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Wednesday, May 21, 2014 at 7:53 am

Photos: Real Encounter performs bike tricks on Center Street

post by Howard B. Owens in Center Street, religion, sports

A rider performs a trick called "The Superman" during a trick riding event Tuesday evening in a parking lot off Center Street put on by a traveling evangelical group called Real Encounter.

The group, led by Brad Bennett, travels the nation performing stunts on bicycles and motorcycles and preaching the Gospel.

About halfway through the program, Bennett delivered a sermon about salvation, led the group in prayer and then asked all those who accepted Jesus Christ as savior that night to come forward. More than two dozen people gathered around Bennett. The group met briefly with Bennett and received a Bible and instructions on joining a local church.

The group performs again tonight in Pembroke and tomorrow in Attica.

Friday, May 9, 2014 at 6:37 pm

Photos: Bishop visits St. Joe's and Notre Dame

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Notre Dame, religion, St. Joe's

Following a student Mass at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church today, Bishop Richard Joseph Malone toured St. Joe's and Notre Dame, meeting with students and faculty along the way.

At St. Joe's, his tour guide was Principal Karen Green; at Notre Dame, it was Principal Joe Scanlan. His aide Rev. Ryazard Biernat accompanied the tour.

As near as anybody could remember, it's been more than 20 years since a bishop came to Batavia to celebrate Mass and tour a Catholic school. Malone said in Maine, there were 20 schools in his diocese and he made a point of visiting each one at least once a year, but in the Buffalo Diocese there are 40 schools. It would be hard to maintain that annual schedule with so many schools, he said, but when a student asked him if he would come back next year, he said, "if you invite me I will."

Before he left St. Joe's, Principal Green gave Bishop Malone a plate of chocolate from Oliver's.

Friday, May 9, 2014 at 11:47 am

Photos: Bishop Malone visits student Mass at St. Joe's

Bishop Richard Joseph Malone is visiting Batavia today. The bishop attended the student Mass at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church this morning, then went to St. Joe's School for lunch with students before a brief tour. He will tour Notre Dame High School this afternoon.

Monday, May 5, 2014 at 2:19 pm

Bishop to visit St. Joe's, Notre Dame on Friday

post by Howard B. Owens in Notre Dame, religion, St. Joe's

Press release:

Most Reverend Richard J. Malone of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo is scheduled to visit Batavia on Friday May 9th. The Bishop will celebrate Mass at 11 a.m. at St. Joseph Church with the students of both St. Joseph School and Notre Dame High School. Following Mass the Bishop will tour both schools.

The public is welcome to attend the mass at 11 a.m.

Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Photos: Christian Motorcycle Association fundraiser at Stan's Harley-Davidson

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, faith, religion, Stan's Harley-Davidson

Local members of the Christian Motorcycle Association served up a pulled pork feast at Stan's Harley-Davidson today as a fundraiser for the group's various ministries.

Among the CMA's efforts is supporting overseas ministers, including buying them motorcycles for transportation (or horses or boats if that works better where they live). The group also supports a film project to spread the gospel through movies in remote parts of the world. The CMA also travels to the major motorcycle rallies and hands out water and other necessities as a way to open the door to sharing about Jesus.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 4:37 pm

Batavia's Father Ivan, with roots in South America, happy to see Argentinian elected pope

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, catholic church, religion, Resurrection Parish

For Father Ivan R. Trujillo, today's election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, had a special meaning and brought Trujillo a special joy.

Bergoglio, now known as Pope Francis I, is the first pope from South America, and though Bergoglio is from Argentina and Trujillo is from Bolivia, it is a good thing for the church that a new pope was selected from the 455 million Catholics in South America, home to 42 percent of all Roman Catholics in the world.

"I'm very happy that they elected somebody from South America because most South Americans, most Latin American people, are Catholics, I'd say 80 percent" Trujillo said. "They are very happy. I'm very happy."

Trujillo is pastor of Resurrection Parish, which includes Batavia's St. Joseph's and St. Mary's. He was ordained in Jamestown in 1990 and became an assistant at St. Mary's in 1995. Four years ago, when St. Joe's and St. Mary's merged to form Resurrection Parish, Father Ivan was appointed pastor of the parish.

It was a Jesuit, like Pope Francis, who inspired Trujillo to become a priest. In Bolivia, while studying philosophy, the rector of the school was a Jesuit. The priest had a passion, as most Jesuits do, for working with the poor.

A good deal of Father Ivan's work in Western New York is with the poor and less fortunate. He works with the poor and sick in his own perish, ministers to inmates at Attica and Wyoming correctional facilities, and works with migrant workers in Genesee, Orleans and Niagara counties.

Pope Francis -- taking the name of St. Francis Xavier -- has a reputation for humility and caring for the poor, living an austere life in Buenos Aires. For a time, Bergoglio gave up riding in a limo and instead took public transportation around the city, but had to give up the practice for security reasons.

"I believe it is a great sign that he will be a pope for the poor and everybody else," Father Ivan said. "I’m pretty sure he’ll be trying to reach the most needy people."

Trujillo believes that Francis, coming out of the Jesuit Order, will be a capable administrator as well as a spiritual leader, which is something, he said, the church needs now.

"It's a good time to celebrate," Trujillo said. "I know there are many problems with the church, but knowing about Jesuits, I'm sure he's well organized and he'll be a good asset for our universal church."

Trujillo was returning from Wyoming when church staff called him to say that a new pope had been elected. He returned to St. Joe's in time to see Pope Francis introduced to the crowd in Vatican City and a worldwide television audience.

It was an thrilling moment, he said.

"At the moment I’m a little bit shocked and so glad," Father Ivan said. "I wish the best for the pope and the whole church. One thing that impressed me with him was that he asked first to be blessed by the people in Rome and after that he blessed the people. After he was blessed by the people, he blessed them. That was a very nice symbolism that he will be a pope for the people and at the same time he brings some order that we need."

Monday, December 17, 2012 at 9:12 pm

First Presbyterian Church in Batavia hosting service of remembrance and hope

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Churches, first presbyterian church, religion

First Presbyterian Church, 300 E. Main St., Batavia, is holding a special remembrance service at 6:30 p.m., Friday, to honor those who have passed in 2012 and also to pray for those touched by the recent tragedy in Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Pastor Roula Alkhouri holds a service annually for those who have lost loved ones during the year, but this year, there's greater sorrow for the nation following the massacre in Newtown, Conn.

"We are reminded once more that Christmas can be a painful time for some," Alkhouri said. "In the face of loss, we struggle to find joy in this season. For some this may be the first Christmas without a loved family member who has recently died."

Alkhouri said she is reaching out to pastors and congregations throughout the county to join in this year's service.

"This will be a quiet service of remembrance and hope," she said. "We will light candles for the loss of loved ones. We will also light special candles for the victims of violence of last Friday’s tragedy. We will hear through Scripture and music that God’s presence is (there) for those who struggle and mourn and how God’s Word offers us strength as a light shining into our brokenness."

Saturday, July 28, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Photos: Dedication of restored St. James church tower

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, religion, St. James Episcopal Church

Bishop William R. Franklin, the Episcopal bishop for all of Western New York, praised God and praised the efforts of the congregation of St. James Episcopal Church in Batavia today at a dedication ceremony for the restored church tower.

The restoration was a difficult financial undertaking for the congregation, but Franklin said the tower was an important symbol of hope in the community.

"When we look upward, we look to the future and it reminds us that the joy of God belongs to us," Franklin said.

The front doors of the church, which have been kept closed for years because of safety concerns from falling masonry, were once again reopened.

"We open doorways of hope," Franklin said. "We open our doors and go out into the community and give people hope."

Previously: Photos: St. James restoration project reaches pinnacle with placement of new cross

Monday, July 9, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Holy Family School was shining beacon for Le Roy, Western New York

Le Roy's Holy Family School closed its doors for the last time a couple of weeks ago, but the school will long be remembered for the outstanding staff and students who graced its hallways and classrooms, for the positive community atmosphere it enjoyed, and for what it meant to local families during its 123-year history.

Photo courtesy of Kelly Hansen

There were 10 students in the final graduating class of the school at 46 Lake St., which was attached to Our Lady of Mercy Parish and served pupils in pre-K through eighth-grade. Students came not only from Le Roy, but also from elsewhere in Genesee County as well as Wyoming, Livingston and Monroe counties.

Photo courtesy of the Le Roy Historical Society

The school has seen a lot of changes -- including a change in its name -- since it was first staffed by the Sisters of Mercy more than 120 years ago (see the  timeline of milestones at the end of this story). Throughout all of these changes, its tradition of academic excellence and thriving school family remained much the same.

People who were part of the Holy Family community are filled with sadness, but also with fond memories and hope for the future.

Here are some stories that give an idea of just how special a place Holy Family was:

Michael Ficarella

Michael Ficarella, of Batavia, was hired as a sixth- through eighth-grade teacher at Holy Family School for the 2011-2012 school year. It was his first full-time teaching job.

"I couldn't have picked a better school to start (teaching)," Ficarella said.

He talked about the supportive team of teachers who welcomed and helped him throughout the year.

"From real early on, they were always coming by my room to see how I was doing, offering pointers on how to make this or that lesson better or how to make the classroom run smoother, etcetera."

In addition to teaching science and social studies, Ficarella also worked with younger students in the school's after-school program. During his brief time at Holy Family, he got to know a lot of kids.

"The students were great," he said. "They were well-mannered, very eager to learn and took pride in their school."

He mentioned the eighth-grade field trip to Washington, D.C., on which the kids were "phenomenal."

Despite losing his job his first year teaching, Ficarella said he is "absolutely 100 percent" glad of the experience and has no regrets.

The Hansen Family

Photo courtesy of Kelly Hansen

One of Ficarella's students was Alex Hansen, who was part of Holy Family School's final graduating class. He attended the school from kindergarten through eighth-grade.

"(The graduation) was bittersweet," said Kelly Hansen, Alex's mother. "What we were witnessing was never to take place at Holy Family School ever again."

"There were many 'lasts' over the past few months. It was very difficult for everyone as the adults tried to make the last days of school the best they could possibly be."

Hansen said that the decision she and her husband made to send Alex to Holy Family was "curious to some because we live in Batavia."

"The answer is never an easy one," she said, "but it always contains the same elements. The high test scores, great word-of-mouth, a place where God could be mentioned without fear of ridicule, not to mention a stellar reputation within the community for more than one hundred years."

She and her husband were also impressed with the parish to which the school was connected, which was called St. Peter's at the time.

"I'm not sure there would be a way to calculate the grand sum from the parish that has kept the school afloat for 123 years," she said.

Photo courtesy of Our Lady of Mercy Parish Secretary Sue Bobo

Of course, the school environment was also a major factor in the decision.

"We were impressed with what we saw the day we first visited," Hansen said. "Children holding the door for us as we came and went, walking down the halls and having students greet us without an adult to prompt them, students standing and greeting adults as they entered a classroom -- all this left us knowing that we were making the right decision for our family."

Second-grade teacher Patty Page is pictured with her granddaughter at a Halloween party at Holy Family School. Photo courtesy of Sue Bobo.

As for the teachers, their "commendable dedication" has left an impression on Hansen.

"Many teachers at (Holy Family School) have taught for 20 or more years," she said. "Catholic school teachers are state certified yet make a small fraction of what their public school counterparts do. They clearly are not in their chosen profession for the money -- it is something they do because they love it."

She sees this as part of a pattern of sacrifices that everyone involved in the Catholic school system makes for what they consider the greater good.

"Most families who choose to send their children to a Catholic school quietly go without things other families take for granted so that their children may reap the abundant benefits," she said.

"We’ve had the same car over the course of all nine years (of Alex attending Holy Family School). It is a bit rustier and a lot noisier. It has driven from Batavia to Le Roy hundreds of times, often carrying multiple students to one event or another."

"To pay for education that could otherwise be obtained for free at a public school is a bizarre choice to some," she said. "But for us it was the only option we could imagine. Anyone familiar with Catholic education knows about the sacrifices made in order for it to be possible."

The Winters Family

Photo courtesy of Bryan Winters

When first-grader Anna Rose Winters learned that her school would be closing, she was very sad. But then the first question that came out of her mouth was: "What are the uniforms like at St. Joe's?"

Anna Rose, like other Holy Family students, will attend St. Joseph School in Batavia in the fall.

"She went through the normal grief stages," said her father, Bryan Winters. "There were tears, but then she very quickly started to incorporate St. Joe's."

Winters was on Holy Family School's Finance Committee for several months, which put Anna Rose in a "unique situation."

"She's a smart kid -- she could read the writing on the wall," he said. "We were honest with her from the beginning that her school could close, but we'd try our best."

And try they did. According to Winters, who makes his living raising money for the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, the committees formed by parents to help save the school "were doing all the right things."

"It's remarkable how much money we were able to raise with the time constraint," he said. "But there were a lot of needs-based scholarships (and other expenses that could not be met with the current student enrollment)."

Like his daughter, Winters also went through the grieving process. But he has a "very great feeling" about St. Joe's and is optimistic about Anna Rose's future.

"(Of course), there are families who have been at Holy Family for three or four generations," he said. "Their grieving process is probably longer, and that's understandable. But I need to think of the best interests of my daughter. We're going to get fully involved in St. Joe's."

Bryan and Kate Winters moved to Le Roy from Monroe County a few years ago. Holy Family School was the main reason for their move.

Having just started a family, they wanted to move to the country to give their kids (they have two younger children in addition to Anna Rose) some "breathing room." But they also wanted to make sure the kids received a Catholic education.

"We looked around Western New York and the Finger Lakes region," Winters said. "We toured different schools in Livingston and Monroe counties, and even some in Erie County."

They were very selective in their search, because everything in their lives is a "distant second to our kids."

When they went to an open house at Holy Family, "that sealed the deal."

"That was where we knew we felt at home (at Holy Family)," Winters said. "We learned about the different programs and the curriculum -- they had a very rigorous program. We liked the student-teacher ratio. It was primarily for that reason that we moved to Le Roy."

With three years as a Holy Family parent under his belt, Winters still sings the school's praises loudly.

"It blows my mind that there were people around here who didn't send their kids to Holy Family," he said. "They must not have known what we had there."

Pictured Principal Kevin Robertson with Mrs. Page's second-grade class. Photo courtesy of Sue Bobo.

Like Ficarella and Hansen, he touted the supportive atmosphere the school offered.

"We could call or email any time, and (the issue) was taken care of," he said. "There was a real family feel, whether it was students with teachers or families with teachers. It was an open community."

Part of this openness was the teachers' willingness to share personal stories with their students.

"Every once in a while Anna Rose would share a story at dinner about a teacher's dog, or about Mrs. So-and-So's son getting into a certain college," Winters said. "The fact that these teachers would recognize (for example) that a first-grader wants to hear stories about a dog means a lot. It goes back to that feeling of family."

Winters' wife is a teacher, so the two of them "have a pretty good pulse on what a good teacher is."

"And these teachers -- they had it," he said.

And the students weren't bad, either.

"The Holy Family slogan was 'Teaching Tomorrow's Leaders,' and I think that's what they were doing," Winters said.

He commented on how the kids would hold doors for people and demonstrate politeness in other ways.

"All that stuff goes above and beyond two plus two," he said. "It was about more than just standardized testing; the focus was on growing the student as a person. It was built into the curriculum."

Anna Rose is excited about going to St. Joe's, but she and her family will always have fond memories of Holy Family School.

STORY CONTINUES after the jump (click the headline to read more):

Sunday, June 10, 2012 at 1:13 pm

150 years later, Indian Falls United Methodists are still a community of faith

With prayer and praise, members of the Indian Falls United Methodist Church, celebrated the congregation's 150th anniversary Saturday with an outdoor service led by Rev. Karen Grinnell.

The service circled around the building with stops for a message from Grinnell, prayer, singing and Old and New Testament readings.

"We wanted to not only rededicate the building, but rededicate the congregation," Grinnell said.

The Indian Falls congregation is an active one and Grinnell said it's always had a strong sense of its mission.

"We like to be a strong, faithful presence in the community," Grinnell said.

The chuch was organized June 9, 1862, when Indian Falls was known as Tonawanda Falls, in the Robinson schoolhouse by 12 men as the Methodist Episcopal Church.

The current building was first erected in 1945 and added to over the years.

Faith is what has enabled to church to survive through 150 years of changing times and still be vibrant today.

"This is a very strong farming community and you see God at work in nature all the time," Grinnell said. "The descendents from the original 12 men had a strong faith and that faith has been passed down from generation to generation and this is what we have today."

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