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Monsignor John Lodge McHugh, 91, founding pastor of St. Amelia's Parish, Town of Tonawanda, died Monday (Aug. 24, 1998) in the parish rectory after a three-month battle with cancer.

A priest for 66 years, Monsignor McHugh was asked by the late Bishop Joseph A. Burke in 1953 to establish St. Amelia's in the rapidly growing Brighton-Eggert section of Tonawanda.

Today, the parish is one of the largest in the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, serving nearly 3,500 families and operating an elementary school with an enrollment of more than 450 children.

Monsignor McHugh remained as pastor of St. Amelia's until his retirement in 1982. He continued to reside there after his retirement, assisting with ministry until just a few weeks ago.

Earlier, Monsignor McHugh served for 21 years as assistant pastor of the former St. Joseph's New Cathedral and for a short time as assistant pastor of St. Joseph's Old Cathedral.

In addition to his parish work, Monsignor McHugh served as master of ceremonies for four bishops, coordinating the liturgies at which they presided as well as their other public events.

He was master of ceremonies for the late Bishops William Turner, John A. Duffy, John F. O'Hara and Burke. He also served as secretary to Bishops O'Hara and Burke.

A 1928 graduate of Canisius College, Monsignor McHugh, known to his friends as "Lodge," was described in the college yearbook as typifying "the virtues of serenity and sound judgment."

"He has never permitted himself the luxury of an enemy. Born on St. Patrick's Day, he is a true Irishman, warmhearted and bighearted," the yearbook noted.

"After 90 years, that is still a good way of describing him -- always warmhearted and bighearted," Monsignor Thomas F. Maloney, the current pastor of St. Amelia's, said Monday.

Reminiscing at his 60th anniversary celebration in 1991, Monsignor McHugh said his ordination was "the highlight of my life."

"There is a tremendous feeling of gratitude that you have been called to be a priest. There is a great joy in being a priest, the joy of knowing that you are serving," he said.

Monsignor McHugh was ordained Dec. 19, 1931, by the late Bishop Turner in St. Joseph's New Cathedral.

He celebrated the first parish Mass at the new St. Amelia's on a portable altar in the middle of an open field on Sept. 13, 1953.

During an extensive building program at the 11-acre site at 2999 Eggert Road, Monsignor McHugh spearheaded the construction of a school that had 1,400 students its first year, a convent, rectory and, finally, in 1970, a church seating 1,500 people.

When the parish celebrated its Silver Anniversary in 1978, it was debt-free.

Monsignor McHugh was a former budget director for Catholic Charities, past president of the Diocesan Pastoral Council and a former member of the Bishop's Board of Consultors. In 1979, he represented the priests of the diocese at a concelebrated Mass with Pope John Paul II in Philadelphia.

Born in St. Louis, Monsignor McHugh was named in honor of Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, a family friend.

He came to Buffalo as a child when his father, Edward, a former Boston, Mass., policeman, was named agent in charge of the Buffalo Secret Service Office.

Dedicated to serving the church even as a youth, Monsignor McHugh was an altar boy for the late Bishop Denis Dougherty and Bishop Turner.

He attended the former Cathedral School, Canisius High School, Canisius College and the former Our Lady of Angels Seminary at Niagara University.

He was awarded the College President's Medal by the Very Rev. James M. Demske, the late Canisius president, in 1978 for building both a church and "a faith community."

He also was honored with the Cure of Ars Award by Christ the King Seminary in 1994.

Retired Auxiliary Bishop Bernard J. McLaughlin will celebrate a parish Mass for Monsignor McHugh at 7 p.m. Wednesday in St. Amelia's.

Bishop Henry J. Mansell will be principal celebrant of a Mass of Christian Burial at 10:30 a.m. Thursday in St. Amelia's. Burial will be in Mount Olivet Cemetery, Town of Tonawanda.

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