Roman Catholic Church
1843 - 1981
Buffalo New York
The Early Years
When St. Mary's Church was built in 1844, there were very few German priests in Western New York in proportion to the large German Catholic population scattered up and down the countryside. In the Diocese of Toronto, Canada, there were fewer still, so that the Redemptorists in Buffalo were required to cover an extensive territory.
The priests from St. Mary's were often away six days a week, travelling from place to place over rough roadsgiving little missions in courthouses, public halls; at times even in non-Catholic churches. They ministered to the early Catholic pioneers of Lancaster, North Bush (Kenmore), Williamsville, Eden, Hamburg, and Bennington; at more distant Batavia, Leroy, Corning, Addison, Lyons, Canandaigua, Dunkirk, Holland, Sheldon, Hornell, even as far as Elmira (The distance of over 130 miles was a full day's journey in those days). In Canada they gathered the scattered Catholics for Mass in Painham, Black Creek, Simcoe, Caledonia and Toronto.
The original St. Mary's Church was built at what is now Broadway and Pine Street. The land (212 by 132 feet) was purchased from James Miner by the Rt. Rev. Bishop Hughes for $1863.00 (=$33,239.46 in 2000$) on February 22, 1844. Building operations were begun at once with a few parishioners furnishing the labor. In derision their opponents called them the "congregation of woodchoppers. A brick church, one hundred and eighty by forty feet, was erected without regard to architectural beauty. This was probably due to the fact that no skilled workers were employed.
Bishop Hughes contributed $964.00 (= $17,199 in 2000$) to the construction, half of which the Redemptorists promised to refund to him. As soon as the church was under roof, it was dedicated, May 12,1844 in honor of Our Lady Immaculate.
In 1845 Father Alig, C.SS.R. established a parochial school, which began with 150 pupils. At first it was conducted by lay teachers, but on March 19, 1849, the School Sisters of Notre Dame took charge of the girls' department. In order to support the school he organized two societies, one of men, the other of women, whose joint contributions for that year amounted to $380.44 (=$6787.77 in 2000$).
The total receipts of the church for the first year were about $11,000.00 (=$196,260.88 in 2000$) of which $3,000 (=$53525.69 in 2000$) went to pay the interest on the debt.
Father Bayer, C.SS.R. arrived in Buffalo on October 28, 1845 and two weeks later obtained an assistant, the Rev. John B. Hespelein. Their furniture consisted of only a bed, a table and a chair. They were unable to pay their food bill. But just when the pinch of poverty was sharpest, a young man, named Dominic Tritscheler, applied for admission as a brother. He brought with him a considerable sum of money and thus saved the day for the impoverished community. Faithful to his vocation he died at St. Mary's, Buffalo, May 13, 1897, at the age of eighty-three.
The New Church
Bishop Timon laid the cornerstone of a new church on Easter Monday, April 24, 1848. Bishop Hughes contributed $ 350.00 (=$6246.74 in 2000$) to the work. Bishop Timon consecrated the Church on July 28, 1859. It was of limestone, one hundred and eighty-six feet long and eighty-one feet wide. When the church was consecrated there were about 4000 people in the parish, and four hundred children in the school.
In 1851 the Fathers built a new school at a cost of about $25,000.00 (=$499,268.86 in 2000$). This was a considerable addition to the parish debt but the people, though poor, rallied to the support of the school that even in the beginning it was able to clear expenses. The boys' department was entirely conducted by lay teachers until September 1862, when the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis of Philadelphia (founded by St. John Neumann), took charge of the lowest grade. In 1864 the School Sisters of Notre Dame succeeded them. In 1869 when there were nearly 1200 children in both departments, a separate school was built for boys, on Pine Street; and in 1874-5 a new school for the girls, on (Batavia Street) now Broadway. Up to that time the parish spent $78,500.00 (=$1,082,251.80 in 2000$) for schools. For several years during this period, St. Mary's was the largest parochial school in the Diocese of Buffalo. In 1893 the School Sisters of Notre Dame assumed complete charge of the boys' department.
Beginning in 1930 for a number of decades St. Mary's offered a two-year commercial course to those interested in business education. Conducted by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, St. Mary's Business School during its long career graduated as many as 150 students annually.
The Children and Infirm
In 1852 the Rev. Joseph Helmpraecht, pastor of St. Mary's, founded an asylum for the children of the parish who were orphaned during the cholera epidemic raging at the time. This institution, conducted by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, lasted until 1874, when the German Catholic Orphan Asylum was established on Dodge Street. Rev. Elias P. Schauer, pastor of St. Mary's was one of the chief promoters.
In 1861 the Redemptorists were instrumental in establishing St. Francis Hospital, on Pine Street near the church. At their request the Sisters of St. Francis Third Order Regular from Philadelphia, Pa (now at St. Mary of the Angels in Williamsville) took charge of the institution.
On December 18, 1861, the little band of Sisters arrived and in a small house on Pine Street they commenced their work of mercy, visiting and consoling the sick in their homes and caring for the destitute and aged. Soon the house became insufficient for the increasing number of residents so an adjoining lot was purchased and a large brick building was erected. The hospital known as St. Francis' Asylum" was devoted to the care of old and infirm persons, without distinction of nationality or religion.
Reaction to Socialism
In l868 the Rev. Adrian Van de Braak, pastor of St. Mary's, was the prime mover in the establishment of the Buffalo Volksfreund, (not an official Catholic daily), advocated Catholic principles and defended Catholic interests. Its aim was to counteract the Catholic agitation of two radical papers, the Demokrat and the Telegraph. This agitation was so violent that it threatened to destroy every Catholic Church. The success of the Volksfreund had a sobering effect on these hostile papers.
When the Rev. Albert Stern became rector of St. Mary's Church, in April 1898, the socialists of the city were trying hard to convert Catholic workingmen. In order to offset their efforts, Father Stern, in January, 1899, conceived the idea of a federation of all German Catholic men's societies of the city, which should be based on the principles laid down by Pope Leo XlII in his encyclical Rerurm Novarum, May 15, 1891. Guided by the Most Rev. Bishop Quigley, the "Christian Society of Social Reform" succeeded in keeping the German Catholic working men of Buffalo from joining the ranks of Socialism.
Renovation and New Construction
In 1900 Father Stern began the renovation of the church the principal features of which were the installation of a new marble high altar, a new floor, and the decoration of the sanctuary.
detail of statue over the high altar
The Rev. Francis T. Parr (pastor 1904 1915), erected a lyceum at a cost of $120,000.00 (=$2,218,425.86 in 2000$) at the corner of Broadway and Milnor Street. It was a fireproof, three-story and basement cream colored structure with an adjoining gymnasium, the first Catholic institution of its kind in Buffalo.
lyceum and school c. NFFA/Fish
On June 28, 1981, the Redemptorists Fathers made the decision to close St. Mary's since the number of parishioners had dwindled to about 70. The property was sold to a salvage firm on August 8,1981 who announced plans to demolish the building which needed significant repairs.
On December 19, 1986, a passerby reported smoke coming from the building at 2:47 p.m. A fifth alarm was sounded at 3:00 PM. At 4:49 PM the church's main steeple collapsed and landed in the middle of a nearby intersection and was still smoldering several hours later. The fire was declared under control at 6:08 PM. Prior to the fire many of the stained glass windows had been removed by the salvage company that owned the property and had been given to the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.
The Connection to St. Stanislaus
A twisted copper cross from the fire-ravaged church, two statues, the altar stone and reliquaries, plus a quantity of the building's Medina limestone were donated to St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church where a special memorial to St. Mary's and to the pioneers who founded St. Stanislaus was established. This is significant in that the Redemptorists were closely involved with the newly-arrived Polish immigrants in the 1870s. (http://www.pgsnys.org/Churches/ststansbm.html)
According to the 1870 census, about thirty families lived in the vicinity of St. Mary's. The priests assisted them with religious services by directing them to St. Michael's, the Jesuit-run church on Washington Street. In 1873, Joseph Bork, a parishioner of St. Mary's deeded land he owned on Peckham Street as a site for the church organized by the Society of St. Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr. On June 7, 1873, Father John Pitass organized this society into St. Stanislaus Parish with eighty-two families enrolled.
Current Status of the Property
Several buildings still stand on the St. Mary's site including the lyceum. New housing has been built on the actual church site. The church records are housed in the archives of the Roman Catholic Diocese at the Catholic Center 795 Main Street Buffalo NY 14203 (716-847-8719).
Early in 1874, through the efforts of the Reverend Elias Schauer, C.SS.R., then rector of St. Mary's Church, the site of the old church burying ground on Dodge Street was purchased from Bishop Stephen Vincent Ryan, at a cost of $25,000.00. This was to be the new location of the German Roman Catholic Orphanage. Remains were reinterred into a mass gravesite at Mt. Calvary Cemetery and a monument erected at the new burial site which read, "Dedicated to the memory of those whose remains were transferred from the Old St. Mary's Cemetery on the 18 Dec. 1881 which was donated by St. Mary's congregation to the R.C. German Orphan Asylum. R.I.P." The monument is located at the juncture of East Delevan and Pine Ridge Road in Cheektowaga.
The complex in 1979 c. NFFA/Fish
Contributors to this page include
Anonymous. Saga of Old St. Mary's,
Lydia Fish, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Anthropology, Buffalo State College
German Roman Catholic Orphanage History Ralph Hadley
Joe and Shonah Hayden - Buffalo Faith Elevators
Kevin Keenan, Editor of the Western New York Catholic
Rev. Milton Kobielski, ed. Millennium of Christianity of the Polish People 966 -1966.
Niagara Frontier Folklore Archives
David Snyder. Historic Pipe Organs in Buffalo, A Survey. privately published, 1981
Bill Van Pelt. "Saving A Unique American Organ." The Tracker, Journal of the Organ Historical Society., Vol. 29.No.2, 1985.
The bells of St. Mary's dated 1884-
Cast in Baltimore by Henry McShane.
When the church was closed, the St. Mary bells were unhung by the salvage firm who bought the place, and subsequently vanished. They were almost certainly broken up for scrap metal
Page Designed and Maintained by Nancy Piatkowski
Photographs from the Niagara Frontier Folklore Archives
Bill Van Pelt
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