Welcome to the second of seven “church visits” in my series about the Holy Thursday Tradition of Visiting Seven Churches. If you missed my introduction post explaining all about the tradition and my interest in it, you can access it here. If you missed the first of the seven posts, about Ss. Columba-Brigid’s Church, you can access that here.
Our second virtual visit is to St. Stanislaus Church, located in the heart of Old Polonia in Buffalo. The story of St. Stan’s is heavily interwoven with the story of Buffalo’s early Polish immigrants.
Early Life at St. Stan’s
The city of Buffalo was growing by leaps and bounds all through the 1800’s and early 1900’s. The latter half of the 19th century saw a huge influx of European immigrants. One of them, Joseph Bork, owned a large tract of land on the East Side. He noted that many Polish immigrants came to Buffalo, but only stopped on their way further west. He felt that if there were a Polish church here in the city, they would stay. So Bork donated a prime piece of land to the Diocese. It was to be used for a Polish Church and school. It was located at the corner of Peckham and Townsend Streets.
The Diocese recruited Polish immigrant Fr. John Pitass to be the first pastor of the new congregation. In 1873 a wooden church structure was built and dedicated. The school opened a year later. In 1881 the Felician Sisters were brought from Poland to teach at the school. This immediately grew the school, and between 1881 & 1882, the parish doubled in size. St. Stanislaus Church quickly became the center of Polish-American life in Buffalo.
Apparently Joseph Bork was right. The Poles were now staying, in great numbers. He constructed housing for the newly arrived Poles. Upon learning that most of the immigrants arriving were sending money back to their families in Poland, in order to secure their passage to Buffalo, Bork began to build two story homes. This enabled families to buy a home, rent out half of it, and when family arrived from Poland, they already had a place for them to live. Some might think Bork an opportunist, but you could also make the argument that he gave the people both what they wanted, and what they needed.
A New, Larger Church
One year later, 1883, construction began on a new, larger church. The first floor was completed later that year and the bulk of the building was finished by 1886. A four story school was built in 1890. That’s pretty large. By 1908 the steeples and the bells were added.
At one point the church counted among it’s congregation 20,000 Buffalonians! Can you imagine that today? Wow!
The Peter J. Adamski Social Hall was built in 1960. Between the years 2003 and 2009, extensive renovations were undertaken, on both the interior and exterior of the entire church complex.
The school held on until 2008, when enrollment dipped to 75 students, and after 127 years it closed. The Felician sisters staffed it until the end.
Whenever I go into St. Stan’s, I am always struck by the incredible beauty. I really feel the presence of the Polish people who built this church. Although my father’s family were never members of this church, it takes me back to my Polish roots. There is a real feeling of Polonia here.
Then again, maybe this church feeds into my historic daydreaming tendencies! Either way, it’s my impression of St. Stan’s!
The church is now a shrine to St. Stanislaus and all Polish Martyrs as well as a Polish Cultural Center. The church is open, with a regular mass schedule available on their website. It’s located at 389 Peckham Street on Buffalo’s East Side (Old Polonia). I hope you can find time to go and see it when our churches reopen.
Join us tomorrow, when I will bring you the story of the first basilica in the country. Psst…it’s in Buffalo!
I hope you are enjoying these posts, and I sincerely hope that you are all well in mind, body and soul. Peace be with you.
**Lead image photo credit: poloniamusic.om