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Native son returns for special Mass

A Buffalo native who serves as the spokesman for the Christophers, a New York City-based Catholic communications ministry, will be the homilist this Sunday at a special Mass celebrating the beginning of the academic year at Buffalo State College.

The Rev. Dennis Cleary, who grew up on Buffalo's East Side, was invited to take part in the Academic Convocation and Liturgy of the Holy Spirit by the Newman Center at Buffalo State for his connections to Western New York and for his work with the Christophers and the Maryknolls, a missionary organization.

The ceremony, which will be held at 10:30 a.m. Sunday in the Social Hall of the Mildred Campbell Student Union, hearkens back to a medieval custom practiced at universities in France and Spain, explained the Rev. Patrick Zengierski, director of the Newman Center.

"It was a formal liturgy that the academic communities would hold to recognize that God's spirit was at the heart of wisdom," Zengierski said.

Cleary was born in Buffalo and grew up in the Bailey-Walden district. He attended Bishop Turner High School and entered seminary at a school on Dodge Street and then finished up at the former St. John Vianny Seminary (now Christ the King.)

Cleary was working in Lackawanna and the Old First Ward when he decided he "began to sense I needed to do something a little different."

He joined the Maryknolls, through which he would be sent to do missionary work in Venezuela and China. He also served as U.S. regional superior of the missionary group.

In March, Cleary was named director of the Christophers, a ministry that uses media to promote its message that "it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness."

Cleary, who still has some family in Western New York, said he is excited about having the chance to return to Buffalo.

"It's an opportunity for me to articulate the vision of the Christophers and to invite people into mission [with the Maryknolls]," he said. "If our church is not missionary, it will rust. We, in fact, die. We would just implode. It keeps the church alive."

Zengierski said he hopes the message of mission will resonate with students who come to the Newman Center. "Part of our mission is always service," he said.

e-mail: mbecker@buffnews.com