Christian life means sacrifice - Pope John XXIII

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A Brief History of St. Bonaventure Parish

In November 1917, Most Reverend Dennis J. Dougherty, Bishop of Buffalo assigned Reverend Henry R. Shnur, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Varysburg, New York to begin a new Roman Catholic Parish in West Seneca.  Father Schnur and two friends stopped at a store at the corner of Harem Road and Seneca Street to inquire about the possibility of purchasing land and buildings around which to construct the new parish.  The owner of the store, Mrs. Reinfleish showed them an adjoining building that was used as a dance hall that was available for sale.  The following day, Father Schnur purchased the building, and began to assemble a team of parishioners to renovate the property into a worship space and rectory.  With the dedicated help of many parishioners, furniture was purchased and construction begun.  On December 2, 1918, the first Mass was celebrated in the new Church, named St. Bonaventure Church, under the patronage of the Seraphic Doctor and follower of St. Francis of Assisi. 

St. Bonaventure Church was legally incorporated on May 27, 1919.  At its inception, St. Bonaventure Parish was poised for growth as Father Schnur purchased additional property on which to build a parochial school and a larger church as the parish population grew.  In 1927, the parish conducted a lawn fete to raise funds for construction.  Unfortunately, Father Schnur did not live to realize has dream of erecting a parochial school as he was called to his eternal reward on September 28, 1927. 

Following his death, Monsignor McDonald was assigned temporary administrator.  Reverend Patrick Brady was later appointed pastor, and he continued to help the parish flourish by his strong leadership.  He purchased a house on Harlem Road which served as the rectory and renovated the interior of the first Church.  Father Brady died on July 23, 1936 after a brief illness, and Reverend John K. Potoczak was appointed administrator. 

Shortly thereafter, in late 1936, Reverend Bernard Gill was named pastor, and extensive improvements were made to the parish complex.  In 1939, Father Gill was transferred and Reverend Francis Hunt was appointed as the new pastor.  He served in this capacity until  he was  transferred to a new parish. 

In November 1942, Reverend Charles E. Kemp was named pastor, and worked earnestly for the growth of the parish.  During his pastorate, many positive enhancements were made to the parish including the renovation and beautification of the property as well as the purchase and dedication of a Hammond organ, dedicated to all of the men and women of the armed forces who served during World War II.  Father Kemp and the parish joyfully celebrated the growth of the community with a mortgage burning ceremony in 1946, signaling the beginning of a new era. 

In March 1950, ground was broken for the school building.  Father Kemp was transferred to Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Buffalo in 1953, again creating a vacancy for a new pastor.  Succeeding Father Kemp, Reverend Dennis J. Donovan assumed leadership of St. Bonaventure Parish.  During his pastorate, the school expanded, and new classrooms were added.  Additional improvements were made possible by a building development fund spearheaded by Father Donovan.  The money from this campaign allowed for the construction of an auditorium in the school as well as a convent for the Sisters of Mercy who at the time staffed the school.  Father Donovan retired in June 1962. 

Reverend Charles Gampp succeeded Father Donovan as pastor, and saw both the completion and the dedication of the new school auditorium and convent.  Father Gampp began to implement the liturgical changes promulgated by the Second Vatican Council.  In 1967, Father Gampp retired and there was again a need for a pastor. 

In October 1967, Reverend Arthur Sullivan became pastor of St. Bonaventure Parish, continuing to implement the renewal of Vatican II.  Due to changes in the liturgy where the priest now faced the assembly during the celebration of Mass, the church sanctuary was renovated to include a new altar built by Charles Derry and Frank Pieber, members of St. Bonaventure Parish.  Youth Masses with contemporary music were introduced and for the first time, guitar music accompanied the liturgical singing.  At this time, the parish council was formed to assist and advise the pastor. 

In 1968, St. Bonaventure Parish celebrated its Golden Jubilee with the celebration of a Pontifical Mass celebrated by Most Reverend James A. McNulty, Bishop of Buffalo.  As the parish continued to flourish, Father Sullivan observed his Silver Jubilee of ordination.  In May 1969, parishioners participated in an “Open Housing Signature Campaign,” indicating support for the right of all persons regardless of race, creed or national origin to live in a place of choosing, according to their means. 

During Father Sullivan’s tenure, the large parish debt was eliminated and the community grew spiritually through the ministry of many transitional deacons assigned to the parish.  Many parishioners recalled that a deep love and respect for the Mass was fostered at this time in their history.  Father Sullivan was transferred in March 1973, opening the door for the next pastor. 

In April 1973, Reverend Richard Crumlish was welcomed as pastor.  He added air conditioning to the church, an enhancement which endeared him to many parishioners.  Father Crumlish served as pastor for 24 years, and in 1993, St. Bonaventure Parish observed its diamond jubilee.  Father Crumlish worked hard at ongoing improvements for the parish community which included the installation of stained glass windows, a new organ and the residing of the church to preserve its rustic look.  Father Crumlish retired in 1997 after which the Eudists, a religious order of priests began administering the parish. 

Under the tenure of the Eudists, St. Bonaventure parish became a center of Eudist apostolic activity which included retreat ministry, spiritual direction and counseling.  Reverend Ben Drapeau capably served the parish from 1997-2001, and Reverend Ronald Bagley continued as pastor from 2001 until 2005. 

From 2005 until 2008, Reverend James Bastian, a diocesan priest, was appointed pastor of both St. Bonaventure and St. William Parishes, which were linked, as a diocesan restructuring plan, known as the Journey of Faith and Grace began. This program was implemented by the Diocese of Buffalo under the leadership of Most Reverend Edward U. Kmiec.  At this time, many parishes were closed or merged due to the declining population of Western New York, limited financial resources to sustain parishes and the shortage of clergy.  Under Father Bastian’s tenure, St. Bonaventure School closed in 2007after over 50 years of serving the people of West Seneca. Low enrollment and lack of financial resources to sustain the school were cited as reasons for its closing.    

In 2008, St. Bonaventure Parish merged with St. William Parish, and the new entity became known as Blessed John XXIII Parish with worship services conducted at the former St. William Site.  Blessed John XXIII Parish became known as St. John XXIII Parish when the late pope was canonized a saint on April 27, 2014.  The St. Bonaventure worship site was leased to an Anglican congregation for a few years, and by 2016, all of its buildings and properties were sold to outside interests.  Today, the beautiful statue of St. Bonaventure handcrafted of basswood, which once adorned the St. Bonaventure Church is displayed prominently in the sanctuary of St. John XXIII Church.