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LOVE FOR BISHOP WHO'S 'NOT LEAVING'

A heavy spring snowstorm greeted Bishop Edward D. Head's arrival in Buffalo in 1973, and a heavy spring snowstorm marked his departure.

To those who remember Bishop Head best, it seemed that even nature was forced to mark his entrance and exit as part of the religious fabric of the region.

Hundreds of Catholics braved piles of slush and slippery conditions to pay their respects at his wake and Diocesan Mass in St. Joseph's Cathedral on Sunday.

At the side of the sanctuary, his crypt has been prepared.

Anthony P. Amigone, chairman of Amigone Funeral Home and a longtime friend of Bishop Head's, recalled the day years ago when the bishop showed him around the restored cathedral and stood over the marble-covered space where he would make his final rest.

"Buffalo's my city," the bishop told him. "I'm not leaving here."

Bishop Head, who led the Buffalo Diocese from 1973 to 1995, will be the fourth bishop buried in St. Joseph's Cathedral, but the first since 1915. He died Tuesday at 85.

Even after Bishop Head's retirement, Bishop Edward U. Kmiec noted at Sunday night's Mass, the aging leader still made well over 3,000 hospital visits to the sick.

Every day, priests and bishops read a passage, Kmiec said, an admonition to do the work God has entrusted to them. It says in part: "God's flock is in your midst. Give it a shepherd's care."

Truly, Kmiec said, these are words by which Bishop Head lived.

"This is a man who loved his brethren," he said, "and ever prayed for them."

Sunday, his brethren did the same for him.

Despite the weather, mourners poured into the cathedral in steady streams.

As they approached the gleaming bronze casket, many made the sign of the cross and offered a silent prayer. Some whispered a few last words of goodbye. Others cried or reached out and touched their fingers to his.

A few were reminded of a March day 32 years ago when parishioners throughout the diocese prepared to herald the bishop's arrival to the city. They were going to line the route from Greater Buffalo International Airport to the cathedral, holding up welcome signs in front of their parish churches.

But then, like Sunday, it snowed and snowed. The Buffalo airport closed. Plans fell apart.

Bishop Head had to fly to Toronto, and no one would let Amigone drive his limousines across the border to pick him up because of the studded tires. Amigone was forced to get the bishop in his own Cadillac Fleetwood and cram the extraordinarily tall man into the back seat.

With Bishop Head's death, the old friend met with another challenge -- finding a casket that could accommodate the bishop's height and meet the special lid requirements for a man of his religious status.

They found only one of its kind for the 6-foot-8 bishop, a "priest's casket" in Chicago.

Today, Bishop Head's miter will be removed from his head and laid against his chest. Prior to the 11 a.m. Mass of Christian Burial, the lid to his casket will be closed and locked for the last time.

And Bishop Head will be buried in the city he loved.

e-mail: stan@buffnews.com.

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