By Mary DeTurris Poust
What do you do with a 100-year-old church after it closes? Well, for one Buffalo parish the answer was decidedly outside the box: "preservation through relocation." That's right. The 800-seat basilica is going to be moved, piece by piece, granite column by granite column 900 miles away to an Atlanta suburb, reflecting through its physical relocation a very real societal shift as Catholic populations decrease in the northeast and flourish in the south.
On the project website, Moved by Grace, St. Gerard's Church in Buffalo is described as an "approximation" (one-third the size in scale) of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome. After it closed in 2008 due to dwindling parish membership, preservation became an issue because of the severe weather on the shores of Lake Erie. Enter Mary Our Queen parish in Georgia, where what started as a small mission with 70 families in an office building grew into a 15,000 square foot "temporary" structure for 700 families in search of a permanent home.
In an article in USA Today, the plan is described in detail:
"Transplanting an 800-seat, century-old basilica would be an exceptional solution to an increasingly common problem: what to do about the growing inventory of closed churches across the Northeast and Midwest.
"In recent decades, thousands of American churches — no one, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has exact numbers — have closed. Some have been bought by other congregations. Others have found new lives as performance spaces, catering halls, art galleries, restaurants, homes and, in Cincinnati, an Urban Outfitters retail store. But a range of factors — including the unusual size and shape of churches, and restrictions sellers often impose on their reuse (no alcohol sales, no astrology, etc.) — limit the number that find an afterlife.
"Many, like St. Gerard's, sit empty and decaying, waiting for demolition. A neighborhood loses an architectural grace note, and those who built it lose something they feel is sacred, according to Wendy Nicholas of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
"Advocates of the plan to move St. Gerard's say it could be a template for saving closed church buildings by finding them new parishes in the suburbs or the Sun Belt — 'preservation by relocation,' as Mary Our Queen's website calls it.
"The Catholic diocese of Buffalo and most former parishioners describe the plan as the only way to save St. Gerard's. Buffalo has a glut of closed, empty churches — the diocese alone is trying to sell 22 other buildings — and a small congregation looking for a church probably couldn't afford St. Gerard's heating bill."
The story is fascinating, especially since one former St. Gerard's parishioner coincidentally ended up in Mary Our Queen only to find her old church was following her to her new home. Read the full story HERE. For more information on the project, click HERE.