historic designation. He gave special
thanks to Jennifer Kane, a parishioner who spent nearly two years preparing the
application to receive this designation. The parish was successful in
convincing Vatican officials that the church is not only significant
historically and architecturally, but also has a strong community life with
strong catechesis, beautiful liturgy and outreach to those in need.
"What a celebration for this whole community of Olean, not
just Catholics, but everybody down here," said Bishop Malone to reporters after
Mass. "I think it lifts up the history and the significance of this part of our
The Inaugural Mass was held on June 29 deliberately. First
and foremost, it is the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, a day that
basilicas are obliged to celebrate each year with great ceremony. It also
happens to be the date that the church building was consecrated in 1919. That
same day in 1929 saw the blessing of the magnificent set of 25 chimes, one of
the largest sets built by the Deagan Chime Company. St. Mary's chime set is the
last of its kind in operation in the United States.
More poignantly for this parish community, the date of June
29 honors the congregation's former pastor, Monsignor Edward Rengel, who built
the splendid gothic church in 1915. This was the date of his ordination to the
priesthood in 1894. He served as pastor of St. Mary of the Angels for 44 years
and is interred in the crypt of the basilica along with his immediate
predecessor, Rev. John J. Hamel who served 36 years as pastor of the Olean Roman
The Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels houses a parish
community of 1,350 families. Although established as a mission of St.
Bonaventure College in 1855 and made an independent diocesan parish in 1876,
the Catholic community in Olean traces its roots to worshiping on this same
location two blocks off the city center since 1852.
Daybreak Television Productions provided a web live-stream of the Mass that was shared across the country. Watch the replay below:
More information on the basilica can be found at www.smaolean.org.