You didn't have to listen in on many conversations Wednesday to overhear something like this: "I remember him. He confirmed me. I really liked him. He was a nice man."
The "he" in question is retired Buffalo Bishop Edward D. Head and his unexpected death on Tuesday kindled not only sadness among Western New York Catholics, but a warm glow of affection, as well. Indeed, the entire community seems in some way to be mourning the loss of a spiritual leader whose influence radiated beyond the church.
The character of this man was such that his reputation was undiminished by the difficult business decisions he made as the leader of a faith whose members venerate their institutions. Yet, under his supervision, the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo closed parishes and schools, consolidating them in the face of declining use. It wasn't easy. He was criticized. But his heart was such that the task did little to diminish the esteem his flock held for him.
He also presided over the explosive growth of Catholic Charities and, even in retirement, remained active in health care ministry. Until 16 months ago, he continued to administer the sacrament of Confirmation to the region's young Catholics. His influence will remain alive for decades to come, as generations of Western New Yorkers recall that it was this kindly, devoted man who presided over their reaffirmation of faith.
Bishop Head's death also serves as a timely reminder of how much more there is to a successful community than government and politics, which so often divide rather than unite. Stable communities are built on the shoulders of such people, their inner lives pulsing to the selfless example long after the person is gone.
This man is gone, but it is Buffalo's blessing that among its examples is the one Edward Head bequeathed to it over decades of service.
He will be remembered for a long, long time.