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Father Mack taught me a lot about friendship

Monsignor Tom Maloney, pastor of St. Amelia Church in Tonawanda, pays tribute to a great friend.

By Monsignor Tom Maloney

Published:March 8, 2012, 12:00 AM
Updated: March 8, 2012, 6:36 AM

The year was 1961, and I was 18 years old. I had a temporary job, in the days before Christmas, delivering mail in the area we used to call the valley—roughly the neighborhood around St. Steven’s Church on Elk Street. One day, I found I was delivering a ton of Christmas cards from the same individual. I read the return address: Rev. Robert A. Mack, The Old Cathedral, 50 Franklin St. I wondered: Who is this priest, and how can one priest have so many friends?

Ten years later, I got the answer to my question. It was October 1971. I had been a priest for three years, and had been at St. Amelia Parish for four months. Then, Father Mack was transferred from the Old Cathedral to St. Amelia’s.

I met him as he was moving in. He said, “I’ve got the entire youth group of the Old Cathedral Parish helping me move in.” I looked around and saw only two kids. I said, “Are there more kids outside?” He said, “No, Tommy.” (No one outside my family had called me Tommy in a long time, but it was OK with me.) “We are not into quantity, only quality.”

From that day on, we were Tommy and Bobby. Within weeks, our pastor, Monsignor John Lodge McHugh, was calling us Tommy and Bobby. And we were calling him Lodgie (not yet, however, to his face).

A week or so later, Johnny Cash was appearing in the Aud. “Let’s go see him,” Bob said at dinner. “Great,” I replied, though I had to cancel a 7 p.m. appointment. On the way there, I mentioned to Bob that we did not have tickets. “No problem, Tommy,” he said. At the Aud atrium, we paused till Bob scoped the scene and spotted a ticket-taker he knew. We whizzed through, without tickets.

Soon we met an usher. “Father Mack,” he exclaimed. "Where do you want to sit?" Bob answered, "Close to the stage."

We ended up so close that we did not sit. We stood at the front of the stage. When Johnny Cash came on, he spotted two roman collars at the front of the stage. He walked over to us, while the crowd waited in anticipation, knelt down and shook our hands. “Padres,” he said, “I want to thank you for all you do.” Being thanked by Johnny Cash was for me the thrill of a lifetime.

When I look back at that unique moment, from the vantage point of 40 years, I recognize Father Mack’s unique gift for making and keeping friends. If he met you once, you were his friend.

He was at ease with people in high places, could preach at a mayor’s funeral, emcee huge banquets, officiate weddings for daughters of judges and councilmen — but he treasured equally his friends making minimum wage: the ticket-takers and ushers, the cooks and cleaning women, the waitresses and busboys.

I learned from him a lot about friendship. And so did lots of other people, in the parishes he served, and in the Buffalo Fire Department, where he was chaplain for 10 years.

Bob had many gifts: a sense of humor, the wisdom to distinguish between the important and the trivial, a sensitivity to the poor and the sorrowing, but above all the knack for making and keeping friends. I thank God that he decided to use those gifts in the service of Christ as a priest.

On Nov. 29, doctors at Kenmore Mercy told him that he had pancreatic cancer. He died two days later. May he rest in peace.


Thank you so much, Father Tom for helping to keep the memory of our good friend alive. While Father Mack somehow managed to treat all his many friends as equals, most of us now look to his "most special" friends" like you, for spiritual guidance to fill the tremendous void of his absence . His memory lives on in each of us in its own very personal way, but your wonderful tribute today and at Father Bob's funeral Mass at St. Louis, gives us assurance that although he is gone, his memory lives on and is still a powerful inspiration in our Faith.

MICHAEL ZOBEL, EGGERTSVILLE, NY on Thu Mar 8, 2012 at 07:28 PM

Thank you, Monsignor for your celebratory story. Not only am I a great Johnny Cash fan, but also a big fan of life affirming and positive insights that help jump start my day. God must love you a lot for inspiring you to share.

JANICE SCHLAU, WILLIAMSVILLE, NY on Thu Mar 8, 2012 at 12:04 PM