By Kathleen Gurbacki
“Welcome!” The greeting is so loud that you can see the visitors to our church jump in their seats. They have never met our Father Dan. The stained-glass windows seem to vibrate when he speaks.
The Rev. Daniel J. Palys has been the pastor of St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Elma for the past 24 years. He recently retired due to his health. If you’ve never been to our church, you can’t appreciate the wonderful priest he is.
His recent surgery has forced him to walk with a walker. And his perseverance to continue saying Mass with that walker and administer the sacraments was evident these last few months. His presence on the altar will be sadly missed.
Let me tell you a little bit about this priest who has nurtured our souls for so many years. Father Dan’s broad smile, enormous personality and sense of humor comes out at every service. His homily is usually a short story, a chuckle or a joke.
I remember one Sunday before Lent, he brought out a plate of doughnuts. He asked the congregation if anyone would like one. A small child in front spoke up. I think everyone in church would have loved one, but no one else had the nerve to say so.
Lesson learned: Be aware that you will be tempted during Lent. Do your best to resist temptation. End of sermon.
And if you are wondering, the little child was given a doughnut! Short and sweet, literally, but to the point.
Speaking of children, they all love him. At our family Masses or when several children are in attendance, Father Dan would call them up to the altar to help say the prayers. They would race to him. He has cartoon characters from the comic strip “Peanuts” sewn on his vestments especially for the kids.
Father Dan would walk the aisles in church and give out big teddy bear hugs to anyone who came within his reach. Kids would get a high-five.
When the Buffalo Bills or Sabres were playing, we also had to pray for the teams. He is a big sports fan and during a bye week for the Bills, he would assure each and every one of us that the Bills definitely would not lose that week.
When you went to church and Father Dan officiated the service, you knew you would be entertained. But behind that joyful personality, there is a spiritual leader who has comforted us with our losses, blessed our new babies and encouraged our adults to be all that they can be in Christ as they join the Catholic faith.
Animals love him, too. October is the month for pet blessings. Every Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis, the animals of the parish would meet Father Dan in the church parking lot. He referred to them by name, and gave each one a sprinkle of holy water, a special blessing and a medal.
Then Father Dan would give a special blessing to the family that cares for this pet. He would even humor the little ones by blessing their stuffed animals with respect.
I’m sure I can speak for the 5,000-plus families in our parish when I say that we all wish him well as he takes care of his health.
And when it’s his turn to meet his maker, I’m sure the good Lord will say: “Father Dan, job well done! You can now enter into my kingdom.”
And I can just picture St. Peter opening those pearly gates and shouting at the top of his lungs: “Welcome!”