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German places you should know:
      Our Lady Help of Christians Chapel in Cheektowaga


         by Martin Ederer                                                                                                        ian and Polish settled in the origi-
           fierce North Atlantic storm in                                                          in the first decades of the 20th cen- nally  Alsatian  area,  making  the
      ANovember 1836 was responsi-                                                                 tury, the building was still too small chapel crowded for Masses, a sense
      ble for the existence of the Maria-                                                          for the parishioners, not to mention intensified by the numerous crutch-
      Hilf Kapelle, the Chapel of Our La-                                                          the  growing  numbers  of  pilgrims es  and  braces  adorning  the  side
      dy Help of Christians in Cheektow-                                                           from Buffalo – especially Italians – walls along the narrow side aisles,
      aga.  The  story  begins  with  Joseph                                                       flocking to the chapel. Scherer seri- attesting  to  cures  brought  about
      Batt,  born  1789  in  Alsace.  As  a                                                        ously  considered  having  the  little through  the  intercession  of  Maria
      child, he ended up in exile with his                                                         chapel  torn  down  and  replacing  it Hilf.
      family  and  lost  his  father  to  the                                                      with something more grandiose. His  By the 1950s the parish was at
      French Revolution. As a young man                                                            friend  Fr.  Nelson  Baker  –  the  fa- the breaking point as the combina-
      he  settled  in  Morschweiler,  where                                                        mous Father Baker of Lackawanna tion  of  postwar  prosperity  and
      he  married  in  1813  and  raised  a                                                        –  discouraged him from doing that. scores of young families moving to
      family of nine children. In 1835, he                                                         Any new church would have to be the suburbs stretched the chapel be-
      decided to leave Alsace for Ameri-                                                           built in addition to the original cha- yond any reasonable capacity. Rev.
      ca,  sending  his  oldest  son,  Joseph                                                      pel.                          Walter Heck decided to build a new
      Jr.,  to  find  a  suitable  home  there.                                                      In  1922,  renovation  of  the  old church, dedicated in 1959, a rather
      His son chose an area east of Buffa-                                                         chapel commenced, the work of the unusual  shape  with  a  gold-leafed
      lo, in Cheektowaga. One important                                                            D’Arcangelo Company, which add- dome.  Meanwhile  the  old  chapel
      reason  for  the  choice  was  the  fact                                                     ed the existing altars and ornamen- began to fall into disrepair as it fell
                                     prominently  displayed  over  the  chapel from the Williamsville quar-
      that  the  area  east  of  Buffalo  was  present  main  altar.  The  Perpetual  ry where the 1871 addition’s stones  tation,  even  as  large  new  church prey to vandals and the elements.
      heavily  settled  by  his  own  Alsa-                                                        designs  were  under  discussion,  By 1974, demolition of the cha-
                                     Help icon over the left side altar also  had originally been quarried in the
      tians.                         dates from the earliest years of the  1830s,  obviously  preparing  to  fur-  some quite bizarre. Finally, in 1924, pel was seriously discussed, but the
         The  elder  Batt  set  off  with  the                                                     Scherer  decided  simply  to  expand chapel  got  a  reprieve  after  the  ad-
                                     chapel’s existence.            ther enlarge the chapel.
      rest  of  the  family  for  America  on  Meanwhile  the  SS.  Peter  and  Fischer  was  followed  by  Rev.  the old chapel, once again by knock- ministrator  proposing  the  demoli-
      Nov. 11, 1836 from LeHavre on the                                                            ing out the rear wall and doubling tion  suddenly  left.  Rev.  Paul  R.
                                     Paul congregation in Williamsville  Francis X. Scherer, who long served
      American ship Mary Ann. They en-  began building its present church in  as pastor of the chapel parish, from  the length of the nave to its present Letourneau, who became pastor late
      countered a fierce storm on Nov. 29.                                                         dimensions. That saved most of the in 1974, realized the significance of
                                     1862 on new land it had purchased.  1893  until  his  death  in  1936.  The
      Waves crashed over the decks and  It was an expensive undertaking that  area was growing, in part because of  1922 ornamentation, whose themes the  chapel.  He  renovated  it  and  it
      Atlantic  gales  snapped  the  masts;                                                        were  simply  carried  through  the reopened in 1975 for the Holy Year
                                     required  the  full  resources  of  the  the chapel’s growing reputation as a
      the ship began to take water. In this  parish, which meant that the pastors  shrine and as a site of miracle cures.  new  addition,  again  the  work  of celebrations.
      desperate strait, Batt made a prom-                                                          D’Arcangelo.  Six  new  Frohe    It has since been placed on the
                                     of  SS.  Peter  and  Paul  both  during  It  also  stood  on  a  major  route  to
      ise  to  the  Blessed  Virgin  Mary  –  and  after  the  construction  years  Buffalo  in  the  geographical  center  stained glass windows complement- National Register of Historic Plac-
      Our Lady Help of Christians – that                                                           ed the existing Frohe windows that es,  and  still  serves  as  the  center
                                     were not kindly disposed to growing  of Cheektowaga, which land devel-
      if his family were spared, he would  aspirations in Cheektowaga to make  opers noticed. Scherer built a school  had  been  installed  after  the  1871 point  of  the  Assumption  celebra-
      build  a  chapel  in  Mary’s  honor  in                                                      enlargement.  The  outdoor  grotto, tions on Aug. 15 each year, a long-
                                     the  Maria  Hilf  chapel  an  autono-  and convent complex before turning
      the New World. The storm subsided  mous parish.               his attention to what had become a  designed to accommodate growing standing tradition at the Chapel. An
      and the Mary Ann limped to Ireland,                                                          throngs  of  pilgrims,  was  added  in elegant little structure with a fasci-
                                        When SS. Peter and Paul aban-  large  parish  crammed  into  a  small
      where the ship was repaired before  doned  their  old  church,  Joseph  chapel.              1927-1928.                    nating history, the old Alsatian cha-
      the voyage continued.                                                                          The chapel parish continued to pel of Our Lady Help of Christians
                                     Batt’s  son-in-law,  John  Daul,  Even  with  the  creation  of  new
         After Batt had arrived in Cheek-  bought the land with the old church;  parishes out of the chapel’s territory  grow as increasing numbers of Ital- has managed to escape three plans
      towaga,  he,  like  all  the  Alsatian                                                                                     to demolish it.
                                     in 1869 Joseph Batt secured Bishop
      Catholics  settled  there,  walked  to  Stephen  Ryan’s  permission  to  tear
      SS. Peter and Paul in Williamsville
                                     down  the  old  church,  and  haul  its
      for  Mass  until  Batt  finally  could
                                     stones and its timbers to Cheektow-
      deliver  on  his  promise  to  the
                                     aga  to  expand  the  original  family  by Martin Ederer
      Blessed Virgin Mary 16 years later.
                                     chapel.  After  original  approval  by  ne of the joys of German life is
      There are several theories as to why
                                     Rev.  Joseph  Zoegel  of  Williams-  Othe  bread  culture.  My  father
      so  much  time  passed.  One  is  that
                                     ville,  his  successor,  Rev.  George  (and most of his family) were grate-
      Batt needed first to establish himself
                                     Pax, reversed the permission, fear-  ful  to  be  in  the  United  States,  but
      financially; a second is that he did
                                     ing  that  expansion  at  Maria  Hilf  they always lamented what passed
      not  want  to  undertake  the  venture
                                     would weaken SS. Peter and Paul.  for bread in America. The term they
      unless he could establish something
                                     Only  Daul’s  threat  that  he  would  used  was batzig,  which  literally
      substantial, preferably a parish, but
                                     turn the old church into a brewery if  might translate as “lumpy,” but add
      at least a chapel with school. A third
                                     Batt could not use the stone to en-  soft, soggy limpness for good mea-
      theory  is  that  Bishop  John  Timon  large the chapel – and added pres-
      was not inclined to make the chapel                           sure. Think the standard American
                                     sure from Bishop Ryan – forced Pax  bread  out  of  a  plastic  bag  that  we
      a parish, there were more pressing  to relent. But Pax did demand that
      needs  to  establish  parishes  else-                         use  for  our  PB&J  sandwiches  or
                                     the addition to the chapel be only 20  those soft square dinner rolls. It also
      where  with  a  limited  number  of  feet,  rather  than  the  60  feet  the
      priests. The Alsatians in Cheektow-                           bears mentioning that Germans typ-
                                     Cheektowaga Alsatians wanted.  ically do not use two slices of bread           Image by jhenning_beauty_of_nature from Pixabay
      aga  already  had  the  luxury  of  SS.  As  that  conflict  heated  up,  an
      Peter  and  Paul  in  Williamsville,  a                       for  their  sandwiches.  Open  face  is  Vollkornbrot:  A  whole  grain clude sunflower seeds, barley, spelt,
                                     exasperated  Pax  proposed  burning  the rule.
      mere 4 or 5 miles away.        the chapel to the ground to solve the                        bread, usually heavy and dark. Ba- oats, caraway, fennel, coriander, on-
         Batt  nonetheless  persisted.  In                            German  breads  almost  always  sic  type  is  predominantly  (90%) ion, and/or dill.
                                     problem once and for all. A dioce-  have a thick crispy crust, are heavy
      1851, Timon finally accepted Batt’s  san  commission  investigated,  and                    whole wheat flour.                Hörnchen   (literally   “little
      donation of land for a chapel. Batt                           and dense, and make a decent meal  Dreikornbrot  –  Vierkornbrot horns”):  These  are  similar  to  the
                                     ruled that the chapel should remain  in and of themselves. Many of the
      began by building a school so that  a private chapel of the Batt family,                    – Fünfkornbrot (you get the idea): French croissants, but are not neces-
      the children of his little settlement                         recipes  start  with  a  sour  dough  of  breads made from a specific number sarily as buttery.
                                     but it should also be enlarged. The  one sort or another, and use heavy
      could  be  educated  in  the  faith.  In  eventual compromise was a 40-foot                 of grains.                        Bretzn (pretzels): done proper-
      1852,  Timon  granted  Batt  permis-                          rye  flour,  whole  wheat  flour,  and  Roggenbrot (rye bread): Heavy ly,  these  are  serious  bread…and
                                     addition, and regular priestly visits  any number of combinations there-
      sion  to  build  his  Maria-Hilf  from SS. Peter and Paul.                                  and medium dark. Some rye breads great with beer. The standard Okto-
      Kapelle.  Trustees  for  the  project                         of. As a result, many of the breads  go as high as 50% or more rye flour. berfest pretzel easily hangs over the
                                        The addition project finally be-  are dark…and oh, so good. A slice
      were elected, and construction of a  gan  in  1871.  When  Batt  died  in                   In  comparison,  typical  American edges of a large plate.
      small brick chapel began, the bricks                          or two of bread, a slice of cheese, a  supermarket rye bread may have no  Rolls:  This  gets  complicated.
                                     1872, the walls had just begun to go  slice  or  two  of  sausage  and  a
      made  from  the  clay  on-site.  The  up,  walls  built  from  the  stones                  more the 25% rye flour.        Up north they are Brötchen (literally
      original chapel is now the sanctuary                          beer…and you’ve been fed.        Pumpernickel  and  Schwarz- “little bread”). In Bavaria and Aus-
                                     which  had  sheltered  the  Williams-  Suffice it to say that a complete
      of  the  now-enlarged  church.  Ad-  ville  congregation  when  St.  John                   brot: not entirely the same, but both tria they are Semmel (pl. Semmeln),
      ministratively,  the  chapel  was  nei-                       listing  of  breads  is  impossible  are  black  (or  black-ish)  breads. a  name  that  derives  from  a  Latin
                                     Neumann had celebrated Mass there  here…  although  some  German
      ther a mission of SS. Peter and Paul  in the 1830s. The addition was built                  They  are  usually  extremely  dense word for a type of wheat flour. They
      nor a proper parish; it was a private                         somewhere has probably assembled  and  made  up  of  the  actual  grain were also called Kaisersemmeln in
                                     off the rear of the small brick chapel  it.  The  bread  varieties  vary  by  re-
      wayside   chapel   –   an   An-  after its back wall was knocked out.                       kernels,  and  are  malty  and  some- honor  of  Kaiser  Franz  Josef  II  of
      dachtskapelle  –  and  priests  occa-                         gion  and  by  baker.  Figures  range  times slightly sweet. Thinly sliced, Austria after he adjusted bread pric-
                                     The  chapel  continued  to  attract  from 300 to well over 3000, depend-
      sionally came to say Mass.     more  and  more  pilgrims,  and  the                         they go great with smoked fish and es to make the common folk happi-
         By the 1860s Batt’s little chapel                          ing on how the statistics are assem-  anything else with a strong flavor. er.  That’s  the  origin  of  the  Kaiser
                                     settlement around the chapel grew.  bled. The best I can offer here is a
      had  become  a  favorite  pilgrimage  In 1890, the Batt chapel became                       They are nothing like American su- roll that exists in a softer (and usual-
      place because of the miraculous cir-                          number of basic genres.       permarket pumpernickel.        ly supersized) version in the United
                                     a parish, its English name Our Lady  Mischbrot:  Any  sort  of  bread
      cumstances that prompted its found-  Help of Christians. Rev. Joseph C.                        Katenbrot:  a  dark  northern States.   In   Alemannic/Swabian/
      ing.  In  1869,  Batt  commissioned                           made from a number of flours, typi-  bread with a strong flavor.  southwestern Palatinate regions, the
                                     Fischer became its first pastor, and  cally rye – whole wheat – white in
      Gottfried Frohe to compose a paint-  the  parish  continued  to  grow.  Be-                    Variations  on  a  theme:  Many term Weck is used. Kümmelweck is
      ing for the sanctuary depicting the                           varying combinations. Basis is often  of these recipes are altered with ad- a  roll  with  caraway  seeds.  This
                                     fore  leaving  the  chapel  parish  in  a sour dough as a leavening agent.
      storm  which  led  to  the  promise  to  1893,  Fischer  arranged  to  have                 ditional flours/grains in varying per- should give us all an indication of
      build the chapel. In a rather cropped                           Bauernbrot: A heavy, medium  centages. Or they are fortified with who the people were in Buffalo (Al-
                                     more stones cut and delivered to the  dark bread. Usually it is a Mischbrot
      form,  that  same  painting  is  still                                                      other  ingredients.  These  might  in- satians?) who gave us beef on weck.
                                                                    (mixed grain bread).
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