The Dismantling of St. Gerard Church

I have not heard much flak about last Saturday’s Buffalo News article regarding the possibility of moving St. Gerard church to Norcross, Georgia, brick by brick (then again, I was out of town all weekend).  Tim Tielman, of course, is against the removal of this historic building.  To Tim, every building built during Buffalo’s glory days is historic.  His solution to the vacant Catholic churches, many in desperate need of repair:  “Work a bit harder [about how to reuse them]”.

I’ve done a 180 in my opinion of Tielman and his Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, whom I originally respected as someone looking out for Buffalo’s heritage.  Now I just think he’s an obstructionist.  And reactionary, someone living entirely in the past.  And full of screeds but no real solutions.  An attention addict.

The Catholic Church, I would hope, is about the people and not the places.  Telling the Church to think harder about how to save empty buildings in a locale that has lost half its population is tantamount to telling them to spend money and resources where they least benefit the community they have dedicated their lives to serve.  Dereliction results to half the buildings in an area that needs half its building space.  We only have so many Ani DiFrancos and an incredible number of vacant churches – and other historic but decrepit buildings – and hardly any money anywhere to save even a fraction.  Tielman needs to get real.

The Catholic diocese may have a unique (and rare!) opportunity to see one of its buildings take on a new life, and I for one would love to see a piece of historic Buffalo in the Atlanta area.  The London Bridge is still the London Bridge, even if it spans an artificial water channel in Arizona.

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to travel throughout the country and find Buffalo heritage everywhere?

7 Responses to The Dismantling of St. Gerard Church

  1. Kevin Phalen says:

    I fully agree. If some one, Mr. Tielman included, wants to save these structures, they should help find a way to come up with the funds to preserve them. It’s so easy for some to push their opinion and will on others to preserve yet give no insight or aid in that preservation. And, preserve to what end? Is Buffalo’s future to be a giant museum of what once was? These structure’s primary value, once no longer in their intended use, is in sentimentality. Twenty-five or more years from now, when those who lived, worked, or worshipped in these places, are gone, no one will care to offer a penny to their upkeep.

    Also, “creative re-use” is not always an answer. These grand edifices were built on the pennies of those who sacrificed for to have their own house of worship. To see a structure such as St. Gerard’s converted to a brewery, community center, or, worse yet, a storage facility (as some preservationists have suggested) would be an insult to past worshippers.

    How wonderful, indeed, to see a building such as St. Gerard’s continue to serve it’s purpose as designed, wherever that may be. I look forward to the day when I can visit St. Gerard’s in Norcross and hear the resounding hymns of praise once again emanate from within it’s walls.

    If Mr. Tielman, et al. care so much, their efforts would be better spent luring industry and population back to Buffalo so that it’s structures may once again be used.

  2. District 107 Citizen says:

    I grew up in St. Gerard’s parish and I witnessed the general downward slide of that neighborhood first hand. But to think that “These structure’s primary value, once no longer in their intended use, is in sentimentality. Twenty-five or more years from now, when those who lived, worked, or worshipped in these places, are gone, no one will care to offer a penny to their upkeep” is deeply flawed.

    The modern concept of cultural heritage is related to the development of contemporary society, its values and requirements. It is through the preservation of architecture in the landscape that ultimately will serve as a basis for economic and environmental sustainability and development. If you remove the essential elements of the street scape the street dies. By removing a major monument of the east side just furthers the depressed nature of that area. But to find alternatives for it. to keep it in view where the everyday people who have no connection to that church, other than walk or ride a car or bus by it, I am certain are slightly more sure of their place when walking by it, or slightly more rooted to the area. Ultimately it can act as a catalyst for change, for the neighborhood to rally around and rebuild. If you just continue to tear down or remove to some other part of the country the places that help to shape a community, the community becomes adrift. Culture gets muted and the vibrancy of the street ends.

  3. Paul says:

    District 107 Citizen,

    To what extent do you wait for an economically viable use for the church? Do you wait until it is no longer economically viable to repair, as happened to Transfiguration Church on Sycamore? Does wishful thinking or a great longing for yesterday improve its energy efficiency or make its interior more interesting to alternate use partisans?

    The neighborhood was adrift LONG before the church became an anachronism to the area; its presence will not save the neighborhood from further decline any more than a Tim Horton’s will. To blame the presence or absence of the church for the death of the neighborhood is downright silly. Viable neighborhoods are NEVER about the buildings, they are about the people who live there. The buildings are nothing more than an historic reminder of what once was and often they become an melancholic obstacle to future growth.

    Architectural heritage is a fine and honorable goal to pursue but one cannot allow it to blind oneself to the ugly truths of urban decay: If you really want to preserve the historical context of the community, then you need to raise up the people in the community first.

    Best Regards,


  4. Lisa says:

    Alumni of St Gerard’s are planning a Reunion
    In 2009!
    Please Come to the
    St Gerard Parish School and Neighborhood Reunion
    To Benefit Gerard Place

    We are looking for names of people to invite for more information call:
    Amy (Mazur) Griggs
    Class of “84”

  5. Hello. I have been trying to follow the St. Gerard Church to Atlanta story closely, because one of the three churches in my parish (located just outside of Pittsburgh, PA) would similarly be suitable for “preservation by relocation”. Can you tell me how the project is going? Has a final decision been made to allow St. Gerard Church to be dis-mantled and shipped to Atlanta? Thank you for your help.
    May 13, 2009

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