Preservation group launches campaign to save New York churches from closure

Casimir3 The exterior of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York | Credit: Michael Shriver/buffalophotoblog.com

A New York-based historical preservation group is launching an effort to save Catholic churches in the city of Buffalo that are allegedly “deeply at risk of vacancy and demolition” amid a diocesan restructuring plan. 

The organization Preservation Buffalo Niagara announced on its website on Tuesday that it was launching a “Save Our Sacred Sites” campaign, one aimed at “funding and submitting local landmark applications for churches within the City of Buffalo” that it said are at risk of closure by the Diocese of Buffalo.

The Buffalo Diocese announced last month that it will be merging over a third of its 160 parishes, calling the move an effort to “reinvigorate the Catholic faith in western New York.”

Buffalo Bishop Michael Fisher said in May that 34% of its parishes — about 55 parishes — will be merged in a process of “rightsizing and reshaping.”

The merges, part of the diocese’s “Road to Renewal” program, will be finalized later this summer. 

On its website, the Buffalo preservation group says that most of the churches it is working to save — about 15 all told — are “deeply at risk of vacancy and demolition because they have minimal or zero preservation protections.”

The campaign will focus on “submitting a local landmark application for each church to the City of Buffalo” as well as submitting a “determination of eligibility” application to the New York State Historic Preservation Office when necessary. 

Each application costs about $2,500 to complete, the group said. The organization is soliciting donations to meet that goal.

Preservation Buffalo Niagara said it would also “provide resources for churches as they come in,” though it said most grant funding for historical churches “requires either National Register of Historic Places status or being a local landmark within the City of Buffalo.”

“That is why this local landmark campaign is so important to do,” the group said. 

The preservation society said landmark status would offer “crucial protection for our cherished sacred sites.” 

In the event of landmark status, the local preservation board “must review any significant changes to the building,” while owners of the properties “can benefit from tax incentives, making preservation more feasible.”

Preservation Buffalo Niagara is “the region’s only full-service, professionally staffed preservation organization,” the group says on its website. 

The Buffalo diocese told CNA on Thursday that the diocesan Vicar for Renewal and Development Father Bryan Zielenieski would be meeting with the preservation group soon to discuss the campaign.

The ongoing diocesan merger plan was initiated in response to priest shortages and financial difficulties, among other factors. In 2020 the diocese declared bankruptcy amid hundreds of sexual abuse lawsuits filed against it.

Fisher said in May that the Church in western New York “is not the same as it was 50 years ago, not 20 years, not even 10 years ago.”

The diocese in March announced the sale of its headquarters in downtown Buffalo.

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