Finding quality family time in this day and age is no small task, Mary Carol Wall observed.
For starters, an increasing ratio of families are single-parent households or have both parents working. Even when parents attend their children’s sporting events, Wall asserted that those aren’t optimum bonding experiences because "the kids are out on the field and the family is up in the stands."
In order to get past such hurdles, creative thinking may be required, and that’s exactly what St. Mary Parish in Bath — where Wall oversees youth ministry and faith formation — did on July 19. Several families, totaling approximately 20 parishioners in all, spent a leisurely Sunday visiting both the Buffalo Zoo and the Basilica of Our Lady of Victory. The contingent left Bath in the early morning and spent a few hours at each destination before heading back home after 4:30 p.m. Mass at the basilica.
"It was a pilgrimage, in a way," Wall said of the 100-mile journey northwest from Bath. "It was a beautiful day … I think it worked out nicely."
The first stop was the zoo, which was founded in 1875 and is the third-oldest zoo in the country. It also is the second-largest tourist attraction in western New York, trailing only Niagara Falls. From there it was off to Our Lady of Victory in the Buffalo suburb of Lackawanna, which attracts numerous visitors in its own right based on its history as well as stunning architecture that includes a dome and twin towers.
Construction of the basilica was overseen in the mid-1920s by the famed Father Nelson Baker, who early in his priesthood served at St. Mary Parish in Corning in 1881 and 1882. He spent a half-century in Lackawanna, where he also was the driving force behind formation of a hospital, a home for orphaned boys, and havens for unwed mothers and unwanted babies. Father Baker is widely regarded as the intercessor for many miracles, and is currently being promoted for sainthood.
Since the zoo appealed to younger folks and the basilica more so to adults, Wall said the outing offered something for all ages. She added that St. Mary Parish plans to continue offering "road trips" of this nature. The next gathering was a youth picnic on Aug. 1 at Champlain Beach in Hammondsport, and Wall also is eyeing Mount Saviour Monastery in Chemung County as a possible future venue. She said the events also are open to families from St. Gabriel Parish in Hammondsport, which recently clustered with St. Mary.
According to Wall, these family activities are being implemented as a replacement for summer vacation Bible school — and, in at least one respect, are an improvement.
"We saw (in Buffalo) a lot of family time that you don’t always get in a program situation," Wall said. "We are trying to get more whole-family involvement within the parish, and keep building and strengthening our intergenerational bonds."
Wall added that vacation Bible school was popular at one time in St. Mary Parish, but attendance suffered in recent years due to fewer children in the parish and a high level of other summer commitments on their part.
"I think we were working against people instead of trying to find something that works for them," she remarked. "This was a way folks could choose a one-time block of time and they weren’t committing to an entire week or multiple meetings. It really helped provide the opportunity for people to develop community at their own speed."