This Sunday will be the 10th anniversary St. Ann’s German Mass, and you’re invited. This free event, to which all are welcomed regardless of faith, has become a touchstone of local German-American culture, and one of the few German-American cultural events held outside the usual Oktoberfest milieu. But in the decade spanned by this event, it has also become a celebration of the unique multi-cultural urban heritage of St. Ann’s Church and Shrine, and a show of support for the bi-racial parish family striving to keep their church open.
If you are unfamiliar with the situation at St. Ann’s Church and Shrine, check out this beautiful video created by local author and media personality Christina Abt in 2013.
The St. Ann’s German Mass will be held at 12:30PM at St. Louis Church, its home for the last few years since the Diocese ordered the doors locked at St. Ann’s. St. Louis Church, “The Mother Church of the Buffalo Diocese,” has a rich German heritage of its own. After the Mass, there will be an update on the situation with St. Ann’s Church and Shrine, and light refreshments. Don’t understand German? No problem. The readings will be in English.
Although founded by the German-American families who built St. Ann’s Church with their own labor, in the 20th Century St. Ann’s parish came to reflect the cultural and societal shifts of the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood. The neighborhood attracted all the “German-American” families: Polish-American, Italian-American, Jewish-American, African-American — the full melting pot. The neighborhood thrived, becoming one of the largest shopping districts in New York State, and so did St. Ann’s, home to one of the largest Catholic grade schools in the nation.
Although the neighborhood has suffered greatly from post-war out-migration, the St. Ann’s congregation retained and embraced its multi-cultural vibrancy. Before being ordered stopped by the Diocese, its Masses combined traditional and African-American forms of worship. The annual German Mass was originally suggested by a Jewish supporter of St. Ann’s, as a way to celebrate the church’s heritage. The sad adage about religion in America is that Sunday morning is our most segregated time of the week. One of the things I’ve most admired about the St. Ann’s congregation is that they not only bucked that trend but embraced its opposite — one of a precious few congregations in the Diocese to do so. For me, that is a primary reason why the closing of St. Ann’s and the scattering of its congregation should be opposed.
Aside from the German Mass’ special anniversary, this is a very important year for St. Ann’s. Several months ago, as I reported here, Common Council “fenced” with the Diocese over the fence in front of St. Ann’s. As I reported here, this led to a week-long series of developments, culminating in Common Council deciding to create a committee on closed churches. This is also, apparently, the year when the Vatican will consider the Diocese of Buffalo’s appeal of the Vatican’s order to allow the church to remain open — an order the Diocese still has not complied with.
The Vatican seems to be reminding American Catholics that churches and parishes were created to serve Catholics and their communities, and we can’t simply downsize based on economics alone, like plant closings in industry.
This also comes against the backdrop of Laudato Si, the Pope’s encyclical on the environment, which implores us all to stop soiling the planet, and to stop throwing things away. As I opined in an Artvoice cover story about St. Luke’s I wrote in January, I believe the Pope’s teaching applies to churches and parishes — which the Catholic church in North America got in the sad habit of abandoning in recent decades. And there are signs that mindset is changing, with churches having some success in appealing closings to the Vatican, most recently in the Diocese of New York. The Vatican seems to be reminding American Catholics that churches and parishes were created to serve Catholics and their communities, and we can’t simply downsize based on economics alone, like plant closings in industry.
All along Broadway, large buildings are being rehabbed.
And whatever the Catholic Church concludes about recycling and revitalizing St. Ann’s church, secular forces have been busily at work recycling and revitalizing the neighborhood all around her. All along Broadway, large buildings are being rehabbed. The Fillmore Forward is moving…forward. Just this week, the Governor announced funding for a detailed study of restoring a portion of Humboldt Parkway. UB Architecture and Planning is studying reuse of the Duffy silk mill down the road. And Cedarland Development is investing in several vacant buildings in the neighborhood — not only the landmark Eckhardt’s Department Store building at Broadway and Fillmore, but also a former German brewery directly across the street from St. Ann’s.
And especially noteworthy: the recent recognition of the amazing religious art at St. Luke’s, once nearly consigned to the dumpster, is a cautionary tale against “closing and disposing” our churches.
In addition to Sunday’s German Mass, you are invited to join the St. Ann’s Restoration Committee and the Buffalo Mass Mob for a “Rosary Mob” in front of St. Ann’s on May 7.
“Save Me” image credit: Christopher Byrd, Broadway-Fillmore Alive
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