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May 27. 1927 – Aug. 30, 2013

The Rev. Innocent Kurkowski, who taught for many years at Bishop Ryan High School in Buffalo and later at St. Francis High School in Athol Springs, died Friday in the Father Justin Senior Friars Residence in Athol Springs. He was 86.

Father Innocent, a Franciscan friar for more than 65 years, was a beloved mentor to students at Bishop Ryan, where he served as athletics director and taught world history from 1957 to 1971.

He maintained friendships with many of his former students years after they graduated, and he gathered for regular lunch meetings with a group of a dozen or so Bishop Ryan alumni that included successful area businessmen, elected officials, teachers and school administrators.

Father Innocent was known for dispensing no-nonsense guidance to help steer students in the right direction.

“We may not have liked what he said when we were younger, but as we went on through life, we could see that what he said was right,” said Mel Grubka, who played baseball and basketball at Bishop Ryan and went on to teach in the Cheektowaga-Sloan School District for 29 years. “He was a true Franciscan. He would do anything for anybody.”

Born Francis Kurkowski in Buffalo, he took the name Innocent upon entering the Conventual Franciscan Friars and participating in the novitiate program at St. Lawrence Friary in Becket, Mass.

He was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Christopher J. Weldon in the Chapel of St. Hyacinth Seminary in Granby, Mass., in 1956 and was assigned as assistant pastor at St. Hedwig Church in New Bedford, Mass.

He arrived in 1957 at Bishop Ryan, where he taught until the all-boys school closed in 1971. He then moved to St. Francis from 1971 to 1976.

He served as associate pastor of Queen of the Most Holy Rosary parish in Buffalo from 1976 to 1977 and as chaplain at St. Joseph Intercommunity Hospital in Cheektowaga from 1977 to 1988.

Father Innocent returned to teaching at St. Francis during the 1991-92 school year.

He was parochial vicar at St. Casimir Parish in Baltimore, Md., for a year and then served as the last Franciscan pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Fairfield, Conn., from 1993 to 2002.

He retired and was living on the campus of St. Francis, until moving into the senior friars residence in 2011.

Survivors include his brother, who is also a priest, the Rev. Mark Christopher.

A Franciscan wake service will be held at 7:30 p.m. Monday in St. Francis of Assisi Church, 4263 St. Francis Drive, Athol Springs. A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Tuesday in the church.