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Steve Banko: Holy Family Church set me on the right path

I was recently overcome by mob mentality and it wasn’t at a Trump rally. Rather, it was at Holy Family Church, the site of the most recent Mass Mob. It had been some time since I’d worshiped under the vaulted ceilings of this Romanesque-inspired edifice, but Holy Family had been part of my spiritual DNA since my earliest days in South Buffalo.

I went to the grammar school, made my First Communion there, my confirmation, competed on every sports team the school had and was part of the teams that put a bunch of hardware in the trophy cases, and had my grade school graduation in the majestic church. Both of our children entered the faith at the baptismal font and my daughter Colleen graduated from the school.

But time and circumstance have a way of taking us down long, winding paths, some of which led away from the legacy of my youth. So while I participated in the solemn sacrifice with a few friendly and familiar old faces and a lot of new yet still friendly faces, it was like coming home in a spiritual sense.

It was hard to stay focused on the altar happenings when each glance around the church brought memories through the gathering fog of old age. I hadn’t seen the church as full as it was during the Mass Mob since my grammar school days when attendance at the 9 o’clock children’s Mass on Sunday was as imperative as was school attendance.

Those Masses were marked by such martial-inspired precision that I didn’t encounter again until basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., some years later. Uniformity was the watchword. There was but one way to kneel, to hold one’s hands, to direct one’s attention. Woe to you if you took even the briefest glance to check Mary’s new hairdo or Jane’s dress. The Mercy nuns were were equipped with some divinely inspired radar that could detect even the slightest deviation of attention from the altar.

While the church looked fresh and clean with new paint, some things were still old school; like the little buttons on the back of the pews that once held the ubiquitous hats that gentlemen wore before I was born. The penalty for tinkering with the buttons and causing an extraneous noise during Mass was too frightening contemplate. To this day, I couldn’t touch the hat buttons.

And while the church was full of new, visiting faces, I could almost sense the spirits of those nuns swirling in the incense-filled air of the building. They were so much a part of our lives back then and laid a groundwork for some of what would present itself to us in later life.

Those of us who lived and learned from those nuns will often recall them as harridans who imposed a harsh discipline on us. In reality, they were great teachers who demanded nothing but our best.

So when the dismissal came from the altar, I half expected to hear the nun slap her missal against her hand as our signal to stand as one body. A second thunderous slap told us to genuflect and the third slap was our cue to stand. The final act of our Mass in those days was a plea to the “Savior of the World, Save Russia.”

I loved how a little imagination, a lot of marble and stone and a passel of memories could invigorate my mob-induced experience.