Bishop Edward D. Head, the religious leader who vowed never to leave his adopted hometown of Buffalo, fulfilled his promise when he was buried here today in a crypt inside his beloved St. Joseph's Cathedral.
"We gather this morning in faith and friendship to commend to the tender care of a loving God, a gentle giant of a man -- a priest and bishop whom we have all come to admire greatly and love deeply," Bishop Robert J. Cunningham of Ogdensburg said in his homily.
Cunningham was one of at least six bishops from neighboring dioceses who served as concelebrants, along with Archbishop Henry J. Mansell, the former bishop of Buffalo who is now archbishop of Hartford, Conn. Bishop Edward U. Kmiec served as the principal celebrant during the 11 a.m. Mass of Christian Burial inside St. Joseph's.
Cunningham referred to Head's pilgrimage of life and faith, using the late bishop's own words in describing the latest step on that journey: "When God gives life, it is forever."
Head was remembered for the human touch he displayed during his 22 years heading the Buffalo diocese.
"Bishop Head's life as a priest, as a social worker, as executive director of Catholic Charities in New York (City) and as bishop of Buffalo embodied his care and concern for the needy and vulnerable in our community," Cunningham said. "He was equally at home with business leaders in the board room of Catholic Charities or tying the sneaker of a child at St. Vincent De Paul Camp."
Outside the cathedral, a flag at half staff waved gently in the late-morning breeze, as the day had dawned under blue skies and a bright sun that replaced the slushy snow that had fallen much of the weekend.
Today's scene was in stark contrast to Sunday's, when hundreds of Catholics braved slippery conditions to pay their respects at his wake and Diocesan Mass in St. Joseph's, where his crypt had been prepared at the side of the sanctuary.
Anthony P. Amigone, chairman of Amigone Funeral Home and a longtime friend of 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."
Head, who led the Buffalo Diocese from 1973 to 1995, became the fourth bishop buried in St. Joseph's Cathedral, but the first since 1915. He died last Tuesday at 85.
Even after Head's retirement, 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.
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 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, Head's miter was removed from his head and laid against his chest. Prior to today's Mass, the lid to his casket was closed and locked for the last time.
And Bishop Head was buried in the city he loved.