Olean’s St. Mary of the Angels Church honored with the title ‘basilica’

BUFFALO — Pope Francis has bestowed the title of “basilica” on St. Mary of the Angels Church in Olean, New York. This marks only the ninth time in his papacy that the Holy Father has granted this rare honor to a site in the United States.

“I was absolutely delighted,” said Most Reverend Richard J. Malone, bishop of Buffalo, who points out that the designation is not only an honor for the Diocese of Buffalo, but it also brings special blessings to those who pray in the church. “It puts this church into a new and unique relationship with the Holy See and the Holy Father. It will have symbols that remind anyone who goes in there that this has a certain significance with the pope. To qualify, there has to be significant history, beautiful art and architecture and current vitality in the life of the parish and its ministries.”

Shortly after the Gothic Revival-style church was built in 1915, Venerable Nelson Baker blessed St. Mary of the Angels Church at its opening Mass where he was also first to preach in its pulpit. He was so impressed by its striking appearance, that he commissioned the same architect, Emile Ulrich, to design Our Lady Victory Basilica in Lackawanna years later.

For more than 100 years, visitors have traveled to Olean to see this church’s renowned Munich-style stained glass windows.

Pope Francis signed the decree on Feb. 14, making St. Mary of the Angels the third “minor basilica” in the Diocese of Buffalo, along with Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica in Lackawanna and Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Lewiston. They are called minor basilicas because only certain churches in Rome can be designated major basilicas. There are now 83 such sites in the United States.

St. Mary of the Angels serves more than 1,300 families in the city of Olean and outlying areas. It was first established as a mission church in 1852, serving Catholic immigrants who came to clear forest land for farming. It eventually came under the care of the Franciscan priests at nearby St. Bonaventure’s College (as it was known at the time) who named the church after St. Francis’ beloved church in Assisi.

“This historic designation is the fulfillment of a dream for Father Edward Rengel who built our church more than a 100 years ago. He left clues of his dream in the very edifice,” noted Very Reverend Gregory Dobson, VF, pastor of St. Mary of the Angels, who points out that the designation is likely to attract more visitors from places like Pittsburgh and Erie, or Binghamton, Syracuse and Rochester, all of which are only a couple hours driving distance.

This announcement caps off more than a year of work by people like Jennifer Kane, communications director of St. Mary of the Angels Church, who was entrusted to oversee the application process and the comprehensive research necessary to produce the impressive application book that was sent to the Vatican last summer.