Buffalo Mass Mob
As a Buffalo Mass Mob cofounder, I get to experience the religious beauty in which Buffalo boasts, one church at a time. Every church that we visit is so special in their own ways. We’ve mobbed the East Side, West Side, North Buffalo, and South Buffalo. Upon arriving, you can feel the love, pride, and hard work that the parishioners put into their churches on a daily basis. The architecture, languages, and music often vary depending on which neighborhood you’re in because the churches have beautifully adapted to the people and cultures from their community. Another thing in common, is how welcoming each church has been to every one of the “mobsters” who visit their church to worship with them.
Since 2013, our objectives have been to raise awareness that these churches exist. Why? …because so many are tucked down side streets from when the definition of a neighborhood was fundamentally different. We also hope to fill the coffers, re-energize, to pray together, and possibly encourage dormant parishioners to return to church. We utilize social media to spread the word to help us #PackThePews and then every night before a Mass Mob, we cross our fingers and say a prayer that people come! Without the people, we would not be successful!
While driving down Niagara, I made a right-hand turn down Forest and then a right-hand turn down Dewitt. Almost immediately, I was halted by a “Do Not Enter” sign. I had to turn down Pooley Place. But this was all ok because before turning left, the most charming church was staring right at me. Tucked away in this little Grant Street neighborhood of Buffalo’s West Side sits Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Coronation will be Buffalo Mass Mob’s 21st church to be mobbed.
On November 3, 1950, the Courier Express (p 19) announced the prospects of a new Catholic parish and church establishment and it would be named in honor of the proclamation of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin by Pope Pius XII in Rome. Due to overcrowding, “the new parish will absorb the northern part of Annunciation Parish (Lafayette & Grant).” At the time, Annunciation was one of the largest parishes in the eight-county diocese with about 12,000 parishioners. “Geographically, Coronation parish will take about one-third of Annunciation parish.”
According to Coronation’s Silver Jubilee 1950-1975: “On November 19, 1950, the first Mass was held at the Allen Terry Theater on the corner of Grant Street and Potomac Avenue. For six years the parishioners attended mass at the theater.” The portable altar, organ, and other supplies were kept in the homes of parishioners. Every Sunday, all items had to be picked up, prepared, and then returned to their various storage places. From the inception of the parish, everyone contributed to make Coronation the success that it was during the construction of the building. Twelve faithful people checked the envelopes and other paperwork, home bingo parties raised money for the organ and for outfits for the altar boys, activities bought the crib for Christmas, lawn fete booths were built by parishioners at their homes, and Parishioner, Mr. Charles Panepinto, washed the streets in preparation for lawn fetes. In addition, ham dinners, spaghetti dinners, and parties were held in local halls such as Ailanger and Cadet Hall to fundraise money.
The parish’s 1,200 families celebrated their very first Mass in their new 600 seat church on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1956. Their school was completed in September 1956, a few months prior, just in time to begin the school year with their 400 students. The church, school, and convent were designed by Mortimer E. Murphy, Sr. on the undeveloped land in which the diocese acquired. “The exterior construction is of buff brick with Indiana limestone trim. The facade above the main entrance is adorned with a striking stain glass window, depicting the Crowning of Our Lady by her Son after her Assumption into heaven. Other Stain glass windows in the body of the church depict the mysteries of the Rosary and various apparitions of the Blessed Mother.” The cornerstone was blessed and laid by Bishop Joseph A. Burke on November 22, 1956.
Interesting Coronation Fact: Coronation became the “First Parish in the World” with the use of credit card systems for receiving contributions. Interest in the concept was generated around the world.
It was important to Rev. Eugene M. Radon, Pastor 1972, to continue “the tradition of Coronation, in building the spiritual as well as the physical community and family we have.”
Spirit Story ~ George Richardson aka Whiskers:
George Richardson, an avowed agnostic, had a gray speckled beard that grew long and full, “growing wildly around his face.” He lived in the property next door to the church and was known as the church’s guardian angel. “He was always around to change lights, watch the boilers, run errands, and stand in the snow while the children were being dismissed to see that they were properly buttoned up.” He refused to get paid.
According to the Buffalo Evening News (June 25, 1977), Whiskers lost his right arm in an industrial accident when he was a young man. Upon his mother’s death, he became depressed. The parish that opened on the undeveloped land next door to his house was a savior to him. “It made him feel useful, trusted and appreciated again.” Whiskers was a simple man. “Parish regulars rarely saw him in anything but overalls. He said he was saving his suit for his funeral.”
It was a great loss when he passed away on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 1973. His memory lives on because he gave his crumbling 120 year old Civil War-vintage property to the parish. The house was believed to be unrepairable and would need to be demolished for land use; however, the inspection found promise. In addition to the home’s poor condition, Richardson had “accumulated more than 100 notices for violations of city building codes. As he began spending more of his time with the perish, he neglected the repairs on his own home.” He made this decision to focus on the church because it made him happy. Whiskers was a “proud and stubborn man who helped many but refused to accept help in return.”
The house had to be gutted and insulated and a bathroom was installed. “The basement was dug out and dropped so as to give us a 6’3” clearance. Drain tiles were laid, then covered with stone, and a concrete floor poured.” It also needed new flooring, heating installed, plumbing, and electrical work. All of the labor to rehab this house was donated and completed on Saturdays and evenings.
After three years of hard work from the community, Coronation held a Mass of Thanksgiving to bless the home as the church’s new rectory.
Join Buffalo Mass Mob on May 7, 2017 to see first-hand how this humble and dedicated parish lives today.
May 7, 2017 at 9am
348 Dewitt Street – Parking behind the building
Visit www.BuffaloMassMob.org for more information about what we do, about Coronation, and about parking, arrival times, etc. We hope that you’ll #PackThePews with us! See you Sunday!
Dewitt St. near Forest Ave., church to be erected soon. Courier Express Nov 3, 1950 p. 19 Restoring old Dewitt St house for church instills pride. BEN 6-25-77; B5
Coronation of the BVM Silver Jubilee 1950-1975
History of Coronation Parish
News article and letter
Special Collections Pamphlet File – Grosvenor Room