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Keepers of the faith Stained-glass windows from a bygone Catholic church and other religious relics find a safe haven

A Buffalo museum founded last year to preserve art and artifacts from area religious groups has made its biggest acquisition to date.

More than 30 stained-glass windows from the former Queen of Peace Catholic Church on Genesee Street are now part of the growing collection of the Buffalo Religious Arts Center, which is housed in another former Catholic church on East Street near Amherst Street in Black Rock.

The center also recently received word that its home building, the former St. Francis Xavier Church, completed in 1913, has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Removing the ornate windows properly from Queen of Peace took months. The former church, which was sold in April to a Muslim group, now functions as a mosque and community center, and the windows depicting a variety of Christian imagery and Catholic saints were considered inappropriate.

So the Muslim group brokered a three-way deal with the Buffalo Religious Arts Center and church restorationist Henry Swiatek, who spent several weeks on the project.

"They're in good hands now," Swiatek said.

"These windows are of extremely high quality. Surprisingly, they were in very good condition. Some of them were in excellent condition."

Most of the windows, crafted by Buffalo glassmaker Leo Frohe, eventually will be displayed at the center, which is still in an acquisition phase.

So far, the center has acquired more than 100 pieces of art from a dozen churches and a synagogue.

A few windows from Queen of Peace featuring Polish saints also have been installed in the chapel at Corpus Christi, a traditionally Polish Catholic church on the East Side.

"They really look like they belong here," said the Rev. Anzelm Chalupka, pastor.

Organizers of the Buffalo Religious Arts Center initially planned to lease or sell a three-story, 33,000-square-foot school building next to the former St. Francis Xavier Church on East Street.

Now, they figure the school is large enough for them to rent some space for income and still have enough room for displays of stained glass. A full renovation of the school, however, is expected to cost about $3 million.

The historic designation of the basilica-style church, built in 1913, and its accompanying buildings, will help the center get access to more grant opportunities.

In addition to artwork, the center has started collecting vintage photographs of religious celebrations, such as weddings, baptisms and First Communions, church anniversary books and rosaries.

"Each and every church has a history," said Mary Holland, executive director of the center. "It's not only a museum of artwork, it's also about history."

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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