Bishop Edward D. Head dies at 85
Bishop Edward D. Head, the 11th bishop of Buffalo, died late in Tuesday afternoon, (March 29) at the McCauley Residence in Kenmore. He was 85 years old.
Bishop Edward U. Kmiec, bishop of Buffalo, said, “This is a day of tremendous sadness for the family of the Diocese of Buffalo. During his 22 years as the bishop of Buffalo, Bishop Head had a tremendous impact on the faith lives of Catholics in the eight counties of Western New York.” Bishop Kmiec was visiting family in New Jersey when he learned of Bishop Head’s death. Bishop Kmiec will return to Buffalo on Wednesday (March 30).
“We are shocked at the suddenness of his passing.
“Since my arrival in October I had had the great pleasure of getting to know him on a more personal level and had the opportunity to share many moments with him. I have only the greatest esteem for him and for the wonderful service he rendered to the Diocese of Buffalo as its shepherd. I ask the prayers of all for the repose of his soul. He was a wonderful brother bishop and a true friend.
“His leadership was instrumental in the growth of Catholic Charities, improving ministry to Black Catholics and concentrating resources on Catholic education. Bishop Head’s legacy lives on in the institutions of the diocese, but more importantly, in the lives of the people he impacted: the priests of the diocese, the men and women religious and the laity. I know that Bishop Head’s presence will be sorely missed.
Funeral arrangements will be announced on Wednesday, March 30.
On January 23, 1973, Pope Paul VI named Bishop Head the 11th bishop of Buffalo. He succeeded Bishop James A. McNulty who died on September 4, 1972. Bishop Head was installed at St. Joseph’s Cathedral on March 19, 1973. The installation date marked the third anniversary of his ordination as a bishop.
During his tenure, Bishop Head ordained 124 men to the priesthood and confirmed more than 50,000 young people. He confirmed thousands more young Catholics following his retirement, continuing to preside over confirmations until November 2003.
At a Mass at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in downtown Buffalo celebrating his 50th anniversary as a priest and his 25th anniversary as a bishop, Bishop Head reflected on his priesthood and his episcopacy, remembering the influence his parents had on his life. “They taught me how to pray, how to trust, how to believe, how to serve, how to love. Not just by their words, but by the very living of their lives. And when I told them I was hoping to enter the seminary and become a priest, their advice was simple and straightforward.
“My father told me, ‘Edward, be the best priest possible.’ My mother’s words were, ‘Edward, be a holy priest.’”
He also had kinds words for the people of the diocese. “I believe there is no finer presbyterate, no more generous priests, than the priests of the Diocese of Buffalo. I have found women and men religious in love with the Lord and in love with His people.
“I have found deacons who proclaim the Good News of Jesus through their liturgical ministry and their ministry of charity. And I have found lay ministers, women and men, who answer their baptismal call to serve God’s people with their talents and their gifts.”
Among the highlights of Bishop Head’s episcopacy: inauguration of the permanent diaconate in the diocese, the establishment of the Office of Church Ministry and the initiation of the Commission on Women in Church and Society. He also established the Diocesan Council for Those with Disabilities, began the Link Program for divorced Catholics, appointed the first Board of Catholic Education and established the diocesan Office of Black Ministry.
Catholic Charities saw exponential growth during Bishop Head’s episcopacy. During his first year as Bishop of Buffalo, the appeal raised $3.9-million dollars with Catholic Charities serving almost 82,000 people in Western New York. In 1995, the year Bishop Head retired, donations to Catholic Charities topped $8.6-million with 180,000 people served. Bishop Head was the impetus behind the effort to start diocesan-sponsored affordable housing for seniors. In 1984, President Ronald W. Reagan joined Bishop Head in dedicating one such project, Santa Maria Towers, on Buffalo’s West Side.
In 1985, the diocese purchased the former Courier-Express building at 795 Main Street, consolidating diocesan offices in downtown Buffalo. Bishop Head also played a key role in the 1987 decision by the Vatican naming Msgr. Nelson Baker a “Servant of God,” the first step in the canonization process. In 1993, the bishop assisted in the process in which Blessed Angela Truszkowska, foundress of the Felician Sisters, was beatified. Her beatification by Pope John Paul II was the result of the miraculous cure of 89-year-old Lillian Halasinski, a parishioner at St. Hyacinth Parish in Dunkirk.
“In 1973,” Bishop Head remembered, “Pope Paul VI could have sent to this church at Buffalo a wiser bishop, a holier bishop, a bishop more astute in administration, a bishop more gifted in public speaking. But I don’t think Pope Paul VI could have sent to the Diocese of Buffalo a bishop would have tried harder to love you and to serve you.”
On April 18, 1995, Pope John Paul II accepted Bishop Head’s retirement as bishop of Buffalo. On June 12, 1995, Bishop Henry J. Mansell, now archbishop of Hartford, succeeded Bishop Head. Bishop Mansell later named Bishop Head the bishop emeritus of the diocese.
In October 2002, the Diocese of Buffalo’s newest residence for retired priests, the Bishop Edward D. Head Residence, was dedicated in honor of Bishop Head. The residence, home to 13 retired priests, is located in Lackawanna near Our Lady of Victory Basilica.
Throughout his retirement, he was actively involved in health care ministry and supportive of many other diocesan initiatives.
Edward Dennis Head was born on August 5, 1919, in White Plains, New York. He was the son of immigrant parents. His father, Charles W. Head, an Episcopalian convert to Catholicism, came from England; his mother, Nellie O’Donahue, was a native of Bantree, Ireland. Not long after his birth, the Head family moved to the South Bronx. The eldest son, Charles William, Edward and younger brother, Daniel, all attended St. Luke’s parochial school and St. Ann’s High School.
Following high school graduation, Edward continued his studies at Cathedral College, and then earned a degree in mathematics from Columbia University. He entered St. Joseph’s Seminary at Dunwoodie in 1939 and was ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal Francis Spellman on January 27, 1945, in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Father Head taught sociology for a time at Notre Dame College, Staten Island, and then served successively as an assistant pastor at Sacred Heart Church, Bronx, and St. Roch’s Church, Staten Island. In September 1947, he joined the staff of the Family Service Department of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York. While working at Catholic Charities, Father Head served as an assistant pastor at St. Veronica’s Church, Greenwich Village, and continued his graduate studies at the New York School of Social Work earning his master’s degree in 1948.
In March 1948, he became associate director of Family Services, a post he held until 1956 when he was named director of Social Research for the Catholic Charities organizations.
Pope John XXIII honored the priest in July 1962 naming him a papal chamberlain. In May 1966, Pope Paul VI gave him the title domestic prelate.
While his honors and responsibilities increased, Msgr. Head still fulfilled pastoral assignments. He remained at St. Veronica’s for 17 years, until 1964, when he was assigned to St. Monica’s Church, Manhattan. Three years later, he became a parochial assistant at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Cardinal Cooke appointed Msgr. Head as secretary and executive director of Catholic Charities on October 15, 1966. As executive director, he administered a complex organization with nearly 1,000 employees and an annual budget of several million dollars.
In 1970, on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, Cardinal Cooke ordained him an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New York. Three years later, he was named bishop of Buffalo.
Bishop Head is survived by a sister-in-law, Mary (Daniel) Head of New York City, Helen (Charles) Head of San Antonio, Texas, and a stepmother, Gwen, also of Texas, and several nieces and nephews.
Flowers are gratefully declined. Memorial gifts may be made to: The Bishop Edward D. Head Catholic Education Endowment Fund or to Catholic Charities Endowment Fund c/o the Foundation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, 795 Main Street Buffalo, New York, 14203.