Reprinted with permission as a public service by the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier, now the Preservation Buffalo Niagara

Houses of Worship: A Guide to the Religious Architecture of Buffalo, New York
By James Napora
Table of Contents

St. Joseph's University Church - Table of Contents

3269 Main Street (E)
Bley & Lyman
Founded 19 April, 1849

The origin of St. Joseph's church is related to the 1833 establishment of the Lamb of God Chapel in an area of Western New York known as Northbush, current day Town of Tonawanda. At that time, approximately forty-five Catholic families resided amid the marshes and woodlands in the area north of the city. Rev. Nicholas Mertz, the first priest assigned to the Buffalo area, purchased five acres of land on what is today Englewood Avenue north of Kenmore. On it, he constructed small log chapel conducting services as his time and travel abilities permitted.

In 1837 the diocese assigned Rev. John Neumann to the Buffalo area. He immediately took charge of the parishes to the north of the city, including the Lamb of God Chapel. Three years later, he left Buffalo for a position in Philadelphia, leaving Northbush residents without a priest to regularly attend to them. In 1842 Rev. Theodore Noethen was appointed as pastor to the area and once again began conducting regular services at the Northbush Chapel.

Jesuits: In July, 1848 four Jesuit priests arrived from Quebec and began administering to the Northbush area. Rev. Joseph Fruzzini, being fluent in both German and French, proved to be an indispensable asset in attending to the needs of the predominantly French and German population of the area.

With a resident priest again serving the chapel, in the Fall of 1848 the members began discussing the possibility of replacing the small log building. (In the 1850s, a stone chapel, still in use today, replaced the original log chapel on the site.) Throughout the following-year, they engaged in an often heated dialogue as to where the chapel should be located. Some preferred the current location, holding sentiment towards it as the original location of Rev. Neumann's church. Others, citing that the actual population of the area had began to concentrate in the higher, drier land in Elysville, voted to place the new building there. Consequently, on 19 April, 1849, Bishop Timon purchased four acres of land on Main Street at a cost of $400 from Elizabeth and Isaac Staley and established the congregation of St. Joseph's Church there.

The ensuing months saw little action on the construction of the building. There existed an indifference amongst the residents of the area regarding the location of and the desirability of constructing a new house of worship. With the assistance of a respected resident, Joseph Leichtman, they were able to pull together and work to clear the site and construct a foundation for the church. On 15 August, 1849 they placed the cornerstone of their first house of worship, dedicating their 30 foot by 55 foot, 240 seat frame church on 6 January, 1850.

Jesuits leave: In October of the following year, the Jesuits departed from St. Joseph's to make their headquarters at the parish of St. Michael's on Washington Street in downtown Buffalo. This initiated a period of instability for the parish which saw twenty-six different priests serve as pastor during the following thirty-five years. The longest tenure during this phase was five years and the shortest less than one month.

By 1885, with the arrival of Rev. George Zurcher, the parish once again entered a period of stability and growth. The area, now known as Buffalo Plains, was growing rapidly. Main Street had recently been paved over and side streets were laid out in the area surrounding the church. Seeing the potential for growth, in 1894 he began work on the construction of a new house of worship. The original frame church was demolished and the congregation began meeting in the schoolhouse. A spirit of cooperation prevailed amongst the members of the parish and all pitched in to assist where they could. Farmers sold parcels of land to raise money towards the $15,000 cost, others hauled stone and assisted in carpentry work and the school children assisted by carrying bricks both before and after classes. In 1894 Bishop Stephen Ryan dedicated the completed building.

The area around the church continued to grow, resulting in the establishment of two new parishes - from territory originally belonging to St. Joseph's. In 1906 Bishop Charles Colton formed Blessed Trinity on Leroy and in 1908 St. Mark's on Amherst. Still, this had only a minimal impact upon the parish.

The arrival of Rev. Joseph Schemel in April, 1908 once again infused the parish with new life and direction. With the neighborhood around the church becoming more densely settled, the church building was soon overused. In September, 1921 he called a meeting of the congregation and they voted to no longer spend money on the maintenance of the current building and to establish a building fund for the construction of new house of worship.

In 1924, the old church was demolished in preparation for construction of the current building. The congregation broke ground in the spring of 1924 and on 4 October, 1925, they placed the cornerstone of their new building. One year later, on 1 December, they dedicated their new house of worship.

Constructed of Plymouth granite and trimmed with Indiana limestone, the 190 foot by 80 foot building was completed at a cost of $375,000. A 125 foot tower marks the north corner of the facade. The interior still retains a number of original murals executed by George Raggi of Milwaukee. The altars and statues were carved in the town of Pietransanta, Italy.

1995 James Napora
Page by Chuck LaChiusa with the assistance of David Torke
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