Be it via the airwaves or rolling down the highway, Father Paul Schnacky has unique ways of spreading his ministry through the Southern Tier.
Since early 2003 Father Schnacky has hosted the radio program “Magnify the Lord” on WLEA 1480-AM in Hornell. Every Friday afternoon he visits the station’s studio to record his 15-minute show, which airs at 9:15 a.m. on Sunday and is repeated at 3:05 p.m. that day.
Themes are frequently culled from Father Schnacky’s homilies or his talks from Monday-night Holy Hours. He enjoys relating his subjects to holy days or other special days, such as the stirring tribute he gave on a Mother’s Day show that aired May 9, 2004:
“The first face we gazed at, within inches of our own, was the face of our mother. And that tender face and those loving eyes we came to know as a source of comfort and care,” he said on the broadcast, adding that children continue needing a mother’s special care as they get older.
Due to his lack of previous broadcasting experience, Father Schnacky said he got off to a slow start behind the mike. “I did a couple of shows but I didn’t think I was very good at it. But if you wait until you’re perfect, you’ll never do anything,” he remarked.
By now, Father Schnacky has grown comfortably into his role and even looks forward to having a platform for his viewpoints on WLEA, which is owned by Kevin Doran, an Our Lady of the Valley parishioner.
“At this time in my life, after 52 years of being a priest, I have a few things to say — and now I have a chance to say them,” said Father Schnacky, 76, a retired diocesan priest who resides at St. Ann’s Church in Hornell while serving Our Lady of the Valley Parish.
For instance, on his Mother’s Day show he lamented the loss of traditional family structures: “I get upset at a society that paints the picture of a perfect mother as one who rushes her children off to school so that she can rush off to work. America idealizes the family on the run, with never a moment to sit down together at a meal and carry on a conversation about the day. When do parents ever have the time to get to know their children, or when do parents ever have the opportunity to give advice and guidance when their children need it?”
Traditional values were also addressed in an Aug. 8, 2004, broadcast about funerals. Father Schnacky said many of today’s American Catholic families feel entitled to customize such Masses, but he emphasized — using the example of a funeral he concelebrated that week — the need to remain reverent and respectful.
“I was impressed that the family, down to the grandchildren and maybe even the great-grandchildren, were neatly dressed. All the men, even the teenage boys, wore suits, shirts and ties — and no earrings,” he said on the show. “The women were neatly attired, in modest dresses. It showed a deep respect for the loved one whom they laid to rest that day.”
Father Schnacky prefers to let his words — rather than the decibel level of his voice — make the greatest impact. “I try to keep it low-key, not dramatic or anything,” he said.
The style must be effective, based on the listener response he gets. “I think they find the sincerity and the warmth through the radio which you wouldn’t get from a printed word. They make a point to tell me they’ve listened. Several people say, ‘Well, I listen every week,'” Father Schnacky said, adding that he’s been told the show is a perfect accompaniment for driving to and from Sunday-morning Mass.
Speaking of driving, that brings us to another ministry performed by Father Schnacky. Earlier this year, he purchased a 2001 Dodge 12-person van for the purpose of transporting parishioners on day trips. The inaugural event took place July 8, when he took a small group to a chicken barbecue at Church of the Assumption in Portageville, Wyoming County, in the Buffalo Diocese.
Father Schnacky said he’s gearing up for many more day trips to nearby rural parishes: “They have wonderful little churches, beautiful churches,” he said. The priest also plans to visit the Trappist Monastery in Piffard, Livingston County, as well as shrines within reasonable driving distance from Hornell. In addition, he eventually hopes to utilize the van for transporting people to church. Although Father Schnacky said he can scare up chauffeurs if needed, he plans to do most of the driving.
Father Schnacky said he used a van for similar purposes while serving as pastor at St. Joseph’s Parish in Wayland from 1979-98. “I found it very handy. I used it for taking the school kids different places, but it was mostly for the senior citizens. If there was a place I thought of, we would just pack up and go,” Father Schnacky said, noting that he took groups to historical city churches in Rochester as well as shrines in the Buffalo and Scranton dioceses.
“I see an opportunity — the people I want are those who can’t afford a bus trip,” he added, explaining that he aims to serve elderly folks “who don’t have anybody — a lot of widows and widowers, and they feel safe with a church group.”