Not all heroes wear capes. The hundreds and even thousands who have “mobbed” churches across Buffalo for the last eight years have contributed at least a one-time boost in attendance, fundraising, and good spirits to churches that remain a vital presence in often overlooked, underserved neighborhoods.
Yes, it has been almost eight years since Mass Mob I at St. Adalbert’s Basilica in Polonia, and this Sunday the Mass Mob returns to another prominent Polonia parish. Corpus Christi Church is not the oldest in Polonia; that honor goes to St. Stanislaus, considered the “mother church” as I wrote here. But today it is probably the most prominent and best known, given its location at a strategic crossroads.
And not just the cool accident of being at an intersection neatly matching the name of Superman’s alter ego, but between the neighborhood’s two anchor assets: the Broadway Market and the Buffalo Central Terminal.
There are many good sources on the history of Corpus Christi, such as here and here. Buffalo Architecture and History has a link to an illustrated history of the church and the church complex even merits its own Wikipedia page. Broadway-Fillmore Alive has a copy of a tour booklet that was put together by the children of Corpus Christi School in 1974 as part of the church’s 75th anniversary.
One of the “central” events in the early history of the parish was the construction of the Buffalo Central Terminal nearby. According to the illustrated history,
During this period of completion of the building’s interior, the parish’s rate of growth declined, a direct result of the construction of the New York Central Terminal, several blocks away. To clear ample space for it, almost 300 homes were demolished. In 1929 the parish population decreased from 2,000 families to 1,750.
And in modern times, much of the story of the church has revolved around efforts by parishioners and friends to keep the church open and fund restoration and repair. This chapter spans two decades, beginning with attempts by the Diocese to close the church in the early 2000s.
As I’ve learned during my eight years of involvement with the Buffalo Mass Mob, most of the churches that have remained open and active despite dramatic drops in registrations and donations have organized and developed some kind of strategy for countering these realities. Corpus Christi is not only one of those churches, it serves as a case study or even model that other churches can and should adopt.
Forming the Friends of Corpus Christi was the key. This dedicated group has worked to keep the church open, recruiting a religious order to oversee it. They also worked to get the church listed as a landmark, something the Diocese has discouraged at other churches. They have independently raised funds to make substantial repairs, such as these undertaken last year at the height of the pandemic.
You can help the Friends of Corpus Christi by staying after the Mass Mob for a delicious chicken dinner in the fellowship hall behind the church (you know, the one with the bowling alleys in it – no, really), which is part of the church’s annual Harvest Festival.
During the summer, Corpus Christi celebrated the 114th anniversary of laying the cornerstone. If the Friends of Corpus Christi have anything to do with it, the church will survive to see its 228th anniversary.