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The Feast Week of Saint Ann?

St-Ann-Buffalo-NY-help-7It’s that time of year when no one is far from a crèche (or manger scene, as my family called it when I was growing up). This year I helped set up the crèche at my parish, using hefty plaster figurines that have “crèched” for so many decades that even our encyclopaedic parish historian doesn’t know how old they are.

St-Ann-Buffalo-NY-help-6Most crèches include shepherds, angels, wise men (or kings), and lots of the kind of animals one might expect to find in a stable. Most also include sheep, apparently on the assumption that good, yeomanlike shepherds wouldn’t leave their sheep behind, but rather would herd them along when they went into town to see what the angels had proclaimed to them.

St-Ann-Buffalo-NY-help-5Setting up this year, I tried to place a ram and ewe smooching, but they were rearranged (can’t give the kids any ideas, I guess). And at the center of every crèche is the Holy Family: Baby Jesus with Mary and Joseph. As a kid, I often wondered: where were the grandparents? Perhaps it was because Mary and Joseph were out of town at the time, that Mary’s parents, Saint Ann and Saint Joachim, weren’t there. I’ve never seen them included in any crèche.

But Saint Ann was not to be forgotten this Christmas season. In the week leading up to Christmas, Buffalo saw a rapid-fire chain of events involving her namesake church and shrine in Buffalo’s Broadway/Fillmore neighborhood, shuttered by the Diocese of Buffalo three years ago. While the question of Saint Ann’s intervention would be a matter of personal faith, what we know is that an anonymous letter was recently sent to Buffalo’s Common Council about the condition and placement of the fencing around the church. St-Ann-Buffalo-NY-help-4The fencing was first installed three years ago when the church was closed. Many consider it unnecessary — a scare tactic, perhaps, and visual bolster to the claim that the condition of the tower masonry makes the church unsafe to enter. While it’s hard to know for sure, it doesn’t seem that any masonry has fallen, despite perhaps the two most brutal back-to-back winters in Buffalo’s recent history, and no shortage of high-wind events.

Common Council’s president, Darius Pridgen, has been bird-dogging the Saint Ann’s issue since the closing, and that concern overcame Council’s normal reticence to address anonymous letters. Council put the concerns about the fencing on the agenda of their Community Development Committee. On less than a day’s notice, the Saint Ann’s Revitalization Committee turned out about a dozen supporters, many dressed in green “We Are St. Ann” t-shirts (like the ones worn at this press conference. The ever-alert Sue Schulman, who covers City Hall for the Buffalo News, looked into the matter, and the News ran a story the next day.

St-Ann-Buffalo-NY-help-3According to the story, Council President Darius Pridgen said, “The building needs to be taken care of. It’s a gem in our community. To just leave it sitting, I know what’s going to happen: The roof will start leaking. Things will be stolen.” Also according to the story, Former Council President David Franczyk added that “the diocese should repair and reopen the majestic church for city residents and suburbanites who would welcome a chance to return there for Mass and other events.” “Be on the right side of history – be enlightened,” said Franczyk said, as if addressing the diocese. “Look at what’s happening. Larkinville is not far away. There was a big story in the newspaper (about Bangladeshi immigrants moving into the community). Property values are going up. We are on the cusp of a metamorphosis and positive change.”

If you remember the Trico landmarking debate at Common Council, where Pridgen and Franczyk didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye, it’s refreshing to see them both strongly on the same side. According to Schulman, there’s been a lot of that lately between them at City Hall. Her City Hallways blog the next day included this item.

Pridgen on Pridgen on Franczyk:
A few times now, when the Council  dealt with preservation issues, I’ve heard Council President Darius Pridgen talk about  how Fillmore Councilman Dave Franczyk helped him understand the value of old buildings in Buffalo.  It happened again earlier this  week when the Council was  discussing St. Ann’s Church on Broadway,  a 19th century  neo-Gothic structure that is shuttered, and, in the  past, threatened with demolition.
“I give him credit,” Pridgen said of Francyzk, “for being able to understand the value of preservation.”
“When  I got  to  the Council,” Pridgen continued, “I wanted neon lights on everything. Modernizataion.  He helped me to understand.”

A few days later, the News joined the fray with an editorial supporting preservation of Saint Ann’s.

Although a solid editorial, their opinion that either Saint Ann’s must be sold or must stand bereft strikes me as just the kind of false dichotomy we often see in Buffalo preservation issues. Why couldn’t another option, like allowing occasional use of the church, be entertained? After all, Saint Ann’s is not just a church, but is also a recognized shrine. That means people will come to visit, if permitted. Even in the absence of a regular weekly Mass, people would want to be married and eulogized there, perhaps because of family connections to the parish. Allowing some kind of use would also open the door for community fundraising to stabilize the building and begin a phased, prioritized repair process. Without the Diocese being on the hook for all the costs.

We should be advocating for open-minded, outside-the-box, third-way solutions to break out of the impasse of appeals and counter-appeals.

But the Buffalo News was not done with Saint Ann’s. Later that day Bob McCarthy posted a story online that “Masten Council Member Ulysees O. Wingo Sr. gained approval of a resolution calling for a city task force to study just what to do with long-abandoned and crumbling churches.” The task force will “convene Council members, the city Preservation Board, the Office of Strategic Planning, Department of Permit and Inspection Services, the Mayor’s Impact Team and the Law Department to discuss future use of…churches.”

St-Ann-Buffalo-NY-help-2It was a heartwarming week, and a nice Christmas gift, to see this issue get so solidly back in the spotlight. If you’ve been following Buffalo issues for some time, you’ll recall that this issue was hot back in 2008, after some high-profile church losses, and the closure of St. Girard’s. The Campaign for Greater Buffalo hosted a “Save Our Churches” forum at Babeville, and the Diocese of Buffalo named a committee to address closed churches. But except for rallying around individual causes, the collective heat has since died down.

Let’s hope this task force will get the issue of preserving Buffalo’s sacred spaces back on track. And keep it on track, this time. So we won’t need another nudge in the right direction from Saint Ann.

What can you do to help Saint Ann’s this holiday season?

Get a copy of the 2016 Saint Ann’s Church and Shrine calendar, one of the most beautiful calendars you can buy.

Also, join the Saint Ann’s Revitalization Committee in praying the Rosary at 7PM on New Year’s Eve, in front of Saint Ann’s Church.

St-Ann-Buffalo-NY-help-1

Written by RaChaCha

RaChaCha

RaChaCha is a Garbage Plate™ kid making his way in a Chicken Wing world. Since 2008, he's put over a hundred articles on here, and he asked us to be sure to thank you for reading. So, thank you for reading. You may also have seen his freelance byline in Artvoice, where he writes under the name his daddy gave him [Ed: Send me a check, and I might reveal what that is]. When he's not writing, RaChaCha is an urban planner, a rehabber of houses, and a community builder. He co-founded the Buffalo Mass Mob, and would love to see you at the next one. He represents Buffalo Young Preservationists on the Trico roundtable. If you try to demolish a historic building, he might have something to say about that. He is a proud AmeriCorps alum.

Things you may not know about RaChaCha (unless you read this before): "Ra Cha Cha" is a nickname of his hometown. (Didn't you know that? Do you live under a rock?) He's a political junkie (he once worked for the president of the Monroe County Legislature), but we don't really let him write about politics on here. He helped create a major greenway in the Genesee Valley, and worked on early planning for the Canalway Trail. He hopes you enjoy biking and hiking on those because that's what he put in all that work for. He was a ringleader of the legendary "Chill the Fill" campaign to save Rochester's old downtown subway tunnel. In fact, he comes from a long line of troublemakers. An ancestor fought at Bunker Hill, and a relative led the Bear Flag Revolt in California. We advise you to remember this before messing with him in the comments. He worked on planning the Rochester ARTWalk, and thinks Buffalo should have one of those, too (write your congressman).

You can also find RaChaCha (all too often, we frequently nag him) on the Twitters at @HeyRaChaCha. Which is what some people here yell when they see him on the street. You know who you are.

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  • keep up the fight!

  • > Why couldn’t another option, like allowing occasional use of the church,
    be entertained? After all, Saint Ann’s is not just a church, but is
    also a recognized shrine. That means people will come to visit, if
    permitted. Even in the absence of a regular weekly Mass, people would
    want to be married and eulogized there, perhaps because of family
    connections to the parish. 
    Tifereth Israel, a Reform Judaism congregation in suburban Cleveland, uses their former synagogue in Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood for special events and high holy day overflow services.  However, It’s the wealthiest of Cleveland’s many Jewish congregations — it makes Beth Zion seem like a workingman’s shul in comparison — so it could afford to keep and maintain it.  Other Jewish congregations weren’t so collectively well-off. They usually sold their former University Circle-area synagogues to up-and-coming Christian congregations — mostly AME, Baptist, and non-denominational.
    There’s many other magnificent Catholic churches that are a stone’s throw away from St. Ann.  St. Adalbert now serves as a special events center of sorts to St. John Kanty — the same role RaChaCha suggests for St. Ann.  Beyond the boosts from mass mobs and C&E, St. Stan’s, Corpus Christi, and St. John Kanty depend heavily on special events to keep the doors open to their struggling congregations.

    The scraps of old neighborhood nostalgia are already spread thin among three nearby parishes and a decommissioned basilica. There’s very few people alive who have the same kind of nostalgic connection to the “old” St. Ann.  Those who were a part of the “new” parish couldn’t fill the pews when it was open, much as they tried. Buffalo’s 1% are spread very thin among the pews during peak nostalgia seasons.  The Diocese of Buffalo is one of the most conservative in the country, and they saddle down old church buildings and sites with post-deconsecration  conditions and covenants that are far more restrictive than other dioceses.
    tl;dr: It’s probably not feasible, because the spare change and nostalgia that now keeps old Polonia’s parishes on life support is already spread too thin.  🙁

  • Sabres00

    If you look at that sign quick it looks like Satan.

  • neverchange

    Dan Blather Temple Beth Zion seem IS a workingman’s shul. It hasn’t been the type of synagogue that you think it is for over 15 years.

  • RaChaCha

    Take your time.

  • RaChaCha

    Reasonable thinkage, there. But keep in mind that Saint Ann’s church is one of the largest, most “cathedral”-like churches in Buffalo and Western New York. Hands-down, it’s the most prominent landmark on Broadway. And it has one of the finest interiors (see the calendar article). Those things alone make the building and the architecture extra-special, and worthy of a stabilization and phased restoration effort (face it: in a weak-market city, everything is phased — just look at the ongoing project that is Shea’s) supported, in some ways, by the entire community. The community can provide support via foundation funding, grant funding, donations, etc., that can flow through a separate “friends” organization. That’s the model being used at Corpus Christi.
    Also: something not in the article, but Saint Ann’s school was once one of the largest in North America. So even though many people have moved on, many people also have ties specifically to Saint Ann’s church and school. There is a broad legacy base there that may be motivated to help out financially, if asked. From the same base there will also be many who want to be married or eulogized at Saint Ann’s specifically, because of legacy ties.
    Clearly the neighborhood has seen better days. But, as Franczyk points out above, there are also brighter days ahead.

  • RaChaCha

    Reasonable thinkage, there. But keep in mind that Saint Ann’s church is one of the largest, most “cathedral”-like churches in Buffalo and Western New York. Hands-down, it’s the most prominent landmark on Broadway. And it has one of the finest interiors (see the calendar article). Those things alone make the building and the architecture extra-special, and worthy of a stabilization and phased restoration effort (face it: in a weak-market city, everything is phased — just look at the ongoing project that is Shea’s) supported, in some ways, by the entire community. The community can provide support via foundation funding, grant funding, donations, etc., that can flow through a separate “friends” organization. That’s the model being used at Corpus Christi.
    Also: something not in the article, but Saint Ann’s school was once one of the largest in North America. So even though many people have moved on, many people also have ties specifically to Saint Ann’s church and school. There is a broad legacy base there that may be motivated to help out financially, if asked. From the same base there will also be many who want to be married or eulogized at Saint Ann’s specifically, because of legacy ties.
    Clearly the neighborhood has seen better days. But, as Franczyk points out above, there are also brighter days ahead.

  • foreverbflo

    Shame on the Catholic Diocese on this issue. There is absolutely no other excuse. Shame on them. Where is the true community and civic leadership and passion? Where? 
    Abandoning this beautiful historic religious and community icon is nothing more than a SLAP and SPIT in the face of those devoted craftsman, community leaders, church patrons, and so on…. that put so much in to this structure generations ago. 
    I am embarrassed as a citizen and as an activist and business owner on the east side.  Shame on the diocese. Just raise the dang $$ – or show us you are putting SOME effort in to doing so!!!! Take an active role/interest for your community and your “flock”.

  • foreverbflo

    Shame on the Catholic Diocese on this issue. There is absolutely no other excuse. Shame on them. Where is the true community and civic leadership and passion? Where? 
    Abandoning this beautiful historic religious and community icon is nothing more than a SLAP and SPIT in the face of those devoted craftsman, community leaders, church patrons, and so on…. that put so much in to this structure generations ago. 
    I am embarrassed as a citizen and as an activist and business owner on the east side.  Shame on the diocese. Just raise the dang $$ – or show us you are putting SOME effort in to doing so!!!! Take an active role/interest for your community and your “flock”.

  • foreverbflo

    I do remember about 20+ years ago going to a sale of sorts the Rectory was having. On the third floor was this absolutely wonderful old library with thousands of seemingly ancient books. I remember buying some old history books. The Msgr was actually showing people around and taking the $ for the books. It was a grand and beautiful interior and probably still is. 
    It is sooo important to our WNY Heritage regardless of your religious affiliation or beliefs. At least we can just all support the structure, grandeur, history and remarkable craftsmanship. At least!

  • foreverbflo

    I do remember about 20+ years ago going to a sale of sorts the Rectory was having. On the third floor was this absolutely wonderful old library with thousands of seemingly ancient books. I remember buying some old history books. The Msgr was actually showing people around and taking the $ for the books. It was a grand and beautiful interior and probably still is. 
    It is sooo important to our WNY Heritage regardless of your religious affiliation or beliefs. At least we can just all support the structure, grandeur, history and remarkable craftsmanship. At least!

  • RaChaCha
    that enormous school you mentioned? it could be the salvation of st. ann’s.  isn’t there also a convent?
    i picture this: the church forms an llc (or other appropriate entity) and sells the school to the llc for $1. the llc in turn converts it to market-rate housing, using preservation tax credits.  the profits get plowed back into the church.  much like they did at lafayette presbyterian.

    disclaimer: not an attorney or real estate agent.

  • buffloonitick

    ‘I tried to place a ram and ewe smooching’

    trying to increase the flock?

  • buffloonitick

    ‘I tried to place a ram and ewe smooching’

    trying to increase the flock?

  • RaChaCha

    buffloonitick Glad ewe noticed.

  • RaChaCha

    grad94 Consideration of ideas like that would require both sides to be in a problem-solving mindset.

  • RaChaCha
    i’m sure you’re right, and it makes me really sad.

  • Captain Picard

    RaChaCha 
    lol

  • Captain Picard

    RaChaCha 
    lol

  • buffloonitick

    RaChaCha buffloonitick
    lol  i ‘herd’ that…

  • buffloonitick

    RaChaCha buffloonitick
    lol  i ‘herd’ that…

  • RaChaCha

    grad94 But on the other hand, one side already is. So that’s like being halfway there. Kinda sorta.