By DON GLYNN
Niagara Gazette — Matthew “Whitey” Sciera and his wife Wanda would have been proud.
After all, how many parents can say their son witnessed the canonization of two popes. In fact, in earlier days, one was a friend of their son. Unfortunately, Whitey and Wanda did not live to see that day, the historic event in St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
Their son, Monsignor Ronald P. Sciera, 79, a native of Niagara Falls and a longtime priest serving several parishes in the eight-county Buffalo Catholic Diocese, has spent years in the Vatican as a board member of the John Paul II Foundation. The pontiff appointed him to the foundation in 1996, a move that required regular trips to Rome, Italy, for meetings with the pope and other church officials.
In all likelihood the monsignor had a close-up view of the ceremonies at St. Peter’s but details on the priest’s itinerary that day were virtually impossible to confirm. It was estimated that upward of 4 million people were bound for Rome that weekend including some 5,000 priests, more than 1,000 bishops and dignitaries from 90 countries.
The prime purpose of the massive assembly, of course, was the elevation to sainthood of John XXIII and John Paul II, two famous predecessors of current Pope Francis.
Sciera completed his studies for a B.A. degree at St. Mary’s College in Minnesota and received a master’s from Louvain University in Belgium in 1961, the same year he was ordained to the priesthood. He served as an associate pastor at five area churches until 1979, when he was appointed pastor of Precious Blood Parish in Buffalo. Despite a hectic schedule, he found time to organize healing services and youths trips in the diocese. He also was a regular contributor to Catholic radio programs and served for a time as the chaplain for the Buffalo Sabres Hockey Club.
VISIT RECALLED: In the summer of 1976, then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (later John Paul II), accompanied by 18 bishops from Poland, came to the United States to participate in the 41st Eucharist Congress in Philadelphia. After their sessions, the prelates made a side trip to the Buffalo-Niagara area. Later, they were welcomed to Niagara Falls by Councilman William J. Gallagher, the acting mayor. He took them on a tour of Niagara Falls State Park and joined them for lunch at the Parkway-Ramada Inn overlooking the upper river.
“I was really impressed with him. He seemed so easy-going, robust and trim,” said Gallagher, now a Lewiston resident. “He also was interested in all the sites, especially the international control structure, the 1,550-foot dam extending out from the Canadian shore to regulate the flow over the falls.”
Cardinal Wojtyla celebrated Mass at St. Casimir Church in Buffalo and stayed the night in the rectory there. To commemorate the visit, the Rev. Czeslaw M. Krysa, rector of that parish, has designated a room in the rectory as the Papal Prayer Room, where visitors can write a prayer on a sticky note and put it on the wall next to the life-size photo of Cardinal Wojtyla that Father Krysa took on a visit to Krakow in 1977.
IN EARLIER DAYS: If Monsignor Sciera’s name sounds familiar, perhaps it’s because his father was known locally as “Whitey the Cop.” Kids who grew up in the 1940s and 1950s will remember, especially those who often tried sneaking into Hyde Park Stadium for a baseball game (the New York-Penn League). They kept “Whitey,” the park police officer, hopping for most of the nine innings.
An ex-Falls resident recalled one night sitting with friends on the ledge of the red brick wall enclosing the stadium: “Whitey hollered for us to get down but we just ignored him. He got so frustrated that he started waving his billy club at us. He lost his grip and the club went over the wall and into left field. He begged us to give it back but we weren’t that dumb.”
TRIVIA QUIZ: (Answer to Thursday question) President William Howard Taft, who weighed more than 300 pounds, became stuck in his bathtub and was rescued by White House aides.
Contact Reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.Contact Reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.