Sam Kolodziej Jr. had a few more people than normal in his pew on Sunday morning.
In fact, there were a couple hundred extra members of the faithful inside Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church. And they had the Buffalo ‘Mass Mob’ – the latest iteration of Internet flash mobs – to thank.
The church on O’Connell Avenue in the Old First Ward was packed with about 300 people for the 10:30 a.m. Mass, with most of the churchgoers drawn as part of an event meant to supply a dose of rejuvenation to some of Buffalo’s Catholic churches. A normal crowd for the Sunday morning Mass is less than 100, the church’s pastor said.
Kolodziej, a long-time parishioner who graduated from the grammar school formerly on the site, said he even got a little emotional seeing the church filled with worshippers.
“Overwhelming,” Kolodziej said when asked about the turnout. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Believers said the event made the church look like it did decades ago when Mass attendance in the United States was higher than it is today.
Flash mobs have taken on a different spin locally with cash mobs, where a crowd descends on a local business to give it a boost in sales. Niagara Falls has a “CleanMob,” which focuses on cleaning up trash.
The idea for the Mass Mob grew out of a “Facebook Mass” held a few years ago at St. Adalbert Basilica on Stanislaus Street, when the church encouraged its Facebook fans to come to a Sunday morning Mass. Electronic communication and social media, including Twitter and Facebook, play a prominent role in spreading the word about the event.
“What you’ll hear from people about a place like this is that it’s kind of on a side street in the First Ward. Nobody ever really sees it,” said co-organizer Christopher Byrd. “It falls off the radar screen. People forgot about this place in a lot of ways.”
The organizers, including Byrd, Danielle Huber, Alan Oberst and Greg Witul, want places like Our Lady of Perpetual Help back on the radar screen.
“Maybe it will inspire people to come a few times a year,” Byrd said, “and it gives the church a little one-day boost, attendance-wise and in the collection basket.”
The organizers want to give these churches a shot in the arm before it may be too late.
The declining fortunes of St. Ann’s Church at Broadway and Emslie Street – a closed Catholic church that some are working to save – has provided some motivation to the organizers.
“We need to be proactive to save these buildings,” Huber said.
This was the second Buffalo Mass Mob in three months. The first happened Nov. 2 at St. Adalbert Basilica.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help was picked for Sunday’s event when organizers solicited nominations, and more than 700 people submitted suggestions online. They took the three churches garnering the most nominations and put them up against each other in another online vote.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help topped Corpus Christi, located on Clark Street on the East Side, and St. Clare on Elk Street.
The parish had some advance warning the mob would be coming. The Rev. Donald J. Lutz, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help for the past 12 years, said the only other times he’s seen the church as full as it was Sunday were at large funerals. Lutz said the church left its Christmas decorations up an extra week so Mass Mob visitors would have a chance to see them.
Susan and Henry Wischerath, who live in North Buffalo and attend St. Rose of Lima parish, heard about the event through their friend, Susan Travis, a life-long parishioner of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
The Wischeraths, like many others at Sunday morning’s Mass, had never been inside the church before.
Travis said the event lifted her spirit.
“It was just wonderful to have a celebration with the church full,” Travis said, “like it was when I was a kid.”
For information on upcoming Mass Mobs, go to buffalomassmob.wordpress.com.