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Torn-Down Tuesday: St. Brigid’s, the center of First Ward life

“St. Bridget’s is purely Celt,” read a 1904 story, “from the stooped form of the white-haired parishioner with one foot in the grave, to the cooing, dimpled-faced infant in its baptismal robe.”

St. Brigid Church, in the days before it was torn down in 1969.

More than just reflective of the Old First Ward neighborhood that surrounded the parish, the Catholic Times and Union story went on to say that the church at Fulton and Louisiana streets helped play a big role in making the area south of Buffalo an Irish enclave for generations to come.

“The hallowed name of St. Bridget,” the story continued, “was the lodestone which drew one young Irishman after another to settle in the vicinity of Fulton and Louisiana streets, until now, after more than 50 years, they see their grandchildren attending the church and school which their warm Irish faith raised in the days when money was scarce and self-sacrifice a daily occurrence.”

The Courier-Express was less poetic in reflecting on the beginnings of the community:

“The parish served the Irish immigrants of the brawling, old First Ward, ministering to the mill hands and steel workers of the area at a time when the lot of most workingmen was somewhat less comfortable than it is today.”

Through the second half of the 1800s, St. Bridget’s was one of the centers of life in the Ward. The parish hall was the de facto community center, and was the site of political rallies and union meetings.

Grain shovelers met at St. Bridget’s frequently, and it was at St. Bridget’s Hall that the parish’s former pastor – and by then Buffalo bishop – the Most Rev. James Quigley came out mostly on the side of the scoopers in their long, drawn-out bloody battle with Fingy Conners, the newspaper publisher and man in charge of the docks.

The 1899 peace agreement mediated by Bishop Quigley resulted in better pay for the grain shovelers, and also eliminated the practice of forcing the men to pick up – and spend some of – their pay packets in taverns and gin mills controlled by Conners.

The red brick church, which later went by the more appropriately Irish St. Brigid, was built starting in 1859. By the time fire swept through the building in 1968, the Irish worshippers had been joined by an equal number of black and Puerto Rican parishioners hailing mostly from the nearby federal housing projects.

Those Perry Street Public Housing Projects were also the home of the Sisters of Mercy who taught at St. Brigid. When their convent burned in 1967, the sisters became Buffalo’s only nuns living in public housing, occupying three apartments there.

St. Brigid School in 1904.

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