Return to the Catholic Center

When it comes to nouns, I like them the older the better: vintage people, historic places and antique things. I’m particularly fond of old buildings, which is lucky for me because Buffalo is chock-full of them. Among the Queen City’s many jewels, her architecture shines brightly. (There is a wonderful video at the top of the website linked in the previous sentence… if you have time to watch it, you won’t be disappointed… and you may want to come visit if you’re not from here!) We are blessed with an abundance of amazing buildings throughout our city. Many of them were designed by such notable architects as Frank Lloyd Wright – the legend himself, Louis Henry Sullivan – the father of skyscrapers, and Louise Blanchard Bethune – the first female in that field.

As a lover of historic buildings, I truly cherished working in the Catholic Center. Every time I’ve passed it, seen it or stood across from it since last August, I’ve been reminded of just what a special place it is. Just recently, I started really missing working there… not the work, which became toxic, but the “there.” I missed running up a fire stairwell that was more ornate than any modern, main ones would be. I would fondly recall the “basement of the Diocese” with its metal tracks from when the building housed a newspaper company and carts moved heavy equipment to and fro. I would close my eyes and recall the resplendence of the main lobby and its stunning art deco elements. These were bittersweet remembrances, but I would also remind myself how fortunate I was to have worked in that historic building in the first place.

This past Tuesday morning, I reflexively checked my email during a break at a work training. This absentminded exercise was suddenly electrified when I saw the following message from Explore Buffalo, which offers tours of Buffalo:

Ad for tour.jpg

Can I even do that??!!! was my first thought. I don’t see why not was the answer I gave myself. Sure, I’ll pay $25 to revisit the building I’ve been missing so much lately. And this time, I thought, I can take pictures to show people what it looks like since I never took pictures when I actually worked there! 

And so it happened that earlier this evening, I took an official tour of the first and second floors of the building I used to consider my second home.

Here is a brief history of the building for those who are interested:

“This Classic Art Deco building opened in 1930 as the home of the daily Buffalo Courier-Express, which ceased publication in 1982. As of 1985, it has housed the offices of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo. It is unusual in its incorporation of a newspaper motif in both the exterior and interior design.

Stretching across the front of the building are these words from the First Amendment of the United States Constitution: “Congress Shall Make No Law Abridging the Freedom of Speech or of the Press.” People involved in the principal stages of the newspaper business are shown in eight terracotta relief sculptures across the Main Street facade: editor, linotyper, compositor, diemaker, stereotyper, pressman, shipper and reader.

A focal point of the two-story lobby is a 200 square-foot mural by local artist, Rev. Thomas Ribits, OSFS, representing the history of the Roman Catholic Church in the Buffalo area. The mural replaced one of similar size that graced the lobby during the Courier-Express era. That one, painted by Charles Chase Bigelow and Ernest Davenport, depicted the contemporaneous growth of the City and the newspaper. From 1869 to 1871, Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) was editor and part owner of the Buffalo Express, which merged with the Buffalo Courier in 1926.

The firm of Monks & Johnson served as the building’s architects, with Henri D. A. Ganteaume, who is noted for his design of newspaper buildings.”

What an odd sensation it was to walk through those familiar doors again! I half expected an alarm to go off when I crossed the threshold, but it was a peaceful re-entry into a world I used to know so well. And once inside the lobby, I was just grateful to see it again. It is truly splendid as these photos hopefully illustrate for you:

Mural half of lobby.jpg
Mural half of the Lobby
Other half of lobby.jpg
The other half – these photos are taken from the cut-out on the second floor
Floor VS
Historic printers’ markers are the focal point of the tiled floors
Full mural.jpg
Fr. Tom Ribits’ incredible mural – detailed close-ups to follow
St. Joseph in Lobby.jpg
A new addition – the Diocesan prayer for healing and the purple candle that is being displayed in various spots throughout the Diocese. Watched over by St. Joseph, our Diocesan patron.

Here is the view as you look up through the cut-out to the second floor:

From the lobby.jpg

Brass close up.jpg
The balustrade is stunningly gorgeous in its detail
Ceiling
Close-up of the second floor ceiling and the Art Deco chandelier

Even the elevators are gorgeous!

Elevator doors

Close up of elevator doors
Close-up of the historic printers’ marks etched into the elevator doors

Our capable tour guide was Rick Suchan, Director of the Foundation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, who oversaw the Upon This Rock campaign a few years ago and continues to manage the Foundation during this difficult time. For Rick, giving a tour at 6 pm on a Thursday would not be a matter of staying late after work… he was likely working up to the minute the tour started and went back to work right after. I admire the man’s dedication to the cause even if I no longer fully admire the cause itself.

When we got up to the second floor, I made a request of Rick: could I please make a visit to the Chapel just opposite the balustrade? He graciously granted my request for which I am very grateful. It would have been a pity to be so close to the Most Important Room in the Catholic Center without stopping in to say hello to Our Lord.

Tabernacle with seats.jpg

What a wave of emotions came crashing over me when I entered that small chapel! I dropped to my knees as so many memories came flooding back… the private Masses with Bishop Malone during my first year until (happily) he began inviting the building to attend, setting up the altar for the Bishop before each Mass and securing a lector and Eucharistic Minister for him, the quick visits before a day I knew would be hard, the longer conversations after one of those tough days, the hurried visits during days when I knew that “some Jesus time” was the only thing that would get me through. How often did I almost literally run down to Jesus, present in this super 80’s tabernacle, to beg Him for the help only He can give. I’m not ashamed to admit that I have ugly cried more in front of this tabernacle than any other. I used to dim the lights and hope no one would hear or see me as they walked from the elevator to the cafeteria down the hall. It was a tremendous comfort to have Him there in the Blessed Sacrament every day, but especially on the darkest days. I tried never to take that gift for granted. Tonight, all I could do was to thank Him… for helping me through the darkness, for guiding me into the light, and for the abiding gift of His love and His peace.

Altar.jpg

St. Joseph and candle in Chapel
This was a new addition – similar to the one in the lobby
Testimony.jpg
These guys’ signatures are on a lot of things in the Secret Archives that you wouldn’t want your signature to be on… at least this document doesn’t present any concerns

And now for a few pictures that capture random spots (that were part of the tour) that are memorable to me…

The stairwell I used all the time and found to be so elegant and beautifully crafted:

 

This is one of the fire hose boxes that I used as mirrors on my way up to the 4th floor especially when I biked to work. I’d check for signs of “helmet hair” as I bounded up the steps two at a time… there were three of these boxes on my way up and I’d always laugh at the last one and say, “Well, that’s as good as it’s gonna get!”

Fire Glass.jpg

Old windows.jpg
The cool old windows at the lowest level of the stairwell

And now for some close-ups of the amazing mural in the lobby:

Malone in mural.jpg
Whenever a new bishop is installed, Fr. Tom comes back to add his face into St. Joseph’s Cathedral on the mural. Hopefully Father will have to do this again very soon!
Head
I’m pretty sure that’s Bishop Head at the top there… two other bishops are visible towards the bottom of this picture. The Catholic Center itself can be seen behind the Cathedral.
Basilica near Falls.jpg
Our Lady of Victory Basilica rising up at the back with the Falls in the foreground
Locks and biker.jpg
One of my favorite sections – an Erie Canal packet boat at the “Flight of Five” locks in Lockport
Bike boy with the Bflo prez.jpg
“The bike kid,” as I always called him, next to portraits of Buffalo’s three presidents: Millard Fillmore, Grover Cleveland, and Theodore Roosevelt, who was inaugurated here after McKinley’s assassination during the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901 [Fun fact: Grover Cleveland is the only US president to serve two non-consecutive terms: 1885-1889 and 1893-1897]
Baker Timon Neumann.jpg
Rev. Msgr. Nelson Baker, a “Venerable” and Buffalo’s beloved saint-to-be; Bishop John Timon, first Bishop of Buffalo; and Saint John Neumann, CSSR, who was a missionary to Western New York and later Bishop of Philadelphia. (The shield is that of Catholic Charities – the Latin verse translates to “Love Never Fails”)
Close up of lace.jpg
Close up of Bishop Timon so you can see the actual lace that Fr. Tom used to adorn his vestments. Other elements are incorporated into the acrylic mural including antique photographic prints, newspapers, hymnals, textbooks, fabric, sand from Lake Erie, and twenty-three carat gold leaf! The priest saying Mass here is Fr. Louis Hennepin, a Franciscan missionary, who celebrated his first Mass in what is now Lewiston, NY and published one of if not the first book on Niagara Falls in 1683.
St. Joseph in Mural.jpg
St. Joseph watching over the diocese of which he is patron. The lines you see running through this section denote the 8 counties of Western New York that are part of the Diocese of Buffalo: Niagara, Erie, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Orleans, Genesee, Wyoming and Allegany. Scenes from all three seasons are also visible… I always loved the wintry one best! The stars at the top of this section and throughout the upper portion of the mural represent the 300 parishes that were present within the Diocese at the time the mural was created.
Crest close up.jpg
The Coat of Arms of the Diocese flanked below by the personal coats of arms of Bishop Head, who commissioned the mural, and of Saint John Paul II, who was Pope at the time of the mural’s creation

 

Above are four of the terracotta relief sculptures that grace the front of the building

First Amendment.jpg

If you zoom in on the image above, you’ll see the First Amendment carved into the building’s terracotta facade… here is a close up so you see what I mean:

Freedom of Speech close up

Imagine, if you will, how odd it was for me last summer as I contemplated providing confidential diocesan documents to the media while working in a diocesan building that used to house a newspaper and had the First Amendment emblazoned on its facade. At that time, Bishop Malone was frequently referring to various members of the media – or the media as a whole – as “sharks circling the waters” or “sharks looking for blood in the water.” (The lawyers were vultures.) I’m guessing the First Amendment is not Bishop Malone’s favorite.

When the 60 Minutes crew was here last October to film the episode on our diocese, one of the photographers was particularly stunned by the presence of the First Amendment on the building. “Wow,” he said while looking at the Catholic Center, “If anything about this is made for a movie, it’s those words carved into that building.” Later that month, during my press conference across from the Catholic Center, I vaguely alluded to his comments when I said something about how the situation was “made for a movie.” It was awkwardly stated and out of context, which I’ve regretted ever since. A lot of people rightly gave me flack for the comment and accused me of “being in this for a movie deal.” I’m glad to have this chance to set the record straight: I don’t want to be in or part of any movie. I definitely did not have a movie (or book) deal in mind last year and I still don’t to this day. When I made that lame comment, I was making some preliminary remarks to the media that I didn’t know were being recorded and, on some stations, broadcast live. I was trying to emphasize the significance of these words on the building’s facade while I encouraged the media to continue pursuing the truth.

I will end our picture tour with this lovely statue of Our Lady, which is located near the stairwell door by the second floor balustrade, and an excerpt from a prayer to Mary, Mother of the Church:

Our Lady.jpg

O Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church to you we recommend ourselves and the entire Church. Mother of the Church! Enlighten the People of God along the paths of faith, hope and love! You were given to us as a mother by your Divine Son at the moment of his redeeming death. Remember us your children, support our prayers to God.
Preserve our Faith, strengthen our Hope, increase our Charity.

Immaculate Heart! Help us to conquer the menace of evil, which so easily takes root in the hearts of the people of today.

From nuclear war, from incalculable self-destruction, and from every kind of war, deliver us.
From sins against human life from its very beginning, deliver us.
From every kind of injustice in the life of society, deliver us.
From readiness to trample on the commandments of God, deliver us.
From attempts to stifle the very truth of God, deliver us.
From the loss of awareness of good and evil, deliver us.
From sins against the Holy Spirit, deliver us.

O Mary, conceived without sin, we place ourselves under your special protection.

We resolve to walk in your footsteps and to imitate your virtues.

Obtain for us, O tender Mother, the grace of being faithful to this promise.

Amen!

3 thoughts on “Return to the Catholic Center

  • Beautiful musings and pictures. Thank you for sharing your tour and journey with us. Always enjoy your writing and insight. ❤️ Mrs. Z

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  • Thanks for highlighting and calling attention to aspects of the building which can go unnoticed. Even the physical fabric has a story to tell. A rich story indeed.

    It’s interesting to reminisce about the time and the institutions that pass across the stage in the story.

    Compared to the shrinking size of our current newspaper the massive size of the Sunday Courier Express in the old days is hard to imagine. It would’ve been harder to imagine back then that someday it would be no more. The day has come. And all that led up to that can be fascinating food for thought.

    Then you have the other institution, the current tenant of the building, the Diocese of Buffalo. I remember the days of planning and the move from the old Corn Exchange on South Elmwood to the “new “ Catholic Center, our present home.

    Then and now. How different. Who could ever imagine back then all that would happen between “then and now “ and what the Diocese of Buffalo would go through. Actually a lot of what happened had already taken place but it was secret as it were. As the truth gradually came out and reality was exposed for all to see it became a painful situation indeed. Yet it’s only by knowing the truth and dealing with it properly that we can build a future that will endure.

    It seems like a time of transition. The venerable old Courier Express is a thing of the past. Its former home has rich reminders of its proud history for all who can take the time to ponder them. The buildings current tenant is not what it was back in 1985 and surprisingly is way too small for its present home. And the Catholic Church and the Diocese of Buffalo are in many ways different today than they were back then.

    What will things look like in another 10, 20, 39 years? Who will be in the Courier Building then? What will the Church be like then and how do we get from here to there? How do we build a church “where love can dwell “ as it goes?

    Incredibly Bishop Malone’s motto has a clue as I believe it urges us to do “the truth in love” but are we willing to give it a try? Are we up to it? Will we not only talk the talk but more importantly walk the walk difficult as it might be? And can we, following Pope Francis ‘ example walk together in dialogue, accompaniment and encounter?

    A lot depends on the choices we make

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  • Dear Siobhan,
    God bless you for your very humble yet brave actions for the victims of abuse in our church. Your love and devotion to Jesus is so clearly visible to anyone who had followed the 60 minutes story and your interviews. I don’t know you at all but I am a fellow Catholic of Saint Vincent DePaul Parish in Niagara Falls and could NOT be more proud of you. May the Holy Spirit continue to bless you and your family.

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