The Catholic Dioceses of Buffalo has been in decline for six decades. It was once a mighty institution and the cornerstone of so many of Buffalo’s ethnic communities. The Dioceses’ ornate churches struggle with dwindling congregations and increasing maintenance and repair costs.
While the Dioceses has responded by closing more than half its buildings since its heyday, it has done nothing to repurpose them for productive use, leaving them to rot in our neighborhoods. To date, the approach has been to demolish these historic structures. Demolishing the city’s cultural and architectural heritage isn’t the godly behavior that we would expect.
Instead, Bishop Richard Malone should be working in partnership Bishop Darius Pridgen, who leads robust congregations in the City’s African American community. In recent years, Pridgen has emerged as Western New York’s leading spiritual voice. His role in politics and presence on local radio has made him, perhaps, the region’s most accessible clergyman.
Together, the two men are capable of bringing back to life dozens of spectacular architectural marvels — and become godsends to the local preservation movement in the process.
Here is how a partnership could work:
- Rather than demolishing historic structures, the Diocese would partner with active congregations of other denominations in these economically distressed neighborhoods.
- The Diocese would use its vast financial resources to fund necessary improvements.
- Once functional, the Diocese would offer these church buildings for sale to clergy across the city. The Diocese would offer to hold the mortgages on these properties, aligning its interests with the interests of the city’s diverse religious denominations.
- The mortgages, being serviced by the Diocese itself, would be able to renegotiate debt schedules in the event of defaults.
With some tweaks of the State’s historic preservation tax credits, the Diocese’s repair costs could be mitigated. For some of the most neglected churches, a full scale renovation could cost more than $10 million.
Undoubtedly, the Diocese could behave with a greater sense of citizenship to this community. Beyond that, it could do so much more to leverage its historic resources in pursuing new avenues of growth and institutional advancement. Bishop Malone has an opportunity to invent a new model of Diocesan success.