FOR SALE: Nine-bdrm, six-bath mansion in upscale Buffalo neighborhood. Gothic arches, stone-walled vestibule, marble fireplace. Religiously maintained by faithful owner. Rare opportunity. Assessed at $1.3 million.
That is the ad that may soon appear in real estate listings, if the spirit of the new pope extends all the way to Buffalo.
If I read the papal sensibility correctly, there is an implied but clear message to our new bishop: You have too much house.
The place described above is fit for a king. Instead, the estate on Oakland Place houses the bishop of the Catholic diocese in one of America’s poorest cities.
It is time for the diocese to downsize.
Pope Francis is renowned for his humility. He often rode the bus as archbishop of Buenos Aires. He now will relocate the frugal sensibility to Rome, where he will live not in the elegant papal apartment, but in a guest house for priests.
It would be nice if the ripples of Pope Francis’ humble sensibilities extend across the Atlantic to Buffalo. Our new bishop, Richard Malone, downscaled his digs while serving in Portland, Maine. Here, the logical move is downtown to the rectory next to St. Joseph’s Cathedral, which provides a sense of grandeur in a holy setting. Malone told The Buffalo News, however, that he is not currently considering putting his Buffalo home on the market.
I hope he reconsiders. Selling the place would not just bring the diocese a hefty sum. It would send a weighty message about empathy and humility from the chief shepherd to the flock.
The Catholic Church’s priests, nuns and missionaries bring help and comfort to the poor and afflicted across the globe. The diocese’s priests, who make less that $30,000 a year, and its nuns – who take a vow of poverty – live simple, unadorned lives. Catholic Charities reaches into inner-city streets with everything from food pantries to mental health clinics. I have never understood, then, how and why the church’s hierarchy lives so large. The bling, the limousines and the other trappings of the church’s cardinals seem to me more fitting for a L’il Wayne than for a Timothy Dolan. Yo, monsignor!
The Rev. Roy Herberger heads SS. Columba-Brigid Parish on the tattered edge of downtown. He has – for 20 years, through four bishops – urged the diocese to stick a “for sale” sign outside of 77 Oakland Place. It is less for the money that could be used to help the needy – although there is that – than for the message it would send.
“It would say, ‘I am willing to sacrifice as a sign to people to whom I am always asking to make sacrifices,’ ” Herberger told me. “By showing people that we are willing to do that, I think we become more approachable.”
Diocesan officials say the big house helps to impress potential donors. It seems to me that a donor who appreciates the church’s mission would be more comfortable in humbler surroundings.
“I would think that people of money and influence,” said Herberger, “might better come to a poor parish, where they could meet the people their money might serve – the father of five who lost his job, or the sick mother who can’t afford medicine. That, to me, would be a more inspiring opportunity than a dinner of prime rib.”
It sounds like something the pope might say. May the message of humility resonate, from Rome to Buffalo.