The Bishop Buffalo Catholic Diocese is remembering its first Polish bishop. Bishop Emeritus Edward Kmiec died Saturday evening at the age of 84 after a period of declining health.
The bishop retired in in 2012, succeeded by Richard Malone, who was forced out in December. Kmiec had arrived in Buffalo from Nashville and was originally from Trenton, NJ.
Kmiec was spotted early as a priest with potential, educated in Rome and saying his first Mass in St. Peter's Basilica. He had very little experience as a parish priest, rapidly moving up in the clerical hierarchy. When appointed to Buffalo, Kmiec answered a long push from Poles for one of their own in the top job.
Speaking for the WNED-TV documentary "Polonia: Western New York's Polish American Legacy," federal Bankruptcy Judge Carl Bucki said that push had been underway for a long time.
"Theodore Roosevelt wrote correspondence to his special emissary to the Vatican asking that they put in a word for Fr. Pitass to be made bishop," Bucki said. "It never occurred, but that was a dream that had occurred as long as 1904, only to find a final solution in 2004."
Kmiec showed this in his installation ceremony, when he took the diocese's top position.
"Today, I come to a new home, the Diocese and Church of Buffalo and I greet you in the form and language of that salutation (speaks Polish). I kind of thought some of you might be able to answer that (laughter)." he said.
Parishioners saw their bishop around the community, including a shopping trip to the Broadway Market in the run-up to Easter.
"I heard about the Broadway Market, even when I arrived here. We've driven by it several times and I said, sooner or later, I have to get over here and this is a good time, Holy Week for Easter," Kmiec said. "I used to work in a grocery store, one of the little Polish delis. This was always a big time, as it is here, today. Everybody's out buying all the foods."
Kmiec inherited a diocese with a declining number of priests, a shrinking in the ranks of Catholics and fewer of them showing up for Sunday Mass. He took lots of criticism for closing parishes and schools.
It is not clear how effectively he dealt with the problem of pedophile priests, although he did remove two priests for reasons he never explained. Later it came out that removals were for child sex abuse.
Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.