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German places you should know about: St. Mary Redemptorist Church in Buffalo

         by Martin Ederer                                                                             So many of the men of the  Polish  at  St.  Michael’s  (German)
          his  year  marks  the  40th  anni-                                                       parish who attended weekday   Church on Washington Street. That
      Tversary  of  the  closing  of  St.                                                         Mass were loggers that St. Mary  gathering of Buffalo’s Poles into a
      Mary Redemptorist Church in Buf-                                                               got called the “Holzhacker  faith  community  eventually  led  to
      falo and the 35th anniversary of its                                                         Kirche” or the “woodchoppers’  the  founding  of  St.  Stanislaus
      destruction. One of the most historic                                                                                      Church.
      German  churches  of  Buffalo,  St.                                                          church,” a nickname reinforced   Then there was the role St. Mary
      Mary traced its origins to the year                                                           by all the saws and axes the  played in developing Black Catholic
      1842, when some Germans from St.                                                               woodchoppers propped up     apostolate in Buffalo. In 1930, Rev.
      Louis  Church,  tired  of  ongoing                                                           against the church wall outside  Thomas Galvin went to Lackawan-
      trusteeship strife there with the bish-                                                       before they entered for Mass.  na where he converted hundreds of
      op, wished to establish a new parish.                                                                                      African-Americans to Catholicism.
         As  relations  deteriorated  be-                                                                                        Galvin died before the bishop decid-
                                                                                                  1903 the whole church interior was
      tween the St. Louis parish trustees                                                         renovated, supervised by Rev. Adel-  ed  to  entrust  St.  Augustine  Negro
      and  Bishop  John  Hughes  of  New                                                                                         Mission in Buffalo to the Redemp-
                                                                                                  bert  Frank.  Granite  columns  re-
      York (there was no Buffalo Diocese                                                          placed the brick-and-mortar pillars.  torists in 1935, but Galvin’s success
      yet) over financial and legal control                                                                                      undoubtedly helped to influence the
                                                                                                     By  1904,  the  constant  growth
      of  the  parish,  Hughes  invited  the                                                      that had become so much a part of  bishop’s decision. The Redemptor-
      Redemptorists to Buffalo, evidently                                                                                        ists were so successful at St. Augus-
                                                                                                  life at St. Mary leveled off. In some
      to establish a rival German parish to                                                       respects,  that  was  to  be  expected.  tine  that  they  opened  a  second
      St.  Louis  and  its  troubles.  Besides                                                                                   mission  in  1937,  St.  Peter  Claver.
                                                                                                  Despite plenty of apparent vigor and
      the strife at St. Louis, the number of                                                                                     That  mission  won  800  converts  to
                                                                                                  activity,  the  Redemptorists  still
      German  Catholics  settled  around                                                                                         the  Church.  Meanwhile  at  St.  Au-
                                                                                                  found some trends troubling. They
      Buffalo had grown large enough to                                                                                          gustine,  the  Redemptorists  got  a
                                                                                                  feared  decline  as  the  parish  books
      warrant  a  second  parish  anyway,                                                                                        school up and running in 1940.
                                                                                                  showed  fewer  baptisms  and  more
      and Hughes had no German-speak-                                                                                               St. Mary ultimately fell victim to
                                                                                                  mixed marriages.
      ing diocesan priests to spare.                                                                                             more crises than it could withstand
                                                                                                     Rev. Francis Parr tried to find a
         Rev.  Benedict  Bayer,  C.SS.R.                                                                                         by the 1960s. The traditionally Ger-
                                                                                                  way out of the perceived crisis. He
      came  to  Buffalo  from  Rochester,                                                                                        man core of the parish had left, first
                                                                                                  repaired  the  church  and  school  in
      staying  at  (Irish)  Old  St.  Patrick                                                                                    to other parts of the city, and from
                                                                                                  1907, and in 1909 he began work on
      Church  at  Batavia  Street  (Broad-  St. Mary Redemptorist Catholic Church as it looked in 1914, viewed  a large lyceum and gymnasium that  the 1960s onward to the suburbs. St.
      way) and Ellicott Street. From there  from  the  corner  of  Broadway  and  Pine  Street.  The  Sisters  of  St.  still stands. But fears lingered. The  Mary found itself on the front lines
      he organized a new congregation in                                                          anniversary book for the centenary  amidst  changing  demographics,
      1843, offering Mass for them in the  Francis Convent is at right. St. Mary's Lyceum, not depicted, would  of  the  parish  in  1944  publicly  la-  growing  social  unrest  and  a  rising
      basement of St. Patrick. The small  be off the margin of the picture, to the right of the convent.  mented the fact that St. Mary was in  crime rate, its neighborhood strug-
      congregation began to gather funds.  Lady  Immaculate,”  and  Mass  was as much rural as it was urban. Bata- trouble, the author citing the drop in  gling.
         In late 1843, Rev. Matthias Alig,  celebrated there for the first time on via Street was still a dirt path, and numbers of baptisms at the parish.  The  Redemptorists  closed  St.
      Bayer’s  successor,  bought  land  in  May 12, 1844. The parish grew rap- cornfields  surrounded  the  church. Was  the  assessment  overly  pessi-  Mary in 1981 after an unsuccessful
      what were the wilderness fringes of  idly  from  600  in  1844  to  4000  in Forests  and  swampland  dominated mistic?    attempt to offer it to the Diocese of
      Buffalo  at  the  corner  of  Batavia  1847.  St.  Mary’s  first  school  was the landscape further north and east.  One  possible  solution  was  to  Buffalo, which was not eager to take
      Street and Pine Street. Through the  established  in  spring  1845  in  two So  many  of  the  men  of  the  parish reach out to the broader community.  on the same problems the Redemp-
      winter  months  of  early  1844,  the  rented houses. Lay teachers taught who  attended  weekday  Mass  were Rev. Bernard Licking, pastor from  torists had faced. At the time of its
      first church – by every account un-  150 students until the School Sisters loggers that St. Mary got called the 1921-1927, made St. Mary a major  closing,  St.  Mary  was  the  oldest
      attractive – took shape. It was long  of Notre Dame took over the teach- “Holzhacker Kirche” or the “wood- devotional destination, offering nu-  standing Catholic church building in
      and narrow and low, which earned it  ing in 1849.             choppers’ church,” a nickname rein- merous novena services and conve-  Buffalo. Attempts from the Buffalo
      the name “the bowling alley.”     St.  Mary’s  phenomenal  growth forced by all the saws and axes the nient confession schedules. Licking  Common  Council  and  from  an  ad
         The  new  church  was  dedicated  still did not hide the fact that it was woodchoppers  propped  up  against also again renovated the interior of  hoc  preservation  group  to  save  it
      to St. Mary under the title of “Our                           the church wall outside before they the  church,  adding  lovely  murals.  bore no fruit.
                                                                    entered for Mass.             During Rev. Francis Fischer’s pas-  An auction was held to sell the
                                                                      Bayer  returned  in  Fall  1845  to torate  from  1927-1933  the  lyceum  church’s contents, many recognized
                                                                                                                                 as treasures for the first time, most
                                                                    replace  Alig,  this  time  to  formally and gymnasium, which never fully
                                                                                                                                 notably the William Mohr pipe or-
                                                                    establish  a  Redemptorist  house  in achieved their potential as a youth
                                                                                                                                 gan. Mohr was reputedly a relative
                                                                    Buffalo and to preach a mission to center,  was  repurposed  for  class-
                                                                                                                                 of Josef Mohr, who wrote the lyrics
                                                                    win more converts and parishioners. room  space,  eventually  for  St.
                                                                                                                                 for  the  Christmas  carol  “Silent
                                                                    Finally,  he  laid  plans  for  a  more Mary’s  famous  Business  School,
                                                                                                                                 Night,”  in  Oberndorf,  Austria  in
                                                                    permanent church, and Bishop John which functioned from 1930-1970.
                                                                    Timon,  Buffalo’s  first  bishop  (ap-  As German as St. Mary was, it  1818. The means by which the auc-
                                                                    pointed  1847)  could  not  be  more played a significant role in the histo-  tion  crassly  dispensed  with  St.
                                                                                                                                 Mary’s  artifacts  created  scandal,
                                                                    thrilled. Timon laid the cornerstone ries of many other of Buffalo’s eth-
                                                                                                                                 and  provided  a  good  example  of
                                                                    for a grey stone church – local On- nic  groups.  An  Italian-language
                                                                                                                                 how not to end the life of a church.
                                                                    ondaga  Limestone  –  on  April  24, mission was held for the first time at
                                                                                                                                 A private concern bought the com-
                                                                    1848.  It  was  only  slightly  longer St. Mary in 1936, a recognition that
                                                                                                                                 plex, and it sat empty for four more
                                                                    than  “the  bowling  alley,”  but  it by  the  1930s  there  was  a  sizeable
                                                                                                                                 years.
                                                                    looked  like  a  real  church.  Timon percentage  of  Italians  attending  at
                                                                                                                                    A  spectacular  fire  finally  de-
                                                                    dedicated it in 1850. It was paid for least  occasionally,  thanks  to  the
                                                                                                                                 stroyed  the  church  in  December
                                                                    by 1859 and consecrated that year. shrine  of  Our  Lady  of  Perpetual
                                                                                                                                 1986.  Miraculously,  most  of  the
                                                                    By that time the parish had also built Help there.
                                                                    – and enthusiastically supported – a  St.  Mary  also  played  a  promi-  Buffalo-made  Frohe  windows  sur-
                                                                    proper school.                nent role in the founding of Buffa-  vived.  They  were  removed  and
                                                                      In  1852  the  Redemptorists  had lo’s  Polish  mother  church,  St.  placed under the care of the Buffalo
                                                                                                                                 Historical  Society.  Rev.  John
                                                                    also established an orphan asylum, Stanislaus,  in  1873.  Many  of  the
                                                                                                                                 Gabalski  of  St.  Stanislaus  Church,
                                                                    a response to the recurring cholera earliest Polish immigrants in Buffa-
                                                                                                                                 recognizing his parish’s roots at St.
                                                                    epidemics  of  the  1850s.  That  or- lo  lived  near  St.  Mary  and  conse-
                                                                                                                                 Mary,  had  some  of  St.  Mary’s
                                                                    phanage remained in operation until quently  attended  Mass  there.  The
                                                                                                                                 stones  collected  to  make  a  small
                                                                    1874  when  the  German  Orphan Redemptorists of St. Mary arranged
                                                                                                                                 Marian grotto beneath the east tow-
                                                                    Asylum was established on Dodge a  dedicated  Sunday  Mass  for  the
                                                                    Street.  The  premier  German-Lan-                           er of St. Stanislaus Church.
                                                                    guage  newspaper  in  Buffalo,  the
                                                                    Buffalo  Volksfreund,  also  owed  its
                                                                    success in large part to the Redemp-
                                                                    torists at St. Mary.
                                                                      During  the  1880s  Rev.  George
                                                                    Sniet installed a six-bell peal in the
                                                                    steeple.  Even  more  significantly,
                                                                    Sniet arranged for a picture of Our
                                                                    Lady  of  Perpetual  Help  to  be  en-
                                                                    shrined in the church. That made the
                                                                    church a shrine and pilgrimage des-
                                                                    tination as well as a parish church.
                                                                      As St. Mary continued to grow,
                                                                    it adapted. In 1899, English sermons
                                                                    were  introduced,  alternating  Sun-
                                                                    days  with  German.  In  1900,  Rev.
                                                                    Albert Stern redecorated the sanctu-
                                                                    ary, adding a beautiful high altar. In
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