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CMC in Buffalo will illuminate diocese’s history

By Patrick J. Buechi
Western New York Catholic
Diocese of Buffalo

Buffalo, New York, is a city of tradition and faith. Churches more than 150 years old remain standing, reflecting their Polish, Italian, German and Irish roots. Masses are celebrated in those native tongues as well as the traditional Latin.

As the host city for the 2015 Catholic Media Conference, the people of Buffalo wish to share their traditions and faith with fellow communicators, reporters, photographers and editors from across the country. The conference, as always, will have keynote speakers and workshops to inspire and inform participants of the latest techniques of paper and electronic journalism. What will make this year special is the rich history of Western New York’s faith community.

 St. Joseph Cathedral

During the conference, participants will have the opportunity to attend Mass in three of Buffalo’s oldest and distinctive churches, St. Joseph Cathedral, the gothic St. Louis and the Jesuit-run St. Michael.

When the Diocese of Buffalo separated from the Archdiocese of New York in 1847, only three permanent churches and eight temporary structures served the Catholic population of approximately 10,000. Bishop John Timon, CM, Buffalo’s first shepherd, used St. Patrick Church as a temporary cathedral.

In 1849, Bishop Timon went to Rome to report to Pope Pius IX on the progress of the diocese. He used this opportunity to visit many of Europe’s churches and to raise money to help build a cathedral in Buffalo. The pope suggested that the diocese be placed under the patronage of St. Joseph. Donations of money, sacred objects and art were given to Bishop Timon by the pope, the kings of Bavaria and Naples, and other European notables. King Ludwig of Bavaria gave stained glass windows depicting the birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, which remain in the sanctuary of St. Joseph Cathedral today.

The first services were conducted Aug. 21, 1855.

St. Joseph’s underwent renovations in the late 1990s during the episcopacy of Bishop Henry J. Mansell in preparation for the sesquicentennial anniversary of the diocese and the celebration of the new millennium. The interior was painted, the gothic arches gilded and a new floor installed.

“They had just started renovating before I got here,” said Patrick McPartland, photographer for Buffalo’s diocesan newspaper, Western New York Catholic. “It seemed dreary before the renovations. They had the red carpet at the altar that just absorbed the light coming into the church. Now they have that nice white marble, so as light comes in through the stained glass windows and the rose window, it bounces all over the place – the white walls, the white ceiling, the white altar. Just a little bit of light will illuminate that whole structure. It’s brighter and more welcoming now.”

A 100-year-old reliquary containing the relics of 366 saints hangs in the Our Lady Chapel of the cathedral.

St. Louis Parish, founded in 1829, has the distinction of being the oldest parish in the Diocese of Buffalo, but the current church is the fourth building used. The first church structure was hand-hewn from lumber and opened in 1832 as Lamb of God Church. A brick structure followed in 1843, dedicated to St. Louis, the ninth king of France and patron of Louis Le Couteulx. This building was destroyed by fire in 1885. Parishioners worshipped in a temporary third church for four years while a much larger church was being built. The cornerstone of this church was laid on May 29, 1886, and the first services were held on Aug. 25, 1889, the feast of St. Louis.

The church is designed in the continental Gothic style of the 14th century and the exterior is of Medina red sandstone. The Seth Thomas clock on the exterior of the tower was the gift of Elbridge G. Spaulding, U.S. congressman during the Lincoln administration, who lived across the street from St. Louis. The marble high altar was a gift of an early benefactor of the church.

“At sunrise and sunset that red brick just glows and it looks awesome,” said McPartland.

St. Michael’s sits on property originally earmarked for the cathedral but was offered to the Jesuits on condition that they build a church for the Germans and a college. St. Michael Church was destroyed by fire caused by lightning the night of May 23, 1962. Until the church was rebuilt, services were held at the Town Casino across the street. The current structure copies the original church almost exactly. It even uses the original stone walls. None of the interior statues and paintings were replaced, leaving it with a simplicity that parishioners and visitors enjoy.

St. Joseph Cathedral

The staff of the Western New York Catholic is currently finalizing plans for the three Masses to be held during the Catholic Media Conference.

“We’re hoping to show the bright side of the Diocese of Buffalo, hoping to share our traditions, our faith really, the faith of the Diocese of Buffalo. We’re hoping people will see the wonderful gifts the Diocese of Buffalo has to offer,” said Rick Franusiak, managing editor of Buffalo’s diocesan newspaper, the Western New York Catholic.

The 2015 Catholic Media Conference, hosted by the Catholic Press Association, will be held in June 24-26. The first day will include master camps and conclude with a welcome dinner. The other two days will include workshops, meals and an awards banquet. Registration will open in February.

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