St. Francis Alumni Mass – 2016

PegsPlace PalmCourt CactusWreath






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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Sharing remembrances and praying for peace

Wnuczek Charlie’s Cub Scout troop participated in today’s Service of Remembrance at WestminCharlie with AlexPolowinster Presbyterian Church in Westboro. Charlie met and talked with guest speaker Alex Polowin a WWII Canadian Navy veteran. Alex served on naval convoys to Northern Russia. His ship the Huron was in a group responsible for sinking or disabling 56 enemy ships during the war. Charlie was very interested in Mr. Polowin’s medals which include the French Legion of Honour (Chevalier), the Atlantic Star, the Russian Commemorative Medal and others. Alex gave a moving personal account of life on a destroyer during war time. I’m glad Charlie got to speak with a WWII veteran. We will remember them.

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Hike to Dogtown

Hiked to Dogtown Commons with my two oldest grandsons this morning. Mushrooms, toads, even a small snake were some of their endless discoveries.
Listening to Charlie nine, son of Lisa and Verity, and Owen, seven, son of Simon and Beth, discuss the essentials of rocks, earth, bees and trees helps focus my own thoughts on what truly matters.

May they too be blessed to someday enjoy a hike in the woods with their grandchildren. When it happens, I will be there.

Selfie at the Whale’s Jaw

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St. Francis Alumni Mass – 2015

Peter Kuhn’s name on the list of remembrances is the second surprise. The class of 1964 shared four years with Peter. He came daily by bus from the Springville area as a ‘day-hop’. My memory of him is a gentle person with a great smile. Based on the book of condolences attached to this obituary he lived his life the same way. Sadly we didn’t hear from him during last year’s 50th reunion.

The first surprise comes a few days earlier with Facebook posting the passing of John Moldoch, a seminary colleague for several years and a lay teacher at SFHS for thirty-three.

Fr. Michael warmly weaves alumni, family and benefactors into his homily. Several return here each year to honour and remember those who passed. Throughout  the years this chapel remains the heart and centre of St. Francis. Current students and returning alum drop in to gaze at the altar and windows. We share the pews in prayer and memory with each student, teacher, and visitor. Past and present.

Going into the cafeteria afterwards, my friend John Macmillan from Toronto and I join a table with Mark Gillen ’79 and Anthony Antek (pen name) ’59 and Lynn his wife. In no time we are in a lively discussion about the local and national economy. Mark is a commercial banker and Anthony is a retired educator.  Clearly both have different perspectives about the causes for the financial losses of 2008. What is remarkable is the polite and sincere reciprocal
acknowledgement of each other’s points. If their approach could transfer to opposing political parties, it would advance both solutions and respect for government.

Anthony is the author of Bipolar Buffalo. This is my third surprise. The book is on a personal reading list. What a delight to find the author sitting across the table and to learn that he is an SFHS alumni. He invites us to visit his home in Lakeview. Anthony is also a collector of antique toys, especially the first toys made by the Fisher-Price company started in nearby East Aurora, NY.

Early little people toys Fischer-Price original Rail layout First Donald Duck

Besides restoring old toys this author applies his creative skills to beautiful original creations from Lake Erie driftwood. He invites us to visit the nearby Graycliff home designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright where he used to volunteer  and

John, two surprised college students, Anthony Greycliffe front Greycliffe lake view

Closed for winter we cross over the chain. Anthony invites two foreign college students to join us. They have come to view this signature building and are ready to leave in disappointment. All of us enjoy his in depth explanations of the house, its features, and  especially of the relationship between the architect and Darwin Martin who commissioned both this summer home and his regular residence to Wright  (

I share the idea raised at our 50th reunion of a bi-annual get together of SFHS alumni in the Western NY / Ontario region. Anthony organized the 50th  reunion of the class of ’59 and invites us to consider his vast outdoor garden overlooking the lake as a possible location.

We leave with autographed copies of Bipolar Buffalo and priceless memories of a remarkable day.

Next stop – the Red Top. John and I enjoy our annual visit and conversation with the crew of the Red Top. I will post our experience on the ‘I ate at the
Red Top’ group page on Facebook.

John and I enjoying the works. Executive dining lounge at the Red Top

Starting back to Toronto we take the city route along South Park. Earlier in the day we’d stopped in at Daisies Cafe for a great breakfast.Sandy's smile is warm and delightful like the breakfast.

Ahead is VFW Post 898 – I remember that Ray Pulinski is a past commander. Dropping in for a surprise visit we find that Ray and his wife Karen are in Florida. Sharon the
bartender says, “Wait a minute. I’ll call him in Florida.” “Ray there’s two guys here says you owe them a drink.” We chat about Florida, Pete Kuhn and the endless winter. Facing the drive home, we pass on the drink offer and promise to get together during a warmer time.

Before crossing the border, John and I enjoy wings at Buzzy’s in Niagara Falls and order take out for Sue and Mary back home. It’s been a day of surprises.

Bipolar Buffalo cover.

Note: Bipolar Buffalo, which includes many SFHS stories, is available through the website of the same name –

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Strangest Polish Christmas Eve Superstitions

Spirit of Wigilia sets the coming year. Christmas in today’s Poland –

Crazy Polish Guy

Boże narodzenieChristmas Eve in Poland, known as Wigilia, has some very beautiful traditions. Breaking the Opłatek wafer, caroling, opening gifts, the midnight mass, or Pasterka–these are practices beloved by every Pole and person of Polish descent, including myself.

But there exists a stranger side to the way Poles used to celebrate Christmas Eve, filled with mystery and superstition. Most of these beliefs have not been taken seriously for well over 100 years. When I ask Polish people today, especially younger ones, they haven’t even heard of them.

Nevertheless, I think it’s interesting to travel back in time and study some of the odd beliefs our ancestors held. For that reason, I present to you some of the strangest Polish Christmas Eve superstitions.

Wigilia predicts the rest of the year: An old Polish belief claims that whatever you do on this day will affect your entire year. If you fight with your loved ones…

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Inequality alive and well in Canada

Haves and Have-Nots: Deep and Persistent Wealth Inequality in Canada by the Broadbent Institute, September 11, 2014.
Wealth in Canada is concentrated heavily in the top 10% – with the bottom 50% combined accounting for less than 6% of all wealth. This report sheds more light on the dynamics of wealth concentration and distribution, particularly the gap between the wealthiest and poorest 10% of Canadian family units.

Key Findings include:
– The top 10% of Canadians accounted for almost half (47.9%) of all wealth in 2012
– The bottom 30% of Canadians accounted for less than 1% of all wealth
– The median net worth of the top 10% rose by 41.9% since 2005 (to $2.1 million) compared to a 150% drop in the median net worth of the bottom 10% (to negative $5,100)
– The top 10% held almost $6 in every $10 (59.6%) of financial assets excluding pensions – more than the bottom 90% combined
– The concentration of wealth for the top 10% was highest in British Columbia at 56.2% and lowest in Atlantic Canada (31.7%) and Quebec (43.4%)

Full report available at:

Above from SPARmonitor – Oct 1, 2014 – Issue 139

Can we afford this?

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Class of 1964 celebrates our 50th Reunion at St. Francis High, Athol Springs NY

After 50 years, one-third of the class of 1964 found their way back to St. Francis. Twenty two of 66 graduates and Coach Bob Torgalski attended one of the many celebrations held between Thursday and Saturday. We tried hard to recognize faces; to recall places and their stories; and to participate with dignity in the commencement. Reunions are about renewing and re-connecting with the friendships that shaped you. This one was a tremendous success and truly demonstrated the unique spirit of our class.

My own reunion experience started early Thursday when I ran into Bill Mackiewicz and Chester Salacinski and his wife Tong. After graduation, Bill, Chet and I attended the Franciscan seminary for a few years. As would happen many times during those first encounters, age and time briefly challenged memory. Smiles, handshakes and hugs quickly erased hesitation and doubt. While wandering around the kitchen and reminiscing, the staff invited me to join them as summer camp help. Muddy fields prevented our walk on the other prop.

Linda and Ron Michnik generously invited me to stay with them in nearby West Seneca. It was Ron’s idea to have an informal get together at Duff’s, one of Buffalo’s famous wing joints. How many would respond to the email invitation? Would their wives also attend? At first the side room looked pretty empty with the three of us. Then they started coming. John Przybylowicz from Chicopee, with his cousin Gene Nowack from the class of ’66, Fr. Vinnie Busch from the Phillipines, local guys Ray Pulinski, Dan Galluch, Larry Cieslica, Bill Graser, Tom Wrzosek, Chet Salacinski from Texas, Barry Recame from Annapolis, Bob Dassel from Pittsburgh. When a new person joined, we started a game of ‘who can recognize this classmate?’. There would always be one pretty quick correct answer. An observer could never tell that some of these men had not seen each other in 50 years. Warmth and laughter melted wrinkles and time. The five wives started their own circle which would expand and get closer throughout the reunion.

Friday morning twenty one grads and a dozen wives gathered outside the chapel. What might have been a subdued initial gathering before Mass quickly became an extension of the previous evening’s joyful celebration with newcomers quickly joining in. One of our own classmates, Fr. Vincent Busch a Colomban missionary, joined school President Fr. Michael Sajda, class of 1969 in concelebrating Mass. Choir voices filled space and spirit. The songs brought back old memories of countless masses as a student and more recent ones of attendance at the annual Alumni Memorial Mass.

While awaiting the arrival of brunch under the watchful eye of Fr. Justin Figas in the foyer of the auditorium, we passed around some Crown Royal to toast our veterans, ourselves and our departed classmates. Ray Pulinski, a past commander of VFW Post 898 in Lackawanna led the toast honoring veterans this Memorial Day weekend, including our own Mike Morgan who gave his life in Vietnam. Ed Curran shared a deeply moving account of bringing home Mike’s body from Vietnam. In addition to Mike, we also honored Donald Stone, John Eberhardt, Richard Schultheis, and Arnold Wolanczyk.

Men often express respect through playful insults. There were several rounds of these among those with service in different branches of the armed forces. Laughter everywhere.

As each classmate gave a brief summary of their past 50 years, stories of service, accomplishments and personal loss emerged. Our history includes many who served in the military and who were involved in Vietnam. Chester Salacinski rose to the highest NCO rank of Sargeant Major in the Army. Barry Recame is a retired Navy Commander. Mike Guy, Bob Dassel, Gerry McEneaney, Bill Mackiewicz and others in our class became teachers, probation officers and mental health counsellors. Roger Palczewski and Sam Santarosa became company leaders creating jobs, products and services. Bill Graser, Ed Curran and Ron Michnik became banking and finance professionals. Tom Wrzosek and Joe Granica enjoy distant travels. Tom still teaches English in Poland while Joe had many of us considering Belize for retirement. We heard to of illness, troubled relationships and personal loss. Our current Junior class guides listened intently to the lifelong lessons learned at St. Francis — respect, caring, discipline, focus, self-motivation, recovery, and adaptability.

After the group photo, we broke up into small groups to tour the school. Today’s students are involved in activities which did not exist in our time. While the tradition of academic and athletic excellence continues, the creative arts are equally prominent. Among these are TV and internet media production, the Jazz Messengers, and a school orchestra. Today’s students enjoy high quality facilities including a new 800 seat auditorium with stage and orchestra pit, a very well equipped weight and exercise room, and an additional double size gym. The basketball practice in the gym brought back memories after school athletics, the first dance, the never-happened prom, and various escapes and escapades. Going through the tunnel we remembered fallout shelter signs and stacks of packaged food. These were to sustain survivors in the event of nuclear attack during the Cuban missile crises of the Cold War. Much of Justin Hall is converted from dormitories to classrooms. Our tour tried hard to remember where everyone lived and the location of prefects’ rooms. The resident program closed in 1988 and re-opened a few years ago. We were unable to view the third floor living areas where approximately 30, largely international, students now reside.

Tour groups interrupted and were warmly welcomed in several classrooms and labs in both the old and new building. Where our class had almost entirely Franciscan teachers and the first lay teacher, Mr. Cuviello, now there are a handful of friars and forty-five lay teachers. The tour moment I will never forget is someone quieting the packed dining hall and asking everyone to ‘stand and welcome the class of 1964′ – noise as deafening as ever. It felt great to be back.

In the evening, together with the class of 2014, we gathered in the basement of Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna. As the school orchestra filled the space with the traditional Pomp and Circumstance we processed along with graduates and faculty into the assembly of family and friends. Every name of the class of ’64 was published in the 84th Commencement booklet. Fr. Mike mentioned our class several time and nicely linked the challenges and accomplishments of the 60′s with the challenges and opportunities facing current grads. The second never forget, lump in the throat moment came when the grads and the congregation gave a standing ovation to the class of 1964.

Immediately after we were invited to join the congratulatory receiving line. The graduates shook hands with each of us and conveyed an genuine gratitude for our presence. Sam Santarosa and I were alongside Gerry McEneany who loudly and enthusiastically welcomed each graduate to the alumni.

After the ceremonies we gathered at the nearby Ilio DiPaolo’s where we were joined by Ron Hartman. Our bartender, Ilio, the grandson of the founder, was an All Catholic athlete and St. Francis graduate of 2008. Drinks, laughter and stories went on into the evening. On returning to his home, Ron and I stayed up late solving the world’s problems.

The surprise guest of Saturday’s going away lunch at Hoak’s was Coach Bob Torgalski. Bob still coaches at Nichols School in Buffalo. He has an uncanny memory of the great and not-so-great athletes he worked with over the years. Bob is the only staff person from the 60′s who attended both our 25th and now our 50th reunion. Ed Curran caught us up on the lives of 60′s graduates who attend the Montauk, Long Island Reunions every even year. They fly up Fr. Christopher from his Florida home. More jokes especially from Sam and Ray and personal revelations about Sam, Larry, and Ron from the attending wives kept us laughing.

As we were getting ready to leave, Roger Palczewski asked the right question at the perfect moment. That skill has certainly contributed to his successful business career. “When will we meet again?” Someone replied, “How about five years?”; Roger, “Too late; we’re all getting older. How about doing something on the odd years to avoid competing with the Long Island event?” And so, the seed is set for more frequent future gatherings while we still can.

Bob Dassel got on his Triumph motorcycle to return to Pittsburgh. Next time he comes to Toronto for Dragon Boat racing we will get together. Who would have expected him to become the life long, wirey athlete? After some hand surgery in Rhode Island, Fr. Vince Busch is heading back to Mindanao in the Philippines into an area on the State Department travel advisory After Thursday night’s welcome event we had about $60 left over from the food and drinks kitty. That amount kept growing into the hundreds after a brunch collection and more were added after the Friday evening at DiPaolos and Saturday’s lunch at Hoak’s. We gave it all to Fr. Vinnie who will use it to support the self-sustainability efforts of the Subanen people. Ed was staying for another day and this September will carry back our stories to the gathering in Long Island. Several of us closer to the Western New York area lamented that we should have stayed in touch better. Throughout the reunion there were arrangements for getting together. Tom Wroszek invited me to his lakeside home. I promised to return with Sue so she can meet Ron and Linda. Sam and I will get together in Youngstown when my son Simon races his sail boat there. Later this summer Jim Reynolds, Ron Dabelle and I have plans for getting together in Massachusetts. Of course, Toronto visitors have a personal guide available on short notice.

Before driving back I had to give the other prop another try. When visiting St. Francis, I try to take a short walk to see the pond, the long abandoned tram station, and the cinder road along which track athletes trained and the garbage crew drove tractor loads to our dump. Lot’s of memories and the site of future archaeological digs to uncover early SFHS history. Walking across the rail tracks through the fields and woods to Little Niagara are some of my personal best memories. The ground wasn’t as mushy as two days earlier. Standing by the pond I remembered building dams so we could play hockey in the Winter.

Thank you to each reunion classmate for renewing and reconnecting. Fifteen years ago in 1999 Frank Prusak and I were at the 35th homecoming. We tagged along with the class of 1949 then celebrating their 50th. Some of you may have noticed the mounted jersey with the number 49 in the foyer at brunch. It was a gift to Joe Golba of that class who organized that reunion and contributed many years to the St. Francis Alumni. I thoroughly enjoyed their comments and conversations. Everything except the original main building was new to them. Joe and his classmates remain an inspiration me. Thank you to all who share St. Francis with me then and now.

For those who’d like to see the pictures –

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