A comprehensive engineering study of St. Ann Church is expected to be completed within a few weeks and will help determine the fate of the ornate 1886 edifice on Broadway at Emslie Street.
Arbour Construction Management and Siracuse Engineers, both Buffalo firms, are currently examining the building and trying to determine a fix for structural problems that prompted then-Bishop Edward U. Kmiec in April to suspend all activities inside the church.
Kmiec has since retired and been replaced by Bishop Richard J. Malone.
“They’re doing a comprehensive engineering study, taking a look at the interior as well as the exterior of the church,” said Catholic Diocese of Buffalo spokesman Kevin A. Keenan. “Once that report comes back, we’ll sit down with Father Roy Herberger and talk about the content of the report.”
Herberger is administrator of St. Ann, which is considered a “temporary worship site” while the Vatican considers an appeal by parishioners to keep the church open.
Kmiec decided in 2007 to merge St. Ann with nearby SS. Columba & Brigid, as part of a massive diocesan restructuring of parishes that shuttered several dozen churches across Western New York. A small group of dedicated parishioners successfully forestalled the closure for years and had been worshipping there weekly until the emergency suspension.
Through the summer, many of those parishioners continued to celebrate Masses together outside, on church property. The Masses are now being held inside the former St. Ann Convent building nearby.
A group of parishioners committed to restoring the church was until recently still able to go inside and check up on the property.
But the building’s locks were changed about two weeks ago and those parishioners haven’t been allowed inside during the inspection process. The construction and engineering firms have been using lifts to examine the exterior of the Gothic revival church, which is fashioned from limestone.
Some parishioners were worried St. Ann might be headed the way of other glorious Catholic churches in the area that suffered serious structural problems and were razed.
“We’re anxious, concerned, worried that they might come back and say it can’t be fixed,” said parishioner Ronald Bates. “We’re very concerned about that.”
Parishioner Martin Ederer also acknowledged “a sense of dread” in the congregation.
“I guess at this point we’re kind of stuck in a wait-and-see mode,” he said. “Maybe when this report comes out we’ll have a few more answers.”
Kmiec issued a decree to reduce St. Ann Church to “secular use” on July 27, 2011. But as long as a formal appeal is being considered, the decree cannot take effect, according to Catholic canon law.
The diocese in 2008 had a potential buyer for the church in the Buffalo Religious Arts Center, a nonprofit organization that collects art and artifacts from defunct houses of worship in Western New York.
But the center’s president has maintained that she prefers to see St. Ann remain as an active Catholic worship site.