Closed Niagara Falls Church Landmarked
By Stephanie Smith | Online Only | Mar. 24, 2008
Easter Sunday at Holy Trinity Church in Niagara Falls, N.Y., marked the last time that its congregation would observe mass in the 1906 masonry church, closed down by its owner, the Diocese of Buffalo. Last month, however, the city council voted unanimously to landmark the church, giving it hope of a second life.
"It was just a wonderful process," says Vivian Pokrzyk, a parishioner who helped nominate the church. "This parish is one of the last complexes of such caliber in the city."
Like Pokrzyk, many in Holy Trinity's congregation are grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the original Polish immigrants who, between 1906 and 1914, built the church and its school, rectory, garage, and convent from stone from the city's Hydraulic Canal.
In October, the Diocese of Buffalo announced that Holy Trinity and four other churches would be combined, due to dwindling numbers and a lack of manpower.
"We can no longer support and have vibrant parish life in all our churches," says Sister Regina Murphy of the diocese's department of research and planning. The newly created Divine Mercy parish will meet in the 1950s St. Stanislaus church, a location that, Murphy says, will allow some parishioners to continue walking to services.
The diocese initially opposed the landmarking because it feared that the designation would impose financial burdens on the parish that controls the building. It backed down when it realized that the motion had not only the support of parishioners but also the larger community.
The church is within walking distance of the famous falls and a casino. In recent years, a developer has bought large sections of the surrounding area, demolishing other historic buildings to make way for future development.
"We saw [the church] as threatened," says Tom Yot, chair of the local historic preservation commission. "There was a tremendous upswell in the community to do this."
Murphy says that the diocese would support adaptive reuse for the buildings for housing, art galleries, or even other churches.
City Councilman Chris Robins says that the city will work closely with the parish to find a suitable buyer for the property. He hopes that it will be an anchor for future development in the neighborhood. "The worst thing we want is another eyesore. We have enough of those," Robins says. "A useful future for it is really where historic preservation takes place."
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