Saint Stanislaus Church in Buffalo, NY – The “Mother Church of Polonia”
May 9, 2012
Last weekend I visited my family in Buffalo, NY, and I also attended my home church of St. Stanislaus (founded in 1873 by my great-great uncle, a Polish priest who was a leader in Buffalo’s diasporic community during the nineteenth century). Every time I return to St. Stanislaus I marvel at its splendor and beauty – a beauty that truly inspires the viewer to contemplate the presence of the divine.
Unfortunately, as I have already mentioned in this blog, several of Buffalo’s urban churches are under threat of closure by the diocese, and many have already been shut down. The reasons for this are manifold. While a general decline in church attendance by the younger generation is a contributing factor, Buffalo continues to be one of the most heavily Catholic areas of the United States. The more salient issue, in my opinion, is the general decline in population in the area (many people leave Buffalo due to lack of economic opportunity) and the continued division between the city and suburbs (Buffalo is one of the most racially and socioeconomically segregated cities in the United States). Many of Buffalo’s historically and architecturally significant churches are located in its poorest, most crime-ridden neighborhoods. Even though some local activists are working to revitalize these areas, progress remains slow. The area remains full of abandoned buildings, broken shutters and vacant lots covered with litter. While some of the closed churches have been purchased and used for other purposes (occasionally still as houses of worship) many have simply been left to rot.
As the oldest ethnically Polish Roman Catholic Church in Buffalo, St. Stanislaus is currently shielded from this fate. But, it cannot be taken for granted. If the diocese was able to close St. Adalbert Basilica (allowing it to be used only as an oratory for weddings, funerals and other special occasions), there is nothing to stop them from closing any other churches that they choose to. But then, maybe there is something – us!
You may wonder why this matters. I am aware that most of you who read this blog are not from Buffalo, NY. In fact, most of you aren’t Catholic. But this is an issue that goes beyond any specific religion, culture or location. As I have stated earlier, historic preservation is a question of values. Many of us simply shrug our shoulders whenever an old, historic building in our community is torn down to make room for a new apartment complex. However, many of us also understand that these historic sites – be they houses of worship or any other old buildings – are part of our human heritage; they serve to connect us to our past while assuming ever new meanings in the present. For me, St. Stanislaus is such a place. And so, while I am only just beginning to learn to take proper photographs, I hope to share a bit of its beauty with you.