St. Gerard Catholic Church isn’t being shipped anywhere anytime soon.
But the church’s magnificent stained glass windows, along with the altar, pews and other interior furnishings, have been sold and removed from the landmark Buffalo structure. The buyer is the Catholic congregation in Georgia that had proposed taking down the hulking limestone church and then reassembling it piece by piece in suburban Atlanta.
“All of it will be integrated into a new church in Georgia, where the congregation is growing, not shrinking,” said George Richert, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo. “Anything relevant to a church that they could take with them, they did and were allowed to do.”
Richert confirmed the sale of the items, but did not disclose the total dollar amount.
Mary Our Queen parish in Norcross, Ga., about 20 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta, originally approached the Buffalo diocese in 2008 with a highly unusual plan to preserve the vacant church by relocating it in its entirety 900 miles away from the corner of Bailey and E. Delavan avenues, where it has stood for 105 years. The plan, while derided by some area lawmakers and preservationists, garnered national attention. Ultimately, though, the parish never was able to raise the estimated $14 to $16 million needed to make it happen. Parish leaders decided about a year ago to move forward with an alternative plan – building a new church at roughly half the cost. St. Gerard will stay where it is.
“It was just too expensive. We had to reduce our expectations,” said the Rev. Darragh Griffith, pastor of Mary Our Queen parish. “We cut back. We’re looking at about $8 million to build a church.”
Griffith said the recession in 2008 hindered the parish’s efforts to fundraise on a more national level, but he also acknowledged that opposition in Buffalo to moving the church would have made it difficult. Griffith succeeded the Rev. David M. Dye, who had spearheaded the congregation’s efforts in 2008 to relocate St. Gerard. Dye retired a few months ago.
The parish spent $30,000 to $40,000 on the 41 stained glass windows and other items, including the hiring of a firm to remove and ship them to Georgia, said Griffith.
The design of the new church for Mary Our Queen is being planned around the dimensions of the windows and altar, he said.
“We’re hoping to somewhat replicate” St. Gerard Church, said Griffith. “That’s the plan.” The parish expects to break ground in March or April 2017, with the new building completed in 2018.
Local preservationists expressed disappointment that the windows and other artifacts were gone. Like artifacts taken from the Central Terminal and other area landmarks and repurposed elsewhere, the items from the church are part of Buffalo’s rich heritage of art and architecture, and the windows in particular add tremendous value to the building.
“It’s unfortunate because the windows are so spectacular,” said William Koch, a former president of the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier, which is now Preservation Buffalo Niagara.
The windows, crafted by Otto F. Andrle, a Buffalo artisan who also made stained glass windows for Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna, were unique in Buffalo, having been modeled on the windows of a cathedral in Augsburg, Germany, said Koch.
Each window included a plaque with a name of the parishioner family that donated money so the window could be made and installed. “When they were put in there, they were meant to stay there forever,” said Mary Holland, who runs the Buffalo Religious Arts Center inside the former St. Francis Xavier Church on Buffalo’s West Side. “It’s just a sad fact of life that these things go elsewhere. It’s a shame ... But it’s done now. It’s a deal they made and it can’t be undone. Hopefully, they build and do it nice – do the windows justice, if you will.”
Griffith said his parish recognizes that the people of Western New York have a strong attachment to the church and its beautiful windows and sculptures.
“All I can say is we’ll put it to good use, and it’s certainly something we’ll treasure,” he said.
Built of Indiana limestone in 1911, St. Gerard Church stands like a fortress amid the homes and storefronts of the neighborhood. Its second story, which includes many of the windows, was added in 1931, when the parish raised more money. The basilica-style church was modeled after St. Paul’s Outside the Walls in Rome and seated up to 900 people. It was closed following a final liturgy on New Year’s Day 2008.
Inside, arches and granite columns in two rows of six frame the nave, which includes portraits of 26 popes and a coffered ceiling ornately decorated with gold leaf.
Mary Our Queen parish, needing more space, planned in 2007 to build from scratch and hired an architect to create a design. But then Dye and other parish leaders began exploring the possibility of moving a vacant church from the Northeast, where many dioceses had to close buildings due to population shifts and priest shortages.
They became attracted to St. Gerard in part because the architectural drawings the parish had commissioned for a new build were remarkably similar to the Buffalo church.
Diocesan officials liked the idea because they had closed many churches, and the real estate market was glutted with them. The diocese also has been criticized in the past for not doing enough to prevent vacant churches from falling into disrepair.
The building was off the market as the diocese negotiated with the Georgia parish, which hired a survey team for a digital scan of the interior and exterior that was to be used in reassembling the structure.
But with the parish’s building fundraising still stuck at $3 million, the Buffalo diocese decided to put St. Gerard on the open market in 2012. It hasn’t had any serious offers on the property, said Richert.
Diocese officials believe the windows and artifacts are in good hands down South, he said.
“It’s never easy to see pieces of a church removed, but we believe there was enough time and opportunity for any denomination to show interest,” he said. “For the price of an average home in Erie County, anybody had years to purchase the church, and nobody did.”
The church remains on the market. Asking price is $130,000.