St. Francis Alumni Mass – 2017

John chooses the red-white strawberry pancakes and passes on the red, white, and blue All-American stack. Every third year we are at Rooster’s Cafe on Ridge Road in Lackawanna, NY. I imagine steel workers packing the place early in the morning. Rooster’s is just up the road from the long gone gates of Bethlehem Steel. Who comes to the 5 AM opening now?




This year’s Alumni Memorial Mass remembers Peter Kuhn and Richard Wesolowski from the class of 1964.

Members of Dick Wesolowski’s family attend Mass. After Mass we share condolences and memories with Eleanor, his mom who lives near St. Francis High School. Unable to travel to her son’s funeral in Colorado, she is glad to be with us in remembering. Travelling from Colorado to bring her mother in law, Dick’s wife Sylvia, his brother Skip and a nephew also share this moment with us.

Dan Galluch, Ron Michnik and I are there from the class of ’64. Also with us is Carol Palczewski and son, Todd. Husband Roger passed away before last year’s Mass. We read an email from Hank Pietraszek and share condolences and regrets from Sam Santarosa and Bill Graser. Ron Dabelle has sent Sylvia a beautiul Mass card which we gave her. On Dick’s Facebook page, Gary Janaczek recalled good times at the Wesolowski home. Dick was class president. He remains easily recognizable in the front row of the Buffalo Evening News class photo we give his family.

Father Mike’s Lenten sermon reminds us that in this day of wearable devices we should also monitor our spiritual health. This annual trip to the Memorial Mass is a personal monitor of the roots and growth of Franciscan values and friendship.

Also attending is Anthony (Antek) Rudnicki from the class of ’59. Antek is the author of Bipolar Buffalo. Exerpts from the book – which includes a great story about Fr. Rufinus – along with recent critiques and observations are found on his website

I have to get something from John’s car. Fumbling with the keys, the student choir member next to me offers help. We introduce each other. Does he wonder if fifty three years from now he will be stumped by an everyday task like this old choir alumni?

Carol Palczewski takes John and I on a personal tour of Buffalo’s River Works. Giant Labatt’s Beer cans welcome us. Condo’s, apartments, and businesses are re-energizing the city along its water ways. Cobblestone Square and Larkin Square have persevered through difficult times and are adapting and driving new economy and lifestyle.



Later in the afternoon we meet up with Ron and Lynda Michnik at Schwabl’s . Over the famous beef on weck, we share history of place and history of relationships. The connections are wide and deep.

Carol Palczewski spouse of Roger ’64, Lynda Michnik , Ron Michnik ’64, Anthony Mielniczuk ’64 with long time friend John Macmillan of Toronto.

It’s late, we leave for Toronto without shopping or  with take-home chicken wings. Definitely have to return before next March.

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Speak out for love and against hatred

The Association of Ontario Health Centre’s statement on the rise of Islamaphobia deserves wide reading. Full disclosure, I work at a community health centre and live happily with  Muslims, a mosque and recent immigrants as neighbours.
“The attack on the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre this past weekend left us shocked and saddened, and our thoughts and hearts go out to the families and friends of the victims of this horrific hate crime.
Unfortunately, the shooting in Quebec City is not an isolated incident but rather an extreme manifestation of the growing Islamophobia and the rise in anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric both in Canada and around the world.
AOHC represents primary health care organizations across the province that work with people and communities facing multiple social injustices and health disparities. We know how this type of violence reverberates across the country, and indeed the world, and impacts Muslim and other racialized communities in Ontario.
In the aftermath of this attack, we want to reaffirm our commitment to social justice and health equity and we urge you to do the same. Here are three actions you can take:
Health Equity Charter for our members : If your organization hasn’t endorsed the Health Equity Charter, please contact Gabriela Panciu at to do so.
Charter for Inclusive Communities : We encourage you to endorse the Charter for Inclusive Communities by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, supported by AOHC among other organizations.
Break the Behaviour : Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants also invites you to sign their Break the Behaviour pledge as a first step towards building a racism-free Ontario.
We, at AOHC, pledge to continue working with our members to recognize and confront barriers to equitable health, as well as support ongoing efforts to build healthy, vibrant and inclusive communities.
Tuesday, January 31, 2017″
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Communities work with co-operation and leaders like Ronny Yaron

The St Lawrence Neighbourhood is by many measures a great success. That success comes from a combination of community and political will power. What the article misses is that Ronny Yaron and many others like her have spent countless hours working with neighbours and local organizations and holding political representatives accountable. As a neighbour of hers for over 20 years, I saw her do all this while raising a family and gently engaging and helping others.

Much of the spirit and involvement comes from the many housing co-operatives in the St. Lawrence neighbourhood, including Woodsworth where Ronny lives. In these co-ops, which contain a significant number of rent-geared-to-income units, member responsibilities and rights are equal. Members elect Boards who are responsible for leading community life and for economic sustainability. And they get involved.

St. Lawrence was created from spent railroad and industrial lands. Mayors Crombie and Sewall with countless other urban activists led the move to create this new kind of community. Did the city learn anything? Your answer is right around the CN Tower.

Where is today’s political will to bank land and provide resources for genuine mixed income housing? Mixed-use condo and public services is a very small step. Subsidizing rent is another step. The outcomes may give the politically acceptable impression of “from the outside, you won’t know which is which.” The truly bold step would be another St. Lawrence-type initiativel

Current measures in Regent Park and Lawrence Heights promote social mix. That mix comes at the personal cost of thousand of families being disrupted, resettled, and most never to return. What about the neighbourhoods, development projects and public institutions where not even this limited social mix really applies?

Meanwhile affordability forces those with less income to move into the near urban suburbs and beyond.

To build the type of truly mixed community where people are listened to, where children know each other, where families thrive and where seniors can continue contributing comes when residents have a formal say in how their community works; where infrastructure like schools, libraries and support services receive proper funding. These communities attract people like Ronny for whom public service is for public good, not for business relationships, not for for votes. They are the community builders.

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IX – XI memorial

Towers collapse onto themselves incinerating all and everyone within. This is memorial, museum and crypt. Real and symbolic artifacts remind each visitor of loss, pain and fear. Water within two pools falls into itself. It soothes while names etched on the sides hold onto people who perished here.

Inside we see and hear the looping news, the stories, and the personal mementos of that day. Pained faces break one’s heart. In the most solumn of spaces visitors look up the names and bios of loved ones.

They rest here in the dust covered displays, in their desperate notes, in the lumps of composite, and in our memories.

This generation will remember where they were September 11. Ours remembers November 11. For the one before it may be August 6 or December 7. Violence and tragedy continue. The sole consolation being ‘it could have been worse’.

It will take time and the best of humanity to move from fire and ash to the healing waters of forgiveness and peace.

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Rideau River Walk

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Since last August, Sue and I have been living 50 metres from the Rideau River. Our Conservation Co-operative is blessed with greenery. On a day like today going to work is more meditation than walk. Moving alongside the river, nature’s disco lights flash from sunlight glints through leafy trees and off gleaming water. The river walk opens into Strathcona Park with its ancient trees planted for us by those whose life could not be long enough to enjoy this majesty.

Climbing the stairs at the park’s end, I emerge at the heavily gated Russian embassy. It is a few more blocks through the oldest part of Sandy Hill (now being re-branded as Prime Ministers’ Row – until I reach the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre.

Our current advocacy effort for a supervised injection site aims to reduce the harm, death and personal tragedy from drug addiction. The walk and the day could not be more fulfilling.

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Owen’s First Holy Communion

Owen1stHolyCommunionLife brings blessings small and great. This morning I enjoy the last of the St. Viateur Bagels Sue packed for our Toronto trip. Many years ago, Joel Verbin introduced me to the ‘poor man’s lox’, anchovies on bagel. Family support includes tolerance of little fish. We are sharing an AirBnb in Scarborough. Too many of us now for Simon’s house.

We are all together for Owen’s First Holy Communion today at St. John’s. Owen is a peacemaker in the school. He is the quiet, thoughtful observer. Theology and liturgy are the surface of practice. In the church basement classmates fidget while Fr. John gives final instructions. Cameras and smart phones capture digital memories without discrimination.

Owen’s part of the Prayer of the Faithful is for our planet. My prayer is that this generation will inherit it in good enough shape that they can turn around some of our mistakes.

Simon and Beth invite family and friends to dinner at the Beech Tree on Kingston Rd. We have the place to ourselves. Even if we did not, the energy of seven cousins who don’t see each other often enough would have cleared out other diners. Not only is it a wonderful social event, but a gourmet treat. The owner invites us to stay past the alloted time.

We share our ageing. Each moment becomes more precious for itself. Children become adults caring for other children. Now knowing that those responsible for their childhood memories face difficult decisions along with their own finality.

Tomorrow we drive to Washington where Lisa is part of a conference panel. Sue and I will tourist with the grandkids. Each moment brings its own blessings.

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St. Francis Alumni Mass – 2016

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Outside the chapel we gather before Mass. This lobby is a place of reunion, reflection and renewal. Old classmates and friends meeting again. One can’t help but reflect on times past and the life events which bring us together at this place once again. Scanning the plaques, trophies and photos reunites one with the spirit of SFHS. Experienced uniquely, we share it collectively across generations of graduates. This year the list of those remembered includes a classmate, Roger Palczewski, a seminary colleage and Facebook friend, Fr. Linus Desantis, and a grad too young to be on this list, among others.

The official Commencement Program lists 64 graduates of the class of 1964. Seven of us have died. After coming regularly for about a dozen years, this year is the first time we are joined by a classmate’s family. Carol Palczewski and son Todd come to rememember Roger with us. Dan Galluch, Ron and Lynda Michnik with their son, Todd, and Ron and Patricia Hartman join us at Mass. Todd Michnik is a grad of ’88; the same year as Paul Bartell, the school’s VP of Development.

Later in the cafeteria we share memories and stories about Roger. He was a big part of our 50th reunion in 2014 Other attendees recall Roger’s work with SFHS after returning from military service. Our table is the last to leave the cafeteria. John and I make plans to join the Michnik’s for dinner.

Alumni may fondly recall the nearby sister school, Immaculata Academy.  After 88 years, it recently announced its closing at the end of this school year. With that closing, the question of St. Francis going co-ed is circulating in the community. There are limited choices for young girls wishing to attend a Catholic High School in the South Towns of Buffalo.

Earlier in the day John Macmillan and I enjoy breakfast at Peg’s Place, the former Howard Johnson’s on Route 5. We sit at the counter with the regulars. One asks our waitress about the colour streak in her hair. “I’m wearing pink for Jen.” A friend is undergoing cancer treatment. We share our hopes and best wishes.

With some time John and I decide to visit Buffalo. Driving down South Park we see the dome of the Olmstead designed Botanical Gardens . Yet another place I’ve passed many times without visiting. We change our plans and spend a delightful afternoon visiting the greenhouses. Sitting in the Palm Court one can forget about the Ottawa winter. Cabin fever has raised the thought of a winter getaway for Sue and I. Maybe next year I’ll bring her here.

We end our day with a dinner at Duff’s with Ron and Lynda Michnik. This gathering of my life long friends who’ve just met creates endless stories and laughs. This is the latest John and I have ever stayed. With our chicken wing take-outs, we return to Toronto. Tomorrow it will be back to Ottawa.

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