Catholic schools invited to adopt, research ‘anchor’ church histories
Catholic schools within the Diocese of Buffalo are invited to take part in a special history project this fall, “Anchor Churches in Our Community,” which gives students a chance to learn more about a selected church’s architecture, history and impact on its local community.
Diocesan education leaders see the project as a means to foster learning within the STREAM model, with an emphasis on the R of Religion. Some of the architectural offerings within many anchor churches may also serve as opportunities to learn within the E of Engineering and the A of Arts.
Siobhan Pawelczyk, STREAM program director for the diocesan Department of Catholic Schools, explained the project to a group of principals and educators during a tour of several Buffalo churches in mid-August.
“We are asking each school to adopt an anchor church and do a research project on that anchor church for the diocese, so that not only can we learn more about all these churches and who built them, and why they were built in that place and who the immigrants were, so we don’t lose that information,” she said. “What a great time to reflect on it in the 175th anniversary.”
Anchor churches represent many of the earliest churches built within the Diocese of Buffalo, constructed by European immigrants who arrived and settled in the region as far back as the diocese’s foundation in 1847.
For those who built the churches, the respective projects represented labors of love, often times significant financial sacrifice, and a means to duplicate the architectural gems they were accustomed to in their native lands. The churches they built in their new homeland were often the focal points of their respective communities.
While many of the Buffalo area’s anchor churches are no longer active as parishes, some of those buildings may still be in use. Most have been repurposed as a house of worship for another denomination or faith. Other churches, or perhaps an adjacent school or rectory, have been renovated for uses including homes and meeting centers.
For the project, the diocese has curated a list of approximately 40 former churches, from which schools may choose.
“We wanted to try and pick places that you could maybe take kids on a field trip, and get photographs. Some of the stained-glass windows may still be there, perhaps that type of thing,” Pawelczyk said.
Ted Luckett, interim principal for St. Gregory the Great School in Williamsville, is eager to get his school involved. While St. Greg’s had yet to select an anchor church to research, his former church is among those on the list.
“As a former parishioner and pre-novice at Holy Angels Church, which is now closed, I found this to be a very exciting opportunity to learn more about our faith and about the centers of our faith and their communities,” he said. “These churches, they were much more to the community. They were the center. They were everything to the parishioners. Now that they’re closed, a lot of history has been lost. And for many of those parishioners, I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to continue to share that message that was provided at the parish, to continue that mission, and the mission of the Church overall.”
Once schools pick an anchor church, they’ll decide how to conduct research and prepare their findings. This may mean individual grades taking on one aspect of research, or multiple grades combining their efforts. Schools will then be asked to prepare a brief slideshow or video presentation, no more than five minutes, that is to be submitted by Jan. 13, 2023.
Lynn Ortiz, principal of St. Stephen School in Grand Island, is hopeful her school will be able to research their own church history. The “old church” on Baseline Road near Whitehaven still stands as a landmark, with the much larger current church a short walk away.
In the interim, a part of the school itself, what is now its gymnasium, served as the “new church,” splitting Mass times with its older counterpart.
“As a parishioner of 28 years, I am proud that St. Stephen’s is the only church that represents the Catholic community on Grand Island. I cannot speak for the entire Catholic community, but I sense that its uniqueness is appreciated. I think many elderly parishioners are well aware of St. Stephen’s history,” Ortiz said. “Researching St. Stephen’s history will be a wonderful project for our students and staff. This past school year, during Catholic Schools Week, students learned about St. Stephen and the Felician Sisters. But we also need to teach our students about the history of the wonderful parish they are part of.”
Each school that enters will be awarded points as part of the Superintendent’s Cup Challenges. The winning entries, which will earn more points, will be announced during Celebrate Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023.