Thursday, September 17, 2009

Georgia pastor visits St. Gerard’s, seeks support for moving it south

Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News
The Rev. Francis X. Mazur, right, Wednesday points out details of the former St. Gerard Catholic Church at Delavan and Bailey avenues to the Rev. David M.Dye of Georgia.

By Michelle Kearns

St. Gerard Catholic Church, open for a century before the doors shut after last year’s final Mass, has attracted a priest now raising $15 million to take the place apart this spring and rebuild it outside Atlanta.

Wednesday, church and architectural representatives from Georgia were in Buffalo to build public support and attend an evening forum about church reuse, organized by the nonprofit Preservation Buffalo Niagara and held in Unitarian Universalist Church on Elmwood Avenue.

Beforehand, the Rev. David Dye, pastor of Mary Our Queen Catholic Church in Norcross, Ga., stopped to see St. Gerard’s on the corner of East Delavan and Bailey avenues.

This was his third trip to the city. It is sad, he said, to think about moving the church.

The interior, with its twelve monolithic granite columns, contains fifteen murals depicting the fifteen mysteries of the rosary lining the clerestory of the nave . The arcade of the nave is ringed with twenty-six rondos depicting the Popes and twenty-eight depicting the Blessed Virgin. A coffered ceiling frames the semidome of the apse which features a fresco of The Coronation

“It makes me even more sad to see this place empty when it could be in Atlanta filled with people,” he said standing by the white marble altar that will take an estimated five days to dismantle.

In his congregation of 750 families, people like the idea of moving St. Gerard’s to Atlanta. The city burned in the Civil War. Old buildings are rare.

1902-2008: Final Mass celebrated on Jan 1, 2008

“It’s kind of like being an organ donor,” Dye said.

The discussion he later joined as a panelist before an audience of 50 was intended to start a public conversation about how to reuse churches.

“I think all of us can apply ourselves for that planning for the future,” said Tanya Werbizky, of the Preservation League. She talked about an 1880s train station moved from the tracks to become a museum in her home town of Vestal near Binghamton.

“We try to keep an open mind,” she said of options between restoration and demolition.

One local preservationist who did not attend the session said he was “apoplectic” about a local church moving so far away. “That church belongs at Bailey and East Delavan and nowhere else,” said Tim Tielman, executive director of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo. The corner, where the former church pastor often found empty crack baggies on the sidewalk, needs “grace notes,” he said.

“They have some obligation to the people who donated money . . . People who saved up their nickels and dimes to build a community,” Tielman said of the German Catholics who built St. Gerard’s as a replica of St. Paul’s, outside Rome.

“Do you have a use for the church? Help me out,” said the Rev. Francis X. Mazur, the former pastor, when he heard the complaint.

The church now has small trees growing from the bell tower roof tiles and peeling paint over the stained-glass saints. The longer it stays empty, the more it will deteriorate, Mazur said.

Wednesday afternoon, Reese Buckner paused to look at the church from her car in a drugstore parking lot. Its imposing presence was a staple. She softened when she heard about the Georgia congregation and the plans to spend $500,000 to turn the church corner into a grassy park to be enjoyed by area residents.

“OK. Well, then it’s being used for a good purpose,” she said. “I like it all.”

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