The St. Gerard church and rectory on Buffalo's East Side will soon have a new owner, as long as a State Supreme Court justice does not object.
The buildings – which have been owned by St. Gerard’s Roman Catholic Church Society of Buffalo – would stay in place at the corner of Bailey and East Delavan avenues.
The buildings would be sold for $120,000 in cash to Alawi Abdulla, Ammar Shaibi and Sadi Mohamed, according to a signed contract. They are identified as representatives of a “to-be-formed religious corporation,” meaning the church building would continue to be used for religious purposes.
The sale involves the transfer of property from one nonprofit entity to another, so under state law, it needs court approval. The matter comes before Justice Tracy A. Bannister on Friday.
Diocese spokesman George Richert said Tuesday that he could not comment about how the buyers intend to use the buildings.
The church building has been vacant since 2008, when the parishioners of St. Gerard and St. James, which had worshipped together for more than a year, were asked to merge with Blessed Trinity parish, located in a federally designated landmark church on Leroy Avenue. Any profits from the sale of the St. Gerard buildings would go to Blessed Trinity for general use, according to the court filings.
This is not the first time a buyer has come forward for St. Gerard’s. The church made national news in 2008 when Mary Our Queen Catholic Church in Norcross, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, planned to buy the building, dismantle it and rebuild the church for its congregation 900 miles away.
That proposal encountered opposition from local Catholic community members and preservationists, and ultimately was doomed by the excessive costs involved in the project. The church went back on the market in 2012 for $130,000.
Last year, however, the congregation of Mary Our Queen paid $75,000 for the church’s stained glass windows, pews, altars and other religious items, which will be incorporated in a new church it is building.
The St. Gerard trustees cited that income as part of the reason they accepted the $120,000 offer for the property. They also point out that there have been no other offers and that the church’s boiler now needs replacing, a cost estimated at $42,000.
The parish also has been paying for the utilities, maintenance and insurance on the empty buildings.
The sale was unanimously approved by the officers and trustees: the Most Rev. Richard J. Malone, the Rev. Monsignor David S. Slubecky, the Rev. Victor Ighawa, Madonna Hartzell and Homer H. Dick. They included in the contract the right to remove from the building its Stations of the Cross and two exterior statues.
The parish of Blessed Trinity Church already donated the full nativity set from the former St. Gerard’s Church to the Buffalo Religious Arts Center, which has become home for many items from the city’s closed churches.
St. Gerard’s was built in 1911, with a second story added in 1930, to serve a largely German congregation on what was then the outskirts of the city.
There were several reasons for the difficulty in finding a buyer. In recent years both the diocese and other denominations have been closing churches in the city as their congregations shrunk and moved to the suburbs, putting many religious properties on the market.
Also, several restrictions are in place for future uses of the St. Gerard property, to protect its historically sacred purpose. Included in the contract are the conditions that the purchaser “be mindful and respectful of the religious and historical tradition and significance of the buildings ... and shall not use or permit the buildings to be used for any purposes either by speech or action which would bring discredit, ridicule, criticism and/or scandal upon said history and tradition or upon the Roman Catholic Church.” Among the specific uses that are prohibited: putting a bar or restaurant in the building that serves alcohol, using it “for any obscene or pornographic purposes, including as a topless bar or X-rated movie theater,” or for anything affiliated with abortion-related services, family planning or euthanasia. The new owners also can’t put in a charter school or fortune telling parlor.
The contract for the sale was signed Oct. 4, pending the court's approval.