The fate of an iconic Catholic church on Buffalo’s East Side appears gloomy. A long-awaited structural analysis indicates the building needs as much as $12.4 million in repairs.
St. Ann’s Church at Broadway and Emslie, shut down for the past year after being deemed a potential safety hazard, cannot be opened again without the costly fixes.
“Unfortunately, until the critical work could be done, the worship space is not available,” said the Rev. Roy T. Herberger, pastor of SS. Columba & Brigid Parish, which is responsible for maintaining St. Ann’s.
Herberger was scheduled to meet Wednesday evening with members of a small committee that has been working for years to keep the church open.
The report identified deferred maintenance and several questionable design issues as major factors behind the deterioration of the church, which was built in 1886.
“What you’re seeing is a structure that is saying, ‘I’ve done the best I can do,’ ” said Hank Balling of Arbour Construction Management, which the diocese hired along with Siracuse Engineers to conduct the analysis. “There’s some serious work there to be done.”
The most pressing issues include:
• Fixing gutter leaks that resulted in water intruding into the church’s masonry walls, causing water damage to interior walls and windows.
• Repointing failed masonry joints and replacing broken face stones.
• Reconstructing large areas of both towers. The mortar that is supposed to bind stones together has disintegrated into sand, making them essentially “dry stacked.” In addition, about 30 percent of the stones were laid incorrectly, with their grains running vertically instead of horizontally, resulting in cracking and water infiltration.
The church’s west tower is particularly hazardous.
“Because of the widespread nature of the problems with the west tower, there is a real possibility large portions of the face stone and corner buttresses could fall onto the low roof of the side aisle. Such a large collapse would certainly shatter enough of the wood roof to result in stones falling into the church seating area,” the report noted.
The church – which features one of the largest sanctuaries in the city, intricately carved woodwork and massive German-made stained-glass windows – is considered an architectural gem.
St. Ann’s parish was merged with SS. Columba & Brigid in 2007, as part of a massive diocesan restructuring of parishes that shuttered several dozen churches across Western New York.
St. Ann’s Church remained open as a “temporary worship site” until former Bishop Edward U. Kmiec ordered it closed in 2011.
A parishioner appeal to the Vatican delayed the closure, but a preliminary investigation in 2012 of the building’s condition revealed safety concerns, prompting Kmiec to suspend all operations at the church.
On the low end, the repairs would cost about $8.2 million, the study found.
By comparison, proponents of a proposal to move St. Gerard Church from Buffalo to Norcross, Ga., where a thriving parish would reuse the building, estimate the cost of deconstructing, transporting and rebuilding at $16 million.
The plan for St. Gerard has been in the fundraising stage for more than four years.
Repairs to St. Ann’s would have to be paid with grants and private gifts, probably from outside of Western New York, said Herberger.
“It definitely would not come from parish funds or funds from the diocese,” he said.
Even if the money surfaced, it would take years to complete the work at St. Ann’s.
Bishop Richard J. Malone has yet to decide on future steps to take with the church.