Letter To the Editor
Published: April 1, 2010
To the Editor:
When people first learn about the possibility of moving St. Gerard Church from Buffalo to Norcross, they’re a little stunned. But after giving it some thought, their eyes begin to light up with the idea that this magnificent structure, which has played such an important role in the faith lives of generations of Catholics in Buffalo, could have continued life as a Catholic church, albeit 886 miles from its present location.
As The Georgia Bulletin reported in its Feb. 4 issue (“Moving A Basilica From Buffalo To Norcross”), there are very real plans to take St. Gerard’s apart, stone by stone, to deconstruct it if you will, transport the material to Georgia and reconstruct the church in Mary Our Queen Parish.
It should be noted that St. Gerard’s is not a basilica, but it is modeled after St. Paul’s Outside the Walls Basilica in Rome.
St. Gerard’s was once a vibrant parish, its Indiana limestone bell tower a beacon on Buffalo’s East side. But as is the case in many cities in the Northeast, the population migrated to the suburbs. The number of families in the parish had dwindled to about 100. As a part of the Diocese of Buffalo’s parish revitalization and reorganization program, St. Gerard Parish was closed in early 2008, merging with nearby Blessed Trinity Parish. That church is an architectural gem itself. It is among the finest examples of 12th-century Lombard-Romanesque architecture in the United States.
One of our challenges in the eight-county Diocese of Buffalo has been to deal with vacant properties. Despite a downturn in the economy, close to 40 parish properties have been sold since 2005 when parish reconfigurations began. Some of their uses include a church museum, a Christian recording studio and housing.
No buyers had come forward to inquire about St. Gerard’s before we received a phone call from Father David Dye, administrator of Mary Our Queen. His parish was looking for a church that was traditional in design. St. Gerard’s fit the bill.
Moving the church will be no easy task, but it is certainly possible.
No doubt this will be a loss for Buffalo, but I think it is important to consider the reactions of former St. Gerard parishioners and their final pastor.
Dorothy Eckl attended Mass at St. Gerard’s for 72 of its 105-year existence. “When I heard this news, it was an answer to my prayers,” she said. “It’s great that our legacy will live on in Georgia.”
Father Francis “Butch” Mazur celebrated the final Mass in the church. “It’s not only the preservation of a building, but it’s a preservation of a people’s faith,” he said.
In Buffalo, there is widespread support for this ambitious project. Along with former parishioners, neighborhood residents, government officials and preservationists see this project as the best chance of preserving this glorious church.
There will be a sense of sadness as the church begins to come down, but through any tears that are shed, there will also be tremendous joy in knowing that St. Gerard will continue to be used for its original intention, as a Catholic church.
Who could ask for anything more?
Kevin A. Keenan
Director of Communications
Diocese of Buffalo, N.Y.