Call It a Church Revival ; When the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo Began Shuttering Churches in 2007, There Were Concerns the Vacant Buildings Would Lead to Blight. but since Then, 58 of the 74 Closed Churches Have Found New Roles in the Community

By Tokasz, Jay | The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY), December 23, 2012 | Go to article overview

Call It a Church Revival ; When the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo Began Shuttering Churches in 2007, There Were Concerns the Vacant Buildings Would Lead to Blight. but since Then, 58 of the 74 Closed Churches Have Found New Roles in the Community


Tokasz, Jay, The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)


The crucifix is gone, as are the large images of the Stations of the Cross that graced the walls of this former Catholic church in Buffalo's Lovejoy neighborhood.

Three massive statues, each weighing 2,000 pounds, have been added, along with colorful flags draped on the sanctuary's stone pillars.

The former St. Agnes Church has been functioning as a Buddhist temple for more than three years now, but aside from a few obvious changes, the space remains largely as it was when Catholics used it to celebrate Masses.

The structure is one of 58 former Catholic churches in Western New York that have taken on new uses since 2007, when the Diocese of Buffalo launched its historic reorganization of parishes.

The diocese has closed 74 churches over the past five years, but some of those are being used by parishes for other purposes and are not for sale. Nine churches remain on the market.

The sales generated $12.6?million for Catholic parishes that remained open and at least partially eased concerns that many of the buildings would be left vacant, leading to blight.

Diocesan officials said they are satisfied with the quality of the new uses.

"I think we've just been very lucky," said Sister Regina Murphy, diocesan director of research and planning. "A lot of these churches were smaller and were very easily adaptable to other circumstances."

Churches have been turned into museums, single-family homes and an editing studio. The Town of Sheridan in Chautauqua County is using the former St. John Bosco Church as a town hall and court.

Many of the Catholic sanctuaries are now worship spaces for other religious groups ? Church of God in Christ, Anglican, Baptist, Muslim and evangelical Christian, to name a few.

In some cases, Catholic human services agencies have stepped in to convert buildings for their needs.

Dennis C. Walczyk, Catholic Charities' chief executive officer, said the agency made a strategic decision about six years ago to focus on reusing Catholic church properties when starting new programs or moving established programs.

The agency has purchased more former Catholic church properties than any other buyer, snapping up the former St. Mary of Sorrows on Buffalo's East Side; the former St. Barbara parish hall in Lackawanna; the former Nativity Church, rectory and school on the West Side; and the former convent of St. Joseph Church in North Tonawanda.

"The buildings are in neighborhoods that we need to be in, and the properties have been in really good condition," Walczyk said.

Transforming a church

The former St. Barnabas Church in Cheektowaga was transformed into the new campus of the Cantalician Center for Learning, a local agency dedicated to serving children and adults with developmental disabilities.

Cubicles replaced pews inside the former sanctuary, which is now home to the agency's administrative offices. A school and parish hall were gutted for the center's school-age program, and an addition scheduled to be completed in the spring will house an early- childhood center.

The 15-acre property turned out to be the ideal fit for the Cantalician Center, which will be able to consolidate all of its operations in a busy area of Cheektowaga on George Urban Boulevard near Dick Road, across the street from a Wegmans.

The agency has Catholic roots, having been founded in 1956 by the Felician sisters. It had been running programs from two locations, one in Buffalo, the other in Eggertsville ? and the two outdated buildings required an estimated $20?million in improvements.

The St. Barnabas property offered the chance to start fresh, without a new-build price tag. A new building would have cost about $20?million. The bill for the building reuse project, including the $2.7?million purchase price, renovation costs and new construction, is expected to come in at $16?million.

"It was as if was meant to be," said Terese M. …

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