Seven Churches – Corpus Christi Church

Seven Churches – Corpus Christi Church

Welcome to the seventh and final “church visit” 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. I’ll list the links to the other six individual church posts at the end of this article.

We have come full circle and are back in the very heart of Old Polonia, where we began just seven days ago with a post about St. Stanislaus Church. Which is, in fact, only a half a mile away from today’s church, Corpus Christi. Or as my kids used to call it, the Broadway Market Church, because whenever we went to the market, we’d make a stop at Corpus Christi.

Corpus Christi – the Early Years

The history of Corpus Christi is a bit different from the other Polonia churches in Buffalo. In this series, we have heard the stories of families banning together to petition for a church, for overcrowding reasons, for distance reasons, for safety from the railroads etc. But, by 1898, Bishop James Quigley knew that a second church was needed right in the heart of Old Polonia, very close to St. Stan’s. It was, after all, one of the most densely populated areas of the city. The diocese had built several new churches north, south and east of St. Stan’s. But the very core of the neighborhood remained in need of another parish.

The stained glass in this church is exquisite!
Photo Credit: Tim Zelasko

Bishop Quigley invited Fr. Hyacinth Fudzinski, a Franciscan Friar, to Buffalo from Syracuse, to found the parish. Fr. Hyacinth was born in Czarnkow, Poland. The bishop felt he would fit right in to the heavily Polish neighborhood. Several lots and homes were purchased at the corner of Clark and Kent Streets. (Forgive me, but I still get a very childish kick out of this.) One of the homes was used for church services, with a capacity of only 300. It was, of course, to be temporary.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The First Church is Built

In August of 1898, construction began on a combination church/school/parish hall. The first floor church had a capacity of 1000. In the first year alone, the brand new parish registered 650 families.

The Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph taught at the school. This is also different from other churches in the area. Most of the other parishes had Felicians teaching in their schools. The Franciscan Sisters were a relatively new order, and since Fr. Hyacinth was a Franciscan Friar it seemed only natural to him. A rectory was built in 1900, and five years later a convent was added for the Sisters.

A New Church for Corpus Christi Parish

The new parish thrived. Another, larger church was required. In 1907, the cornerstone for the Romanesque Revival Church we know today, was laid. It’s built of Onondaga limestone, and faced with red Medina sandstone. It was dedicated in 1909.

Here’s a really fun fact. Letters written to God, by the schoolchildren, were stuffed into the crosses that top the towers of the new church. Sweet! Wouldn’t you love to read them?

Photo Credit: Corpus Christi website

In my opinion, these Romanesque Revival churches in the area are cover for what lies inside. Looking at them from outside, you would never be able to guess the beauty within. And Corpus Christi is beautiful. Gorgeous in fact. The sanctuary contains a reproduction of ‘Disputa’ by Raphael Santi. It’s breathtaking.

Jozef Mazur’s version of Disputa by Raphael Santi.
Note the Last Supper that graces the front of the altar. That’s tonight!

The Ensuing Years

Each pastor of Corpus Christi took on some form of addition to the church, the complex, or added interior decoration in some form. The murals were added. The Stations of the Cross were framed, the organ was added. In addition, the murals were redone by artist M.M. Rzeznik. The mural on the back wall above the inside entrance along with the smaller paintings of saints above the arches inside were new additions by Rzeznik.

The church flourished and was the center of life for most of it’s parishioners. There were clubs for just about everything you can imagine, needlework, sewing, baseball and basketball teams, dramatic societies, bowling and more. You heard that right. I said bowling. Until a few years ago, I thought my parish was the only one in Buffalo that had a bowling alley!

Here’s a good shot of the frames added to the Stations of the Cross – beautiful!
Photo Credit: Corpus Christi website

In 1929, earlier than most parishes, registrations at Corpus Christi fell from 2,000 to 1,750 families. This is largely because of the building of the Central Terminal, only blocks away. 300 homes were demolished to build it.

Still 1,750 families are plenty to sustain a parish. And they did. For several more decades Corpus Christi remained the center of the Polish neighborhood it serviced.

Here’s Another Fun Fact

Beginning in 1931, Fr. Justin Figas, founder of St. Francis High School in Athol Springs, began broadcasting his ‘Fr. Justin’s Rosary Hour’ radio program from the sanctuary of Corpus Christi. It was the oldest continuing hour-long religious network program in the Polish language in the world. Cool.

You Know Where This is Going – But Do You?

The school remained open until 1988, when enrollments fell to the point of no return. The school was torn down and replaced with a parking lot.

In 2003, the Franciscan Friars announced they would be leaving Corpus Christi, and that the church would most likely close by the end of that year. It seemed that Corpus Christi would go the way of so many other Catholic Churches in Buffalo. Parishioners enlisted the help of Msgr. Matthew Kopacz of St. Casimir’s Parish. Msgr. Kopacz contacted the Pauline Fathers and Brothers, and after seeing the complex, they decided to take over the church and it’s grounds. The Pauline Fathers and Brothers assumed control in January, 2004.

Photo Credit: Corpus Christi website

This seemed to breathe new life into the parish. Reportedly, some older parishioners have rejoined, and new ones have come. There is a real, genuine effort to keep the church alive. And it seems to be working. Renovations inside the church took place only a couple of years ago. This is a good sign.

I hope and pray that this church makes it. It is too important a treasure to let go.

My Impressions

Corpus Christi was always one of the churches we’d go to with my Dad on those church tours I spoke about in the introduction to this series. Because of that, it was one that I always took my kids to. When we started doing the Lenten mass mobs that I also mentioned in the introduction, we decided to go to Corpus Christi’s Polish mass. This had to be 2009 or 2010. Several members of our family and friends joined us that morning in the church, including my husband’s Uncle Jim, who told us that he was baptized at Corpus Christi. Nice!

Photo Credit: Corpus Christi website

I Do Not Speak Polish

We were all thankful that their missals were in both Polish and English, on pages facing each other. We felt it would be easier to follow along. Now, I don’t speak Polish. I mean I know a few words. Grandma. Grandpa. Thank you. I love you. Names of specific foods. Cheers. Cold beer. You know, the necessities for life in Buffalo.

But as mass began, I found I didn’t need the book. Everything, and everybody around me fell away. I understood it all. And I didn’t, at the same time. But I knew where we were in the mass the whole time. I felt warm and welcome, and I felt a connection. I don’t know how else to describe it.

At the end of the mass the priest did a litany along with the Our Father, a Hail Mary and a Glory Be. In Polish. But I knew each saint he invoked, and which prayers he said. Now, there was not one word of English the entire hour. I still cannot explain it to this day, other than how I’ve just described it to you. It wasn’t life changing, but it was a pretty cool experience. Whenever I think of Corpus Christi, I think of that one mass.

Update: September 22, 2020

Two days ago, I was lucky enough to attend mass at Corpus Christi for their Harvest Mass. It was the 41st Annual, and due to Covid-19, the usual festival with traditional Polish food, drink and music were cancelled.

But what a mass! I am happy to share photos of the day. I hope you enjoy them.

The first is a photo of the woman who made the harvest decorations. They are made in the Polish tradition that she learned in Poland before she came to America. She is now teaching the process to other members of the parish so the tradition may be continued, and passed on to the next generation. She grows the wheat and most of the flowers herself! What a beautiful tradition!

Where is It?

Corpus Christi Church is located at 199 Clark Street, at the corner of Kent Street. Do not miss this one. It is truly a Buffalo treasure. And if you’re of Polish descent, try the Polish mass. When the churches reopen of course.

I’ve decided to add one more post at the end of this series. It’ll be about the Polish tradition of having our Easter baskets blessed on Holy Saturday. It’s another tradition we will all miss this year. I’ll be publishing it Saturday morning.

My Final Thoughts on This Series

I would like to take a moment to thank each of you who have been following this series. Your comments and kind words are much appreciated! I’d also like to send a special shout-out to Christopher Byrd over at Broadway Fillmore Alive and Buffalo Mass Mob, and to Judith Felski over at Buffalo Sacred Sites for sharing the heck out of these posts. Many churches and individuals shared and re-posted as well. For all of this I am both grateful and humbled.

I wrote this series because i knew that I would miss our Holy Thursday Tradition. And it occurred to me that I would not be the only one. I thought that by writing these posts and getting them out there to as many people as possible, maybe I could make this Holy Week just a little bit better for all of us. All of you, have made my Easter 2020. Dziekuje. Thank you.

I hope you have enjoyed this series, and I sincerely hope that you are all well in mind, body and spirit. May we all know peace this Easter.

**Lead Image Photo Credit: Corpus Christi website

Get the Book!

They make great gifts for family and friends (or yourself!).  Click here or on the photo below to purchase yours!

Read the Other Posts in this Series Here

The Tradition – An Introduction

Ss. Columba-Brigid Church

St. Stanislaus Church

St. Adalbert Basilica

St. John Kanty

St. Casimir Church

St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy

Seven Churches – St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy Church

Seven Churches – St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy Church

Welcome to the sixth 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. I’ll list the links to the individual church posts at the end of this article.

Today we’ll be talking about St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy Church. And we’re back in Old Polonia for this one. Albeit on the outskirts…

Early Life at St. Luke’s

The history of St. Luke’s Parish is one that is familiar in this series. Overcrowding in already established parishes. Too far to travel to church and/or school. In June of 1908, several families gathered in a home that would eventually become the site for their church, to organize and petition the diocese for a new parish.

They immediately found themselves to be 150 families strong and the bishop appointed Rev. Leopold Stein as their first pastor. On July 19, only one month later, they laid the cornerstone for a temporary church building. It was dedicated just ten days after that! This congregation did not mess around! The building doubled as a school during construction of a new, larger structure that was a combination church and school. The larger structure was complete by early 1909.

Photo Credit: WNED/WBFO Making a Difference

Fr. Stein left St. Luke’s in 1913, and was replaced by Fr. Stanislaus Fimowicz, who within a few short years, realized that the combination church/school would not accommodate the congregation too much longer. The parish continued to grow. In the 1920’s, with roughly 1200 families, Fr. Fimowicz began in earnest the plans for the new church. The parish acquired more land to do so.

Fr. Fimowicz worked with the architectural firm of Chester Oakley, with Joseph Fronczak serving as project supervisor. In October, 1927, construction began. The completed church was dedicated in May of 1930.

When I first read that St. Luke’s took this long to build, I thought “Why so long?”. Then I remembered the inside and how beautiful it is. Not only the murals, but the tile work, the floor, the ceiling! This church is truly a work of art!

It Was the Best of Times; It Was the Worst of Times

The parish thrived after the church was completed. The population of the area continued to grow as did the parish. Until, of course, the second half of the 20th century when people moved in droves to the suburbs. Attendance declined slowly but surely. It’s that old familiar story we’ve heard time and again in this series.

The surrounding neighborhood deteriorated. Badly. Worse than any of the other churches we’ve covered in this series.

The school closed in 1985, and the church was closed by the diocese in 1993. This was the final nail in the coffin of the surrounding neighborhood.

Or was it?

Photo Credit: ExploringUpstate. com

Enter Amy Betros and Norm Paolini

You would think that would have been the end of it. But after the closing of the church, the diocese put it and all of St. Luke’s outbuildings up for sale. Two very unlikely people, Amy Betros and Norm Paolini, bought it all and started a true grassroots outreach program. It would become one of the most important not-for-profit organizations in the city.

Who are These Two?

Amy was the owner of a very successful restaurant. She visited Medjugorje in 1990, where she had a major conversion, and found a new devotion to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. She came home on fire for the Lord. Her restaurant became the place to go for a free meal because word got around that no one was ever turned away. She also opened her beautiful suburban home to people who needed shelter. Anyone. Hookers, the mentally ill, addicts. Anyone.

Norm was a cancer research scientist at Roswell Park. He took part in the music ministry at his parish, and ran a prayer group that welcomed anyone. Basically, Norm would minister to whomever crossed his path and seemed to need something. He gave of his own money freely to anyone who needed it.

Norm Paolini and Amy Betros
Photo Credit: Patrick McPartland on St. Luke’s website

The two met on a pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal in 1992. They both somehow knew it was right that they work together. When they returned home, they began ministering together. To the poor, afflicted, or anyone who needed help. But in 1993, Bishop Edward Grosz, who was a friend of Amy’s, told them about St. Luke’s Church going on the market, and suggested they buy it. Most people would have laughed and said something to the effect of, “Oh, sure! I’ll sell everything I’ve worked for and buy a church!” But Amy and Norm took it seriously, and prayed about it.

Of course you know by now that they did buy it. Amy sold her restaurant, Norm took an early retirement from his job, and together with a very generous benefactor, bought the entire complex. Very brave. And huge amounts of faith.

What next?

There were long hard days ahead for Amy and Norm, as they began their mission in perhaps one of the worst areas of the city. Poverty, mental issues, addiction, this neighborhood had (and has) it all. But now there is help for anyone who needs it.

I first became aware of St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy in the late 90’s when one of my son’s classes went there for a retreat. I could not have been more impressed. With the retreat itself, but with the two who gave up all their worldly possessions to live here among the poorest and neediest of our city.

Admit it, and I will too, that since the Covid-19 lockdown began we have all felt a little sting of inconvenience. I consider it divine intervention that when I scribbled out a list of seven churches to write about this week, St. Luke’s was among them. Writing this puts things in perspective. That Amy and Norm were willing to give up so much, to help others is beyond amazing.

What is Going on at St. Luke’s Today?

The mission has grown exponentially. From feeding the hungry, to clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned (if you stay at St. Luke’s, and go to prison, they will visit you, send you care packages etc.), burying the dead, and all around loving all of God’s people. No matter who you are, you are welcomed and taken care of here. I cannot even begin to explain to you all that they do at St. Luke’s on a daily basis. This post would have to be a book in order to do that.

I can however refer you to their website to learn more about them. Take a little bit of time (it’s Holy Week!) to really look at it and see for yourself the incredible things they do. Amy and Norm’s stories are there too.

I will also mention that St. Luke’s is still open during the Covid-19 lockdown. Following all the rules, but still ministering to all who need it. Their dining room is closed, but they are handing out sandwiches daily; packing and giving out bags of food to families in need weekly; cooking, packing and sending over 80 hot meals to the Flickinger Center for the homeless men staying there. All precautions are being taken for the safety of all who volunteer, and for all who are served. Check the website for pick up times etc.

And this is a no questions asked service. Whoever you are, you will be served with love, and without judgement.

Speaking of Norm…

St. Luke’s website also announces the death of Norm, almost two years ago now, on April 30, 2018. The website proclaims, “God is good and Norm is singing with the saints.” They profess no sadness, just celebration of Norm’s life, and happiness that he is home with his Lord.

My Impressions of St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy Church

If there is anyone out there who did not already know about St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy, I would imagine you were surprised to find out where the fate of this church ended up. It’s an absolutely beautiful church! With absolutely beautiful people running the mission that it has become.

I’d like to say that there is one other person I haven’t mentioned yet. It’s Dave Topor. He’s been working and living at St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy for at least 20 years or so. Dave was a member of our parish when our sons were active in CYO and Dave ran our youth group. He gave up a good job with U.S. Border Protection in Niagara Falls to move into St. Luke’s to work alongside Amy and Norm.

Photo Credit: Buffalo Rising

Dave was extremely popular with the youth of our parish, and we were sad to see him leave, but how could we complain about the little sting of inconvenience he caused when he left, in comparison with what he has done these past twenty years, knowing the amount of people he has helped?

On a side note, Dave would probably never tell anyone what I just wrote, and I kept his photo small-ish for the same reason. He’s very humble. I have great respect and admiration for him.

When all is said and done it’s my humble opinion that St. Luke’s Church, having ended up as St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy, has fared well throughout Buffalo’s history. If you look closely, the church itself is not in perfect shape. But we have to ask ourselves, does that really matter in this case, when you think of all the good being done there?

Where is it?

St. Luke’s is located at 325 Walden Avenue, but the main entrance to the church is on Sycamore at Oberlin Avenue. There is no list of masses on their website, other than the mention that masses are cancelled temporarily due to the Covid-19 guidelines. Hopefully, we can all visit soon.

Join us tomorrow, Holy Thursday, for our final church ‘visit’ when we will be at Corpus Christi Church.

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: ExploringUpstate .com

Get the Book!

They make great gifts for family and friends (or yourself!).  Click here or on the photo below to purchase yours!

Read the Other Posts in this Series Here

The Tradition – An Introduction

Ss. Columba-Brigid Church

St. Stanislaus Church

St. Adalbert Basilica

St. John Kanty

St. Casimir Church

Seven Churches – St. Casimir Church

Seven Churches – St. Casimir Church

Welcome to the fifth 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. I’ll list the links to the individual church posts at the end of this article.

So, today we are ‘visiting’ St. Casimir Church in Kaisertown. Not really considered Old Polonia, but very Polish nonetheless.

Early Life at St. Casimir

The history at St. Casimir is unique when compared to the churches we’ve ‘visited’ so far.

As discussed in our other visits the late 1800’s brought an onslaught of European immigrants to Buffalo. The number of Polish immigrants increased significantly with the opening of St. Stanislaus Parish in 1873. But as we talked about in more than one of these posts, St. Stan’s grew so fast that by the 1880’s, more churches were needed to accommodate the growing population on Buffalo’s East Side.

Photo Credit: Mark Ciemcioch

Polish immigrants were also settling east of ‘Old Polonia’ because they found work further outside the crowded area most of Buffalo’s Polish were living. A group of Catholic Poles who found work just east of the Clinton/Bailey area, and who lived in the vicinity of Cable and Casimir Streets, petitioned to then bishop Stephen Ryan for the formation of a new Polish Church for Buffalo. There were roughly forty families representing just over 250 people involved at the very beginning. This was in the mid-1880’s.

These families appear to have planned very well for the needs of their new parish. From the start, they came together to see to all the needs of new immigrant families in the area. They understood the need for basic food, shelter and clothing, but they also understood that spiritual needs must be met in order to live peacefully together. Hence, their petition.

The Bishop’s Response

Instead of giving permission to form a new parish immediately, Bishop Ryan sent a series of priests to come on Sundays to provide weekly masses for the faithful, and emergency services in a crisis. I would imagine that would have included administering last rites, funeral masses and support during such events. Some of the priests who rotated Sundays with this congregation are familiar to this series, Fr. John Pitass of St. Stanislaus and Fr. Thomas Flaczek of both St. Adalbert’s and St. John Kanty parishes.

I found this response to be interesting. Maybe the initial 40 families weren’t enough? Maybe the diocese felt unsure about the area this group settled? I mean, at a time where churches seemed to be popping up on every third or fourth block, why the hesitation? We may never know.

But here’s something even more interesting. The congregation, by all accounts only expressed gratitude to the bishop at that time. Of course, it’s entirely possible that they knew something that we don’t.

Persistance Pays Off

In 1890, Bishop Ryan assigned Rev. Rajmund Wieder to help form the parish. The congregants worked well with Fr. Wieder to build a combination church/school/parish hall. It was affectionately referred to as “Noah’s Ark” because of it’s general appearance. The land for the building was donated by Buffalo City Judge Daniel Kenefick. It stood at the corner of Casimir and Weimar Streets.

“Noah’s Ark”
Photo Credit: Poloniatrail. com

Noah’s Ark, aka St. Casimir’s Church, was dedicated in November of 1890. Fr. Wieder was transferred in 1891, and a succession of temporary pastors took his place for the next several years. In the meantime, the parish grew exponentially.

Rev. Francis Kasprzak Arrives at St. Casimir

In 1900, Rev. Francis Kasprzak arrived at St. Casimir’s as the new pastor. His youth and enthusiasm was catchy and the parishioners embraced the next ten years under his leadership, during which many good things happened for the parish. Fr. Kasprzak oversaw the extension of the church building to accommodate the now 1200 parishioners, about 250 families, and also the building of a residence for the priests. The diocese noticed the growth and sent an associate priest to the parish around 1903.

The world’s-first Domestic Church Shrine (Family Vine Memorial, 2015)

The school had grown to 93 students and it was Fr. Kasprzak who brought in the Felician Sisters to teach in the school. The Sisters commuted from the motherhouse until the new rectory was completed in 1905, when the first priest’s residence was converted to a convent for the Sisters.

With the parishioner count increasing all the time, Fr. Kasprzak turned his attention to the construction of a new combination building, to house a church on the first floor, a school on the second and a church hall on the third. The building was dedicated in November 1908.

After 11 years at St. Casimir’s, Fr. Kasprzak was transferred to another parish within the diocese. His spirit of enthusiasm lived on and St. Casimir Parish continued to flourish long after he left.

The Rev. Anthony Majewski Years

Several priests followed Fr. Kasprzak, but only temporarily.

In 1915, the bishop appointed Rev. Anthony Majewski to the parish. He would stay at St. Casimir’s for 40 years.

The first thing Fr. Majewski did was contact the right people with the city and ensured the paving of Weimar, Cable and Casimir Streets so that the parishioners had easy access to all of the parish buildings. He also had the old church building partially removed because it had seen better days; sold the wood from it to parishioners, making enough money to renovate the rest of the structure into four additional classrooms for the school.

The dome in the Domestic Church Shrine

Fr. Majewski then embarked upon a parish beautification project. He had the grounds landscaped, put in gardens and sidewalks and had dead trees removed, giving the children of the parish a place to play. Once the beautification project was completed, he tackled the much needed repairs of the parish school, painting of the interior of both the school and the church, and had sewers installed. Fr. Majewski also started a church/school library and instituted Regents Exams for the school.

The school itself continued to grow, and part of the parish hall was utilized to add more classrooms. In 1924 a new convent was built to accommodate the now 20 Felician Sisters who lived at the parish and taught at the school.

At this point Fr. Majewski again had the streets in the area improved, including having the original three repaved. He was also instrumental in instituting the flood control program for the Buffalo River, where several children had drowned.

A New Church

The diocese took notice of all of this growth. In 1926, they suggested to Fr. Majewski that he look into building a permanent church for the parish. Having traveled to both Poland and the near east, Fr. Majewski already knew he wanted something that Buffalo had never seen before. He worked with Joseph Fronczak, a young associate with the Chester Oakley architectural firm, to come up with the design for the building we now know as St. Casimir Church. The use of color on the terra cotta on the exterior is spectacular! The interior is even more exquisite!

Photo Credit: Buffalo Mass Mob

The new church was dedicated in May 1929. Even the depression didn’t deter the parishioners in their quest to complete the church and a new modern school as well. It’s kind of amazing that at that point in our nations history, that this local church was able to accomplish so much.

St. John Paul Visits St. Casimir’s

Certainly one of the highlights of St. Casimir’s history was the visit of Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, at the time archbishop of Kraków, Poland. He traveled with other bishops to the bicentennial Eucharistic Congress in Philidelphia in 1976. They then toured several Polonia centers in the US and Canada. He presided over two solemn masses at St. Casimir’s and stayed in the rectory while in town. To show his gratitude, Cardinal Wojtyla gifted the parish with an authentic oil painting of the crowned Black Madonna. He of course went on to become Pope John Paul II and eventually St. John Paul.

What Next?

In 2011, St. Casimir’s was named an oratory and the parishioners were to merge with Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish in Cheektowaga. Fr. Czeslaw Krysa became the rector at that time. Through his work at the parish, one year later the status was changed to a church of particular use, providing for the care of the faithful, particularly those of Polish descent. This is a new one on me. A church of particular use means that an ecclesiastical community that will protect certain traditions of a church. I believe in this case, that means Polish Catholic Traditions.

When you have time, take a look at the St. Casimir Blog. It is obvious that they are keeping the Polish Catholic traditions alive!

My Impressions

The first time I went to St. Casimir Church was one of those Lenten ‘mass mobs’ I mentioned in the Introduction to this series. It was on Palm Sunday. I was awestruck by the interior of the church. If you read my blog regularly, you know that occasionally I see something that instantly transforms me into a tourist in my own city. The interior of St. Casimir’s is definitely one of those places. It’s uncommon though, that it became such a spiritual experience for me.

Photo Credit: Am-Pol Eagle

The air was thick with incense. The procession of palms was long and exuberant. The priest at the end of the procession was smiling and laughing with congregants. I think he tapped his huge palm leaves on every single child in the church before the procession ended! I’ve only been completely swept away at mass a handful of times in my life. But this was one of those times. The mass was just under two hours and I didn’t even realize it until the end.

I walked out of there that Palm Sunday, ready to move to Kaisertown and register at St. Casimir.

But alas, my husband loves our house and I kind of like him, so we stayed put. But I will never forget St. Casimir. This series of ‘church visits’ has renewed my desire to visit other churches more regularly. When this crisis is over that is.

Where is it?

St. Casimir’s Parish is located at 160 Cable Street in Kaisertown. Visit their website for mass times. This is the church we visited when we found Lucky’s on Clinton. Been going there ever since. As a matter of fact, it’s how I’ll get my husband to go to mass at Casimir’s soon. 😉

Join me tomorrow when we will be moving a couple of miles north to ‘visit’ St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy.

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: St. Casimir’s website

Get the Book!

They make great gifts for family and friends (or yourself!).  Click here or on the photo below to purchase yours!

Read the Other Posts in this Series Here

The Tradition – An Introduction

Ss. Columba-Brigid Church

St. Stanislaus Church

St. Adalbert Basilica

St. John Kanty

St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy

Corpus Christi Church

Seven Churches – St. John Kanty

Seven Churches – St. John Kanty

Welcome to the fourth 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. I’ll list the links to the individual church posts at the end of this article.

Our fourth virtual visit is to St. John Kanty Church, and this church also has its roots in the heart of Old Polonia in Buffalo.

Early St. John Kanty

It is in fact another church whose congregants were originally parishioners of St. Stan’s. Again, when the railroads cut through the east side it became dangerous for parishioners to travel from the outer reaches of the parish to St. Stan’s. The diocese acquired a parcel of land at the corner of Broadway and Swinburne, and St. John Kanty was born.

The original altar, before the fire in 1955.
Photo Credit: St. John Kanty website.

The Founding Pastor?

Now, there is some discrepancy as to who served as St. John Kanty’s first pastor. A history of the parish by James Napora reports the first pastor as Fr. Adalbert Sulek, who was an associate at St. Stan’s. Napora goes on to say that Fr. Sulek oversaw the building of the church, and when it was completed, he turned his attention to the building of a school.

The St. John Kanty website states that the first pastor was Fr. Thomas Flaczek (later of St. Adalbert’s Basilica) from 1892 – 1895. I found an article in the Am-Pol Eagle by Gregory Witul which explains that Fr. Sulek was assigned to St. John Kanty, but that he was transferred to a parish in Dunkirk during the construction of the church.

I don’t think I’m going to be able to solve this mystery during this series. But I am intrigued, and will probably spend way too much time trying to figure it out later on. I welcome any information you may have. Please feel free to contact me at the email address listed above.

The Neighborhood

By 1910 however, the poverty in the area was showing it’s effects. It was well known that the neighborhood was practically out of control with crime. As many as 15 active gangs of railroad thieves operated in the area. They fought each other for supremacy, but were known to band together against the police in gun fights! So many local boys from this neighborhood were sent to the Elmira State Reformatory, that it became known among locals as the East Buffalo Prep School.

The Arrival of Fr. Andrew S. Gartska at St. John Kanty

Enter Fr. Gartska. Once in awhile, when I am writing the history of a building, in this case a parish, a person shows up in the history and sort of takes over the story. For St. John Kanty Parish, that person is Fr. Andrew S. Gartska.

Fr. Andrew (Shorty) Gartska
Photo Credit: The Commonweal

Having heard about the state of the neighborhood before he arrived, Fr. Gartska immediately planned a parish lawn fete. It was a wild success socially, but unfortunately, he lost money on the event, because all the people who volunteered to work it stole all the money! Can you imagine?

The Dances

The next thing he did was hold regular dances in the school hall and charged a nominal fee. This was in an attempt to keep the teenagers out of the local gin mills and pool halls. It worked. To a point. When Fr. Gartska heard that many young girls were still going to the bars instead of the dances, he set out to find out why. It quickly became apparent the girls were embarrassed by their clothing, and it wasn’t so obvious in the dimly lit bars. Fr. Gartska immediately hired a dressmaker to give free sewing lessons in the school hall. Girls, and women, came in droves to learn. And the young girls began attending the church dances.

The local bar owners came to complain to Fr. Gartska about losing customers due to the church dances. Instead of arguing about teenagers hanging out in gin mills, he commiserated with them about business and what a struggle it is. He asked for advice on running the parish. Then he asked them to help him form a Businessmen’s Committee. Flattered, they obliged.

What to do about the Gangs?

Next, Fr. Gartska took on the gangs. He arranged with the railroads to use their yards as a playground. He invited the leaders of the gangs to represent the neighborhood in a city wide league. Perhaps looking at it as a way to rule the entire city, they agreed, and they took the city championship that first year. But not before Fr. Gartska had the boys in church every Sunday morning praying for a win that afternoon. He also held team meetings on Saturday nights in the school hall. The boys naturally joined the girls for the dances after the meetings.

There were 40 some clubs and committees active at St. John Kanty’s during Fr. Gartska’s days at the church. These included adult education classes in english, local craftsmen taught their trades to young men, and cooking classes for the women, and many more. Perhaps it is from those cooking classes that the infamous Pierogi Sales originated?

It all seems a little too good to be true. But that’s the story of Fr. Andrew Garstka. There’s more information about him on the St. John Kanty website, in an article written by Stephen V. Feeley, in The Commonweal, at this link. When you have time, read it. He was certainly an interesting man. His story brings to mind the movie Going My Way with Bing Crosby. Think I’ll look that movie up and watch it tonight.


Buffalo churches seem fraught with fires back in the day. It’s not my imagination right? Maybe it has to do with the candles?

In 1948, there was a minor fire in the church, and repairs were made. But in 1955, a major fire badly damaged the inside of the building. Ten stained glass windows were lost. The sanctuary was almost a total loss, but the sculpture by Frank Pedevilla of the last supper survived. It now hangs at the choir loft at the rear of the church.

Photo Credit: St. John Kanty website.

Restoration was undertaken and a new sanctuary was built. It is somewhat less opulent, but elegant and beautiful just the same. Jozef Mazur, a local artist who painted murals at St. Stan’s and St. Adalbert’s, was engaged again to paint murals at St. John Kanty. He also created three stained glass windows here to replace some of the windows that were lost in the fire.

The new altar after the fire in 1955. Murals by Jozef Mazur.

Adapting to the Changing Neighborhood

St. John Kanty adapted well to the changing times. As more parishioners moved out of the neighborhood, new ministries were created just as Fr. Gartska would have done.

The school merged with five other East Side schools in 1990 to form Kolbe Catholic Regional School. It was not located at St. John Kanty’s Parish. The Felician Sisters who partially staffed the school from the beginning, embarked upon ministering in a total parish life experience, instead of the traditional teacher role. The school building was renovated to accommodate a senior citizens community center. The Mother Angela Dining Room was established to feed the poor of the neighborhood.

The parish of St. Adalbert’s Basilica was merged with St. John Kanty Parish Community in 2011, but it is unclear how many of their congregants formally joined St. John Kanty’s parish.

And the pierogi sales. St. John Kanty is well known today as the Pierogi parish. We Buffalonians mean no disrespect to the parish and the hard work of all that minister there. But we are a food city, and we LOVE our ethnic foods. Pierogies are definitely a favorite among Buffalo foodies.

My Impressions

In researching this story, I learned a lot. I never knew my fraternal grandmother lived in St. John Kanty Parish when she was growing up. Born in 1917, my grandmother was quite likely one of the girls who benefited from the free sewing lessons instituted by Fr. Gartska. She probably learned her crocheting skills there too. I know my grandparents met at a church dance, and now I picture the meeting taking place at St. John Kanty, but I cannot say for sure. My Grandfather grew up in Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Parish, which was was very close by, so it’s also possible that it could have been there.

Growing up in that neighborhood might account for their toughness though. They were both tough people. Lived through a lot. At the same time, my Grandfather loved to tease us and he always kept us laughing. And my tough Grandmother also loved simple, pretty things like really dainty jewelry and crocheted doilies.

Also, while speaking to my father about the history of the gangs in the area, it was clear that at least some still existed in the late 1940’s & 50’s. He mentioned that when he walked to his grandmother’s house on Rother Street from Northampton, he would walk the long way around to Sobieski Street to avoid the Rother Street Gang, who operated between Sycamore and Walden. Interesting.

I am sorry to admit that I have never attended mass at St. John Kanty, although I have visited many times on Holy Thursday. I guess it never made it into our Lenten ‘mass mobs’ I mentioned in the Introduction Post. Going to put that on my ever growing list of things to do when the lock down ends.

Where is It?

Speaking of the end of this crisis, when it’s over, visit St. John Kanty at 101 Swinburne Street at the corner of Broadway. It’s a beautiful church steeped in the history of the early immigrants of our city. Visit their website for information about their pierogi sales, and mass times.

Tomorrow, we’re moving a little bit southeast for a post about St. Casimir Church.

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.

Get the Book!

They make great gifts for family and friends (or yourself!).  Click here or on the photo below to purchase yours!

Read the Other Posts in this Series Here

The Tradition – An Introduction

Ss. Columba-Brigid Church

St. Stanislaus Church

St. Adalbert Basilica

St. Casimir Church

St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy

Corpus Christi Church

Pin It on Pinterest