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Opinion: St. Ann’s Represents a Wider Loss for the Community

By Brett Kostrzewski:

The public outcry to the Diocese of Buffalo’s plan to demolish St. Ann’s church on the East Side is an opportunity to view the sad state of how our modern culture, and especially the younger generations, view the church. STEEL’s recent post here reflects that view, and the serious ignorance of the larger issue at work in this drama of emptied and decrepit beautiful churches throughout Buffalo, a common theme often featured on this site.

I am a 24-year-old practicing Catholic, and I support saving St. Ann’s. But it is important to ask why the church would come to such a conclusion of destroying the building, and critics on this site seem to be incapable or unwilling of attempting to see the issue from the Diocese’s point of view.

Buildings like St. Ann’s must be earned by the community. They don’t just “occur.” These churches, whether it is St. Ann’s, or any beautiful church in Buffalo of any denomination, are built out of faith and devotion to the community and to God. St. Ann’s was not built in 1878 to create an architectural legacy or destination for people of all faiths. It was built for Christians to celebrate mass. Sadly, in 2013, that need no longer exists. The purpose of the building is virtually extinguished. The neighborhood has changed, and a small group of devoted supporters has continued to celebrate mass in the church’s beauty through great effort of their own.

The Diocese of Buffalo is concerned with best serving the over 700,000 Catholics that live in the greater Buffalo area. Is spending millions of dollars (if indeed this level of spending is required) to restore a parish with so few members in a neighborhood virtually devoid of church-going Catholics really worth it, when there are churches both elsewhere in Buffalo and the suburbs with thousands of families attending multiple masses every week? The Diocese does not exist to serve those Buffalonians who want to be able to brag about Buffalo’s beautiful churches to their friends from out of town, without actually ever attending mass in them.

Just to be clear, I am not saying that you need to be Catholic to appreciate St. Ann’s beauty, or that I think it should be destroyed. St. Ann’s has a universal aesthetic appeal separate from its function as a Catholic place of worship. But it is important for critics of the Diocese to note that this is not why it exists.

STEEL outright blames suburban Catholics for the problem, obnoxiously stating that they should be willing to drive an extra twenty minutes to go to church in a poor neighborhood, which they should be doing anyway as part of their commitment to service. I will not pretend to know if STEEL is a practicing Catholic or not (his ignorance of how the church functions leads me to believe he is not), but I think it is a bit rich to criticize those who are at least supporting the Diocese. While I do not know how the Diocese of Buffalo specifically functions, most dioceses have a system where successful, wealthy parishes give surplus dollars directly to the diocese, which then go to support churches that are less financially viable.

John Vianney as his example of an ugly suburban parish that should be demolished instead of St. Ann’s. But I am sure that money coming out of St. John Vianney is helping parishes like St. Stanislaus to survive in far less hospitable demographics.

The issue at work here is far more complicated than an evil bishop looking for an excuse to knock down a beautiful building. It appears that St. Ann’s has neglected its own upkeep for decades, and has had issues with structure from the beginning. Most of these problems come from a lack of money, and this ultimately is from a lack of churchgoers. Often on Buffalo Rising, members of my generation bemoan the demolition of churches all over the city. But judging by recent trends, it is safe to assume they haven’t attended a church service on their own volition since high school. As I said above, buildings like St. Ann’s must be earned. Churches are not like beautiful historic office buildings that can be easily adapted into new, economically relevant uses. And as a Catholic, looking at the state of affairs in cities like Buffalo, I’d argue that the need for churches like St. Ann’s is still relevant, the same way it was in 1878.

The best way to truly save St. Ann’s is to start going to church, whether you live in Buffalo, Chicago, or anywhere else. St. Ann’s isn’t the last beautiful church of its kind in Buffalo or the United States. But it won’t be the last to be demolished unless people start recognizing the power of attending church in a space like this instead of contemporary, unfortunate-looking suburban buildings. Yes, St. Ann’s does belong to the city of Buffalo, and all Buffalonians should fight for its survival.

But before it belongs to anyone else, it belongs to the Catholics. And if too many have left their ranks to justify its existence, those who have left should not blame the few who continue to support the Church.

Photo credit: Mike Puma

 

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