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Its Gothic spire pierces the Buffalo sky.

And as Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda, has observed, it's "one of the first buildings you see when entering downtown Buffalo off the Kensington Expressway." A quarter-million dollars will go into restoring historic St. Louis Church, a big boost to what was once called Buffalo's "midway" neighborhood -- roughly halfway between Niagara Square and Forest Lawn. Through the 19th and 20th centuries, and now into the 21st, this landmark has provided a steady spiritual presence in a changing city.

Federal funds, LaFalce pointed out, will protect the historically significant structure and "enhance the beauty of Main Street." That sentiment was echoed by area artist Chris O'Neil, who painted a portrait of the church, calling it "the most beautiful church in Buffalo."

The restoration will benefit the "whole downtown community," said the parish's pastor, Monsignor Robert Mack, a former director of the Allentown Association. "It belongs to the entire community."

Work is scheduled to be finished by 2004 -- just in time for the church's 175th anniversary. The $250,000 will cover about one-quarter of the restoration which needs to be done, and which has already started, including cleaning the outside of the church and painting the interior. Fund-raisers are expected to provide another $750,000.

Fashioned from red Medina sandstone between 1886 and 1889, St. Louis Church, 780 Main St. at Edward Street, houses the city's oldest Catholic congregation. Under the vaulted ceiling stands a life-size marble statue of Louis IX, king of France from 1226 to 1270. Bavarian stained-glass windows, made by the Royal Munich Art Institute, show the life of Louis IX, crowned king at age 11, and admired for his fairness even by enemies. He was canonized in 1297.

Nationally recognized as one of Buffalo's most architecturally significant buildings just four years after it was finished, St. Louis Church is the jewel of its downtown neighborhood.

The church originally served Buffalo's French and German immigrants, many from the Alsace region. One of the largest churches in the area, it can hold 2,000 people. Last Christmas Eve, 2,300 gathered there.

LaFalce was instrumental in getting the $250,000 for the project included in this year's Department of Housing and Urban Development budget. The parish Gardening Committee has beautified the church grounds and rectory on Edward Street. There used to be a church school there that, at one time, was the oldest educational institution continuously in existence in New York State.

These days, St. Louis Church is part of city tours. "There is an attachment to the beauty of the church," said Mack. "Once people see it, they come back."

Have an idea about a local person whose life would make a good profile or a neighborhood issue worth exploring? Write to: Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240, or e-mail

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