Move to Save? St. Gerard Georgia-Bound?
The Buffalo Diocese has found a way to save at least one abandoned church- ship it to a community that needs it. St. Gerard Church (circa 1911) at the corner of Bailey and East Delevan avenues could be headed to Norcross, Georgia. Mary Our Queen parish is interested in purchasing the church, disassembling it, and reconstructing it for use by the growing congregation in Norcross. Buffalo Diocese officials are calling the $3 million idea “preservation by relocation.” Others are outraged at the thought.
The Buffalo News’ Jay Tokasz has the story-
Officials of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo expressed optimism about the unusual plan, which they call “preservation by relocation.” They say moving the grand church, which was built in 1911, will allow it to be used as intended and prevent it from falling into disrepair.
“It’s a building where the prospects of sale are nonexistent, and you have the ability to reuse it as a Catholic church. This is an opportunity,” said Kevin A. Keenan, diocesan spokesman who has been meeting with city officials.
Not so fast say others…
But some preservationists are appalled by the proposal and have initiated efforts to designate St. Gerard a historic landmark and prevent it from being moved.
“This is not preservation by any stretch of the imagination,” said Timothy A. Tielman, executive director of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture and a member of the Buffalo Preservation Board.
No immediate reuse for the church “doesn’t mean you just pack it in a box and let someone take it. It’s disturbing,” he added. “It is analogous to the situations that European countries and Egypt faced in the early 20th century, when so much of their legacy was literally packed up and shipped away to other parts of Europe and the United States.”
Those countries now have laws prohibiting the movement of significant pieces of a community’s cultural heritage.
The only viable option?
Following years of declining membership, St. Gerard closed in January, and the parish merged with Blessed Trinity on Leroy Avenue.
The diocese has received no offers for the church, which needs a new boiler, roof repairs and leading for its stained-glass windows — which would total hundreds of thousands of dollars, Keenan said.
“Do we preserve a building for nothing or are we going to preserve a building for a worship community?” asked the Rev. Francis X. Mazur, former pastor of St. Gerard, who supports moving the church.
Those opposing the idea “need to come up with a plan,” he said. “Give me an alternate plan, and I’m willing to listen to it.”
Efforts are underway to landmark the church to prevent its removal. With dozens of vacant WNY churches, few with reuse prospects, is this the way to go?
Photo by Karl R. Josker.