Wednesday, February 9, 2011

History of St. Benedict's Parish

St. Benedict’s Church

This article is based on information given to the rectory by Mr. Fran Scheda. His files were from Mary and Earl Lynch and are based on an interview (probably by Mr. Lynch himself) with Monsignor William F. Tobin, founder of St. Benedict’s Parish. Msgr. Tobin was interviewed on Sunday, November 16, 1958.

This article recounts the parish's history from 1920 through 1958.
St. Benedict’s was the first Catholic Church and is an important landmark in the development of this area.

In October 1920, the Rt. Rev. William Turner, D.D., Bishop of Buffalo, sent Father Tobin to explore the area in the neighborhood of Eggertsville and Snyder to find out the number of Catholic families living there. When Father Tobin arrived at Main Street and the City Line, he began to punch doorbells and look for Catholics. The first house was of a Catholic family, but they informed him right away that he was not wanted. On foot, he kept at his job and two weeks later reported to the Bishop that he had discovered about thirty Catholic families in the district. Right then and there he was made head of the parish! He started out without any funds, no place to stay, and no church in which to hold services.

The majority of his people felt it was useless and impossible to try to start a new parish because of the small number of Catholics in the area.

However, at the Eggertsville Fire Hall Father found a place to hold services. The first Mass was celebrated on Sunday morning, November 21, 1920, and everything for the occasion had to be begged and borrowed. There were about fifty persons present, and the collection amounted to $52.00.

After Mass a meeting was held to discuss the matter of building a church.

They decided to purchase the property of Jacob Brunner at the corner of Main Street and Eggert Road for the sum of $25,000. – although this seemed like an outrageous sum at the time, because all the people had was the collection of $52.00. The property had a frontage of 266 ft. on Main Street and 329 ft. on Eggert Road. They used the fire hall from November 21, 1920 to August 7, 1921. and were given free use of the hall for Fairs and Card Parties during their stay.

On Sunday, November 28th, the first choir was organized which sang the Midnight Mass at Christmas in the Fire Hall. In December 1920 Father Tobin came to live in Eggertsville at the home of George Ferrick. Shortly thereafter he astounded the people when he said that they should have a Fair to raise money for their new building. They openly laughed at the idea and said he had big Cathedral notions. However, they did organize for the Fair and it was held on January 18. 19 and 20, 1921. Everyone was really surprised when their net profit amounted to $5,172.42.

On April 1, 1921 the first payment of $5,000. was made to Mr. Brunner for his property, and ground was broken for the first Catholic Church in Eggertsville. The men of the parish volunteered to build the church. Every evening they came from work and helped Father until it became absolutely too dark to work any more. A time keeper on duty each evening kept a record of the time each man worked, and this was credited to each individual as a contribution to the church.

Father commented that many Non-Catholics also worked very willingly. [note from Deacon Bill 9 February 2011 - there is a photo in the sacristy of those who built this church with their total volunteer hours listed.  The photo was placed there by Fr. Gary Bagley.]

The church was a wooden structure which cost $5,473.33. Since the labor was donated. This amount was completely for materials. The church seated 300 people and served the parish from August 7, 1921 to March1, 1931.

On August 7, 1921, Bishop Turner and twenty other priests came to solemnly dedicate the church under the name of St. Benedict’s.

In June of 1921 they took possession of the old building that stood on the property, which was a combination of saloon and dwelling. The saloon was immediately transferred into a school, and Father Tobin lived upstairs from June 1921 until June 1928. There the first parochial school in Eggertsville opened on September 8, 1921, with an enrollment of 34 pupils (the children originally went to St. Mary of the Angels in Williamsville). Two Sisters of St. Francis from St. Mary’s had charge of the school at first, and later the number was increased to four. The enrollment gradually grew to 63 pupils. The Sisters could tell many stories about thirsty travelers who occasionally stopped at the corner to quench their thirst – forgetting that there had been enacted a Prohibition Law and not knowing that the saloon had changed hands.

In September 1924 the Eggertsville School Board donated the use of the public school building which stood on Main Street near the present Sacred Heart Academy. There the children attended until 1928 when two additional rooms were built on the saloon building and classes resumed there and continued until a real school building was erected. The first class graduated in June 1926.

In 1930 the teaching staff was changed and the Sisters of St. Francis from Sacred Heart Academy took over. This change was brought about through and agreement between the Nuns themselves. At present there are 17 Nuns and 6 lay teachers.

The large debt of $25.000 contracted in 1921 was finally paid by 1923 through the parish efforts in organizing fairs, bazaars, lawn fetes, barbeques and card parties. After they were free of this debt they set up a building fund, but Father Tobin said it was very unsuccessful because the people did not want to contribute unless they had something material to show for their money.

However, in 1925, plans were made for a new school.

During this time the congregation had become so large that the parish was divided, and Christ the King Church in Snyder was established for the people in that area, and in 1926 St. Benedict’s boundaries were revised as follows:

South Side Beginning at the intersection of Bailey and Winspear Avenues, going east on Winspear to meet Eggert Road and south to meet Kensington Avenue; east to meet Washington Highway. The dividing line along the south side was the center of the street East Side Began at Kensington Avenue and Washington Highway continuing to Kings Highway to meet Harlem Road, to Sheridan Drive, Getzville Road on to Ellicott Creek Road. North Side Beginning on Ellicott Creek Road on Getzville Road to the west to meet Niagara Falls Boulevard. West Side Beginning at Ellicott Creek Road down Niagara Falls Boulevard to meet Eggert Road. This side also included Delta Road and Longmeadow to Bailey Avenue.

These dividing lines were approved on February 5, 1929.

Father Tobin said he could vividly remember making his regular visits to the members of the parish and having to walk, since he didn’t have a car, as far as Ellicott Creek Road, over Niagara Falls Boulevard, up to Kenmore Avenue, and finally to Main and Eggert. He said it was a full day’s work from early morning to late at night, and he often had nothing to eat all day when he did his visiting.

Since the parish had grown so large, Father Tobin could no longer handle it alone, and on June 18, 1927 ground was broken for a rectory to accommodate three priests. While building the foundation a gas well was accidentally discovered on the property, and it is interesting to note that from then on this gas furnished heat for the old building then on the corner and for the new school today.

The rectory was made of sandstone with a slate roof, and was completed in June 1928. The pastor and his assistants then left the old saloon on the corner for their new home. The rectory, equipped, cost $40,000. and was completely paid for in 1929.

In May 1930, they purchased additional property on which to build a new school. This property adjoined the original land, and had a frontage of 120 ft. on Main Street and a depth of 408 ft. on the east side. The cost was $22,000. It could have been purchased for less than half that price in 1921 when the original land was purchased, but the people did not have the courage to invest in it then, nor did they consider it necessary.

Ground was broken for a new combination church, school, and auditorium on May 1, 1930. The building was completed and dedicated on Sunday, March1, 1931, by Bishop Turner of Buffalo. This structure, which is still standing next to the most recent church and school addition, is a two-story building of sandstone with a slate roof. It had a capacity for ten classrooms and lavatories with hot and cold showers. The church was locatedon the second floor with a choir balcony, and had a seating capacity for over 500 persons. The auditorium also had a balcony, and could accommodate about 600 people. It also had a fully-equipped kitchen and cafeteria to be used for the school children and parish parties. There was also a private room for the teachers. The lower floor was devoted to the classrooms and the new building, fully equipped, cost $147.095.72.

Fom 1930 until 1950 these facilities met the needs of the parish, but at the end of this period it was found that the church was again too small to accommodate everyone.

On July 19, 1950 ground was broken for a third church. It was built in the area where the previous saloon was situated, which had been used as a playground for the children. An additional six classrooms, kindergarten and cafeteria were incorporated, and the total cost amounted to $800,000.00.

On Thaksgiving Day, November 27, 1952 the newest church was dedicated by the Most Rev. Joseph A. Burke. D.D., Bishop of Buffalo.

Shortly after this, since thecongregation was again too large, another division took place and new boundaries were set up. The parishioners from the Ellicott Creek section, Niagara Falls Boulevard and North Bailey area were transferred to the newly-extablished parish of St. Leo’s on Sweet Home Road in Eggertsville.
At the present time the old school, the new school and church, plus a few additions mentioned in the next chapter, comprise St. Benedict’s.

In 1949 still more property next to the old church on Westfield Road was acquired to facilitate parking space. On July 1, 1957 ground was broken for a Convent so that St. Benedict’s could have their own school nuns. This convent will be opened in December 1958.

At present [i.e. 1958] there are 17 Sisters teaching in the school and 6 lay teachers.

The registration is 1120 pupils. The parish has increased from the original thirty families in 1920 to a tremendous growth of 2,000 families – not including the divisions that created the two new parishes.
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