One city lawmaker vowed civil disobedience to stall the wrecking ball at St. Ann’s Church, located at Broadway and Emslie Street,
And two nuns who are sisters recalled the lives they touched as teachers at St. Ann’s School.
On Friday the spirited campaign to save the East Side church gained momentum as 40 supporters rallied at St. Columba-Brigid at Eagle and Hickory streets. Among them were preservationists and parishioners.
“One of the most important jobs I have is ensuring communities are not ruined regardless of whether it’s by an absentee landlord of a two-family dwelling or a multimillion-dollar organization that happens to own a house of God,” said Darius G. Pridgen, Ellicott District Common Council member and pastor at True Bethel Baptist Church.
Pridgen went on to say that he would chain himself to the building “to keep St. Ann’s alive and well in the community. I’ve never been arrested, at least not that I remember,” he joked. “But this is my commitment to the community.”
Since 2007, when St. Ann’s was ordered to merge with nearby SS. Columba-Brigid Church as part of a downsizing by the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, a band of parishioners has mobilized, determined to save their church. They were successful in stalling the closing of St. Ann’s for years, but in late 2012, all activities at the church were suspended because of the building’s dangerous structural condition.
The Buffalo Preservation Board has nominated St. Ann’s for local landmark status, reported board chairman Paul McDonnell, who attended the rally. On Wednesday, the measure will be before the Common Council, he said.
“Is the building worthy of landmark status? It is a landmark and has been since it was built by the German community,” said McDonnell, who listed some of the criteria used to determine landmark designation.
“Was it designed by a prominent architect? Does it exemplify a particular style of architecture with fine craftsmanship? Is it unique, and do people consider it a landmark? What land-marking does is open up state, federal and local funding,” McDonnell said.
McDonnell pointed to the restoration success of Corpus Christi Church on Clark and Kent streets. The church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007, and has since benefitted from state grant funding that helped restore its trademark cupola.
Ronald Bates, who attended St. Ann’s grammar school, pointed out his former teachers, Sister Rosemary Anthony, 82, and Sister Donna Anthony, 78. Both belonged to the Sisters of St. Francis from Stella Niagara.
Sister Rosemary was principal of St. Ann’s school from 1970 to 1988. Before that she taught at the school from 1952 to 1955 and from 1958 to 1961. Sister Donna was a sixth-grade teacher from 1978 to 1988. She also taught in Ohio schools as well as teaching one year at St. Benedict’s School in Amherst. Sister Donna retired in June after working part time 18 years as a teacher’s assistant for the Buffalo Board of Education. She remains a fervent backer of the church and its people.
“I just love the people,” Sister Donna said. “They are sincere and real. It’s such a beautiful church. You can feel the presence of God. Everyone gets along, all the nationalities and races. We miss being with each other.”
The parishioners dedicated to saving St. Ann’s are a tenacious bunch.
“When they said we couldn’t go into the church, we had Mass outside behind the church,” recalled Sister Donna. “Then it got so cold, we went to the convent but there was no heat or electricity. Then John Sawicz [a member of the Save St. Ann’s Committee] renovated the school basement and we had Mass there until we were told in April we could not be anyplace on the premises.”
Today about 40 parishioners loyal to St. Ann’s gather on the second Sunday of each month for Mass at St. Columba-Brigid. Bates, who is a regular at the monthly service, attributed the group’s determination to the sisters who taught at St. Ann’s School.
“They taught us what to do and to never give up,” said Bates, who is 71. “That’s our motto.”