130-Year-Old Gothic NY Catholic Church to Be Razed; Parishioners 'Devastated'

The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, N.Y., has found it necessary to raze 130-year-old St. Ann Church on Broadway because its repair can cost between $8 million and $12 million, Bishop Richard J. Malone announced on Sunday.

"It is always a sad day when we have to acknowledge that a church can no longer be used, and sadder still when the church must be razed," said a letter by Malone that was read to parishioners at Saints Columba-Brigid Parish in Buffalo, into which St. Ann's was merged in 2007.

"But St. Ann Church, and the parish life that has thrived there for more than 150 years, has made its mark on the history of Catholicism in Western New York, and more importantly, on the lives of so many who have worshiped there," the bishop's letter said. "That is to be remembered and celebrated now and into the future."

The diocese has estimated that reconstruction could cost from $8 million to $12 million. "Design and construction flaws of the original church have resulted in a building less durable than other churches of the period," a statement by the diocese says. "Once the site is cleared and transformed into green space, it will be available for future development."

Malone said the diocese will preserve and relocate the Shrine of St. Ann and other valuable, artistically significant artifacts currently within the church. "In another sacred space, longtime devotions to St. Ann will continue, and the heritage of this historic parish will be preserved and honored."

All activities at St. Ann's were suspended last April. However, some longtime parishioners set up a chapel in the basement of the nearby St. Ann school building to continue Sunday Masses there. Malone announced even those masses need to end, and the last mass was held there on Sunday.

"It's devastating," Buffalo News quoted Dick Joya, a 79-year-old parishioner, as saying. "My wife and I went to grammar school at St. Ann. We got married there on Aug. 25, 1956. It's our church. It's been a part of us all these years."

"This was a very difficult decision," Kevin A. Keenan, a spokesman for the diocese, was quoted as saying. "This is the last decision you'd want to make, but after very extensive studies of the deterioration, it has been determined that the church is just not safe."

The Gothic-styled church structure was initially built to serve a community of German immigrants and their descendants. Its cornerstone was laid in 1878.

Some parishioners say it is possible to repair the structure for a price lower than $8 million, and have written to church leaders at the Vatican. "We've been sending letters to the Vatican, and apparently, the leaders at the Vatican have thrown it into the bishop's lap and said, 'You handle this,' " parishioner Shirley Joya was quoted as saying.