Piarists in Buffalo, NY
By Bruce Fisher
Artvoice (online Nov. 2014)
The Piarist priests had acquired Graycliff in 1951. By that time, the estate had already passed from the Martin family. The Piarists knew what they were getting: a summer home designed by a famous architect [Wright], a structure lacking a ready purchaser other than themselves, a structure in need of some change in order to make it winter-habitable. They also knew their own mission.
The Piarists are a teaching order whose founder was a 17th-century Spaniard named Josef Calasanz. In Latin, Calasanz is Calasanctius. Calasanctius is the name the order has given to many of the schools it has founded, including their school, now closed, in Buffalo.
Graycliff had been the Piarists’ headquarters in the United States. They came to use it mainly as a place of rest, meditation and religious study, and as a retirement home for priests who could no longer teach a full schedule at the Calasanctius school. Within a few miles of Graycliff along the Lake Erie shore, four other Catholic organizations own retreat houses, also formerly the estates of wealthy Buffalo families.
The Piarists knew what they had at Graycliff. But in the early 1950s, this small province of a teaching order consisted of, if not penniless refugees, men who had taken a vow of poverty- and men who had been dispossessed of both their community’s holdings and of their mission in their homelands. They had come to Buffalo to further their mission.
Safely here, they, being mainly Hungarian, welcomed refugees from the Hungarian Revolution in 1956.
It [Piarist] is an order less famous than the Jesuits or the Franciscans, yet withal an order that had become over that time a very large educational presence in Europe. There are or were Piarist schools in Spain, Ireland, Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Romania, but most especially in Hungary. At Graycliff, the Piarists had established their home in North America. For them, with this haven in the United States, with their successful school in nearby Buffalo, and because of the peace so many of them had found after decades of war and of calamitous anti-Catholic oppression and displacement in Europe, this Graycliff estate was a new beginning - a place to celebrate their own survival, surely, and the survival of their Calasanctius mission.
There were Poles and Spaniards among them, but most of the Piarists of Graycliff were Hungarians. Most had come to America after World War Two. Some came in 1956, having been made refugees after the Soviet Union’s military forces had brutally suppressed a popular uprising against Hungary’s communist government. All the Piarists were teachers; some were more. Their roster included a mathematician, theologians, and a psychologist, all of whom had been educated in Rome, Berlin and in the universities of the old Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary. They were of necessity linguists and translators. A few had taught at the ancient university at Koloszvar, the city that had been capitol of the Austro-Hungarian empire’s Transylvania province but that had, since 1918, been in Romania.
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