A judge on Thursday approved the sale of St. Gerard's Church and rectory on the East Side, clearing the way for the church building to be converted into a mosque.
The buildings at the corner of Bailey and East Delavan avenues – which have been owned by St. Gerard’s Roman Catholic Church Society of Buffalo – will be sold for $120,000 to Alawi Abdulla, Ammar Shaibi and Sadi Mohamed, who represent a group intending to convert the building. Because it involves two nonprofit religious groups, the state requires a court review.
State Supreme Court Justice Tracey A. Bannister called the transaction “a perfectly reasonable sale made for a reasonable value” and she granted the petition to allow the sale to go through.
Several local Catholics challenged the sale of the century-old church building and its rectory, viewing the sale as financially flawed, an insult to generations of parishioners who funded the parish for decades and offensive to many other Catholics who feel that their historical houses of worship are being treated as “junk real estate.”
Stasia Zoladz Vogel, attorney representing those who objected to the sale, said she disagreed with the decision.
"People should know that whatever is given to the church – they will have no say about it later," she said.
Those opposed to the sale said the society and Diocese of Buffalo did an inadequate job of marketing the property before agreeing to sell it.
Bannister read through the objections, but she found that those challenging the sale did not have any legal right to prevent it. The diocese closed St. Gerard's in January 2008.
“I’ve looked into it and these objectants are not members of St. Gerard and they are not members of the successor parish, Blessed Trinity,” Bannister said.
Even if they were members, she added, it would not necessarily give them the right to block the sale.
The judge noted a buyer could not be attracted for nine years when the church was listed at $130,000.
The judge, however, was sympathetic to the emotional issues driving the opposition, particularly those involving religious artifacts, statuary and relics collected by the parish over the past century. The opponents wanted to remind the court that every brick, statue, altar, pew, organ and sacred item was paid for by Catholics in Western New York, and they still treasure those items.
“I’m going to ask that in the future, in future deeds, that you keep some of these thoughts in mind – that people care about these artifacts,” Bannister told attorneys Joseph A. Stoeckl and Dennis K. Schaeffer, who represented the seller.
At St. Gerard’s, little is left of its artifacts for anyone to treasure. Last year, the congregation of Mary Our Queen Catholic Church in Norcross, Ga., paid $75,000 for the church’s stained glass windows, pews, altars and other religious items. The Georgia church members originally wanted to dismantle the entire massive limestone structure of St. Gerard’s and ship it south to be rebuilt in their Southern parish, but the cost was too high. Instead, the congregation is building a new church to reflect the style of St. Gerard’s and will incorporate the windows and other items into it.
Stoeckl said the final transfer of the church and rectory ownership should be done within a few weeks.
Stoeckl told the judge that other buildings on the St. Gerard campus continue to be used under the auspices of Gerard Place, a religious-based service group that helps homeless women, their children and others.
“So the church has not abandoned the neighborhood,” Stoeckl said. “And we feel the new religious group will add to the care of the neighborhood.”