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Rev. Joseph Bayne provides presence, support for first responders

If the Rev. Joseph Bayne were not a priest, he would be a firefighter, such is his family’s commitment to emergency service. In his hometown of Baltimore, Bayne’s brother Robert served as a city firefighter. His mother, Jean Bayne, retired at age 75 as medical office secretary in Baltimore fire headquarters. And Joseph Bayne Sr., Bayne’s father, died a hero fighting a Baltimore high-rise fire in 1977.

When Bayne decided to join the Franciscan order after graduating from high school in 1975, he knew his first-responder roots would eventually come into play. He moved to Buffalo in 1989 when the order asked the young Franciscan to open a youth shelter here. Today, Bayne serves as executive director of the Franciscan Center, a shelter for young men on Seneca Street.

But he does so much more.

As chief chaplain of Erie County Emergency Services and chaplain for the Buffalo Fire Department, he provides round-the-clock support to first responders under the toughest of circumstances. Bayne responded to the crash of Flight 3407 in Clarence within 25 minutes. He was at ground zero in New York City within days.

Driving a Ford Edge pushing 180,000 miles, Bayne leads a busy life. At age 57, he calls his vocation a ministry of presence.

People Talk: How do you unwind?

Rev. Joseph Bayne: I treasure time off because you do get emotionally tired. I listen to people’s problems a lot, the kids who live here and then my fire and emergency people. They tell me I handle crisis and other people’s issues well. I give them a shoulder and some support without the judgment. Do you know what I mean? But it’s exhausting. Sometimes you have to wring out the sponge by doing something happy and go unload. Thank God for friends. And my own spiritual adviser. Life changes at the drop of a hat.

PT: Do you have trouble sleeping?

RJB: I did – nothing to do with the fire emergency stuff. I finally got the sleep test. I’m with the CPAP now and it helps. I have the goofiest dreams. I still dream I’m in high school and the three minutes you have between classes I forget my locker combination to get my books.

PT: What’s the last book you’ve read?

RJB: I just finished Pope Francis’ encyclical on creation and how we need to better take care for Mother Earth. He just doesn’t talk about ecology and air pollution, he talks about how we treat each other and humanity. We’re never going to take better care of the earth until we respect ourselves and each other.

PT: Why are the numbers of people entering religious vocations down?

RJB: Our society. Families used to promote it more. Consumerism. Me-generation. Breakdown of the family. I think it’s a number of issues, not any one thing. But young people out there are still hungry for some kind of spirituality. Even the kids in the youth shelter ask me questions. They’re struggling. They’re searching for something to hold onto.

PT: What do you think is the major mistake of parents today?

RJB: Trying to be their daughter’s or son’s buddy. It’s normal for kids to hate for a little bit, and not want a curfew, or not have to do their homework. Being a parent is tough, especially when you’re the only one standing up to the plate.

PT: You’re on the scene of an incident. What would you not be without?

RJB: As a Catholic priest I always have the holy oils in the car, but my job is to be there for people, and it doesn’t matter what religion they are. Tonight I have a firefighter and his fiancé coming in for counseling before marriage. I always say: What the heck do I know about being married? But you know what I share with them? What I learned from my parents. They had a good marriage. As a kid I didn’t realize it but I was taking notes.

PT: I bet you never get bored.

RJB: My life is diverse. I am a people person because my parents were people persons. I’m not good at doing a budget, but I can handle a crisis. I can go into a room of strangers and not be afraid to talk to them. I’m there to reaffirm their feeling, that what they are thinking is not wrong.

PT: What do you do when words don’t work?

RJB: Hugs, tears – I can cry. My father taught me that it’s OK for men to cry.