She stands almost in defiance, her shell showing the signs of battle against weather, age and neglect. A victor over attempts of vandals and hierarchy alike to tear her down, St. Ann’s Church at Emslie Street and Broadway remains after a century and a quarter as a monument to the dedicated immigrants who built her.
Many, like me, have personal attachments to her. My grandfather was one of the German carpenters who volunteered to work on her. It was at a social event at St. Ann’s that he met my Polish grandmother and wooed her. They wed in the newly completed church. Their children, and their children after them, were baptized under her dome. My mother and her siblings were taught in her school – in German at first and then English as World War I left its anti-German impact. My sisters and I all graduated from her halls. Her business school was the preparation forum for many of the city’s secretarial pool. My grandparents and parents were buried from her.
The fact that she survives today is a testament to the dedicated few who see her as not only a historic landmark, but an intricate part of their personal history and a leader in the development of the thriving metropolis that surrounds her.
The German Jesuits who founded her in 1858 could not have seen the influence she would have. From a German church and school, she evolved into a community center for the German immigrants and eventually welcomed the nearby Polish communities. From her stem parishes that evolved on the East Side of Buffalo, including St. Mary of Sorrows in 1870, Sacred Heart on Emslie in 1875, St. Agnes in 1883, St. Mary Magdalene in 1890, Holy Name of Jesus in 1896 and St. Joachim in 1905.
She struggled with, and comforted her parishioners during, two world wars. As her parishioners moved to the new communities of the suburbs after World War II, she welcomed an African-American community that was eventually engulfed in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. In 1964 a windstorm caused the capping of her two soaring spires. Two years later, her treasured pipe organ was gutted and sold for parts. The economic problems of the city in the 1970s and ’80s threatened her viability.
Her loyal parishioners continued to support her as she welcomed refugees from African countries. At the beginning of the 21st century, both the school and parish house were closed as the teaching nuns left. She seemed doomed to be closed. Only the direct intercession of the Vatican has kept hopes alive for her preservation.
Her glory days are the glory days of Buffalo. Her downfall reflects the demise of a city still struggling to survive and flourish. She is first and foremost a house of worship, a source of comfort and joy for her parishioners. In addition, she is a majestic building with irreplaceable art treasures that deserve to be preserved and admired.
Though her future may be uncertain, she will always remain a vital and elegant part of the history of Buffalo.