By Michael Lorich
My wife, Kerry, and I have spent the last few summers here in Buffalo. We live in Miami and call ourselves sunbirds because we are escaping the heat, humidity and hurricanes of summer in South Florida. When home we attend a large nondenominational Christian church and for a few summers found a similar church here in Clarence. This summer we decided to try something else.
We are members of Explore Buffalo, a wonderful group that tours all over the city showing off the history and architecture of Buffalo. During these tours we have seen many beautiful churches and decided that this summer we would experience a different one each Sunday. My wife and I were both raised Catholic, but we left ourselves open to any denomination. The decision of which church to attend was often based on the history and architecture of the building.
Growing up, my first recollection of attending church was when I was 4 years old. We moved from Williamsville, where SS. Peter and Paul Church looms large over the village and was an anchor for family baptisms, weddings and funerals, to St. Leo Parish in Amherst. In the mid 1950s, St. Leo consisted of a glass box on stilts in the parking lot of Northtown Plaza, a “drive-in” church and a far cry from the spectacular downtown churches so rich in history or that Civil War era beauty in Williamsville. Soon after, St. Leo moved to its school on Sweet Home Road but Mass was conducted in the basement. The drive-in was so popular it continued in the school parking lot. It wasn’t until the early ’70s that a permanent building was erected.
Our first church to visit was suggested by Olaf Fub. I read of a Polka Mass at St. John Kanty Church – how appropriate for Buffalo. The priest was led in procession by accordion, trumpet and clarinet. The building, built in 1892, is stunning inside.
The following week our family was visiting so we went to Our Lady of Victory Basilica. This is on The News’ list of “100 things everyone must do in Buffalo.” The white marble walls and copper dome loom over the city and draw you in to an incredible interior. Built in 1925, this is an amazing place.
On our way to Letchworth State Park one Sunday we attended Baker Memorial United Methodist in East Aurora. The fabulous Tiffany windows lured us to the church, but the friendly people and insightful service will bring us back.
The Unitarian Universalist Church on Elmwood promoted a traditional hymn sing and a beautiful church, but left us wondering about its theology when our very friendly greeter was a professed atheist who had attended for 20 years. A letter to the pastor returned a courteous answer and we agreed to disagree.
Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian had the smallest congregation and I inquired how it could afford such a beautiful old church. We were given a tour of Lafayette Lofts, a $7.5 million renovation of unused offices converted to apartments that finance the church. What an innovative solution.
Tiffany and La Farge stained-glass windows are abundant in Buffalo. First Presbyterian, Lockport and Trinity Episcopal are fine examples. Blessed Trinity on Leroy Avenue has the most unusual Harvard brickwork and 2,000 iconographic symbols throughout the building. Corpus Christi, next to the Broadway Market, is amazing inside and the Mass was celebrated entirely in Polish.
With over 250 churches in the area, we have many more to see and look forward to returning for many summers to come. But before that last leaf falls, we will be returning next week to that winter wonderland, Miami.