The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo has turned to an auctioneer to sell two former churches -- in North Tonawanda and Depew -- each with a sprawling campus that dominates a neighborhood.
"This may be a first for the diocese," said Cash Cunningham of Cash Realty and Auctions, the auctioneer who has sold school buildings for the diocese but not church structures.
The diocese has sold more than 50 former churches since 2005, to offer new life for the structures and to avoid the taxes generated on properties no longer used for religious, tax-exempt purposes.
But the former Ascension Church in North Tonawanda and SS. Peter & Paul in Depew have not sold through brokers. So, the churches and ancillary structures will go to the high bidders in separate auctions set for coming weeks, though the bishop reserves the right to block a sale.
"These properties have been on the market for a couple of years, and we have not had any prospective buyers," said Kevin A. Keenan, a diocese spokesman.
Like many churches, they meant a lot to their parishioners.
"I loved that church. And I had gone there for 75 years," said Elvira A. Beringer, who has lived in her home on Keil Street near the Ascension campus for 56 years. She said she was baptized and married in the church.
Cunningham figures each site could fetch bids in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But both are subject to deed restrictions to ensure that new uses do not conflict with Catholic history, teachings and traditions.
The prohibitions include abortion and family-planning service, which run counter to church teachings; bars and restaurants that sell alcohol; casinos; and uses that "either by speech or action would bring discredit, ridicule, criticism and/or scandal" to the church.
The organization Una Voce, which advocates for the traditional Latin Mass, has been an eager church buyer that the diocese has repeatedly turned away. Una Voce has tried to save a Buffalo church for Latin liturgies. But even if it wanted to acquire the North Tonawanda or Depew site, it would be governed by a deed restriction preventing the new owners from using the buildings as a Catholic church.
Here is how the auctions will work:
* Ascension, 91 Keil St., will be auctioned at 10 a.m. Saturday at the site. The campus consists of a convent that could be converted into a three- or four-unit home, church hall with newly refinished gym floors and recently installed solar panels, three-story school, the church building and a rectory with a two-car garage. The five separate brick buildings spread over 45,000 square feet will be auctioned in different combinations.
* The auction of SS. Peter & Paul, 86 Burlington Ave., will begin at 10 a.m. May 14, also at the site. The a 5.4-acre campus consists of a school with commercial kitchens, a convent with 12 bedrooms, church building with 8,800 square feet, rectory capable of being converted into multifamily housing and vacant residential land on Falcon Drive, which will be sold separately.
Cash Realty and Auctions has posted detailed descriptions of the properties, pictures and instructions for bidders at www.cashauction.com.