Oct. 6, 1931 – Jan. 10, 2019
Robert H. Chambers will be buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery on Monday along with the symbols of the two most important institutions in his life. He will wear the brown habit of the Franciscan Friars and hold in his hand the Oblate Cross of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Both religious orders served as important influences for Mr. Chambers, who was associated with Bishop Timon-St. Jude High School since 1954 and served as organist for more than 70 years at the Oblate-sponsored Holy Angels Catholic Church on Buffalo’s West Side. He died Thursday at 87 in Amherst’s Beechwood Continuing Care, where he had recently entered after his health declined.
Mr. Chambers was one of Buffalo’s best-known Catholic laymen, mostly from his long association with the South Buffalo high school for boys founded by the Franciscans. As a teacher, guidance counselor, principal and finally as development director, Mr. Chambers will be remembered as a major figure in Timon history who was its first lay principal and an influence to generations of its students.
In announcing his death on its website Friday, the school noted the dedication of the 1978 yearbook to its principal: “No individual has sacrificed more for the Timon Community than Mr. Robert H. Chambers.”
And Thomas Sullivan, a Timon alumnus who succeeded him as principal from 1994 to 2016, said his former teacher “embodied Franciscan values” and “truly lived the Gospel” while inspiring his students by example.
“He ... made sure people working at Timon knew that they were part of the mission,” Sullivan said, “that faith and education go hand in hand.”
A lifelong resident of the family home on Ketchum Place, Mr. Chambers graduated from St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute and Canisius College, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He started at Bishop Timon as an English teacher before serving as principal across four decades from 1967 to 1992, and retired as development director in 1994.
Mr. Chambers’ twin, George, recalled that his brother had a knack for immediately calming an auditorium of rambunctious high school boys by simply standing in front with folded arms.
“That’s why he was called ‘the Rock,’” said George Chambers, a retired Buffalo police detective, referring to his brother’s longtime Timon title.
He came to appreciate his brother’s influence only in later years, he said, when they'd be out at dinner and Timon students of many years ago would approach them.
“They would all come up to him and thank him for what he did for them,” he recalled. “And the parents loved him too. They would come up and say the same thing.”
Mr. Chambers was also known for his skills at the keyboard, leading generations of Holy Angels worshipers in music, just as his mother, Frances, who started as church organist in 1912, had done. In her profile of Mr. Chambers for The Buffalo News in 2017, reporter Mary Kunz Goldman recounted the long family connection as he retired from the choir loft.
“That is well over a century’s worth of ‘Holy God, We Praise Thy Name,’ all played by an organist named Chambers,” Goldman wrote.
She also noted that Chambers approached his music with a sense of purpose; that he had been called to use his gifts for a reason.
“Be conscious of your role as a church organist. That will affect the way you sing and play,” he advised. “You’re there to lead the people in the praise of God. If you’re a performer, you will deteriorate.”
Mr. Chambers formerly served on the diocesan Pastoral Council and Liturgical Commission, as a member of the Holy Angels Parish Council, and president of the Catholic Choirmasters Guild. He was affiliated with the Franciscan and Oblates orders, entitling him to be buried in the Franciscan habit and with the Oblate Cross.
“I’m an honorary Franciscan and an honorary Oblate,” he told The News in 2017. “When I die, I’ll be well taken care of.”
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered Monday at 10 a.m. at Holy Angels, 348 Porter Ave.