Cleansing Fire

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St. Boniface at the center of Swillburg

September 8th, 2009, Promulgated by Choir
The New Saint Boniface on Gregory Street

The German Catholics of the southeastern part of city wanted a church that was closer than St. Joseph’s on Franklin Street. So, the German families and the Redemptorist priests from St. Joseph’s sought the approval of Bishop Timon of Buffalo (Rochester was not yet a diocese. That happened in 1868) to build St. Boniface .

The site on Gregory Street (then it was called Grand Street) was purchased for $1,000. The original three-story brick building housed the rectory and school on the first floor and the church on the second floor. The cornerstone was laid by Bishop Timon on June 17, 1860 and the dedication was June 8, 1861, also by Bishop Timon.

Boundaries of the German parishes were fixed

On October 10, 1864, Bishop Timon fixed the boundaries of the 4 then existing German parishes: St. Joseph, SS Peter and Paul, St. Boniface and Holy Family. St. Boniface was bounded on the east and north by Monroe Avenue and Howell Street and on the west by the Genesee River. In July of 1865, the pastor Father John F. Payer, an Austrian, engaged the School Sisters of Notre Dame as teachers. The original church was only 40 feet by 60 feet and to accommodate the increasing population, the church was enlarged by another 40 feet. This new addition was blessed by Rochester’s first bishop, Bernard McQuaid in 1870.

The New Church

The year 1885 was devoted to making plans for the new church. The plans were submitted to architect William Schnickel of New York. On April 12, 1886, a Solemn High Mass was celebrated to beg God’s blessing on the erection of the new church. On June 6, Bishop McQuaid laid the cornerstone, amid much ceremony both secular and religious. The Gregory Street church was a fine example of Gothic architecture with a tower of 195 feet and was erected at a cost of $70,000.

Solemn Dedication and Blessing

Saint Boniface had a richly carved wooden altar that was installed in 1894. The sculptor was Anthony Halstrich, formerly of the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, Germany. Herr Halstrich had established the “Anthony Halstrich Christian Art Studio” in Rochester in 1893. The interior, without the vestibule, was 130 feet long by 63 feet wide. The main altar towered to 27 feet in height from the base to the tip of the altar and a breadth of 16 feet. New Stations of the Cross by Frank Pedevilla were erected in February of 1901.

The Great Fire

On November 6, 1957, a group of Catholic priests anxiously awaited the arrival of Francis Cardinal Spellman, due in Rochester to help observe the 25th anniversary of the consecration of the Most Rev. James E. Kearney, bishop of Rochester.

As the cardinal got off his plane, he asked, “Did you know there’s a church on fire in the city? It’s a red brick one near the river.” The fire, apparently started from sparks from a charcoal fire pot being used by workmen as they installed flashings around the chimney at the left rear of the church.

The Blessed Sacrament Rescued

The Rev. George A. Cocuzzi, vice chancellor of the diocese, was the only priest in the rectory at the time. With the aid of two altar boys, he rescued the Blessed Sacrament and other religious articles from the church.

Church Razed

On Easter Monday, April 7, 1958, the Atlas Wrecking Company began to bring down the church. The demolition was completed on June 5, 1958, the feast of St. Boniface.

The New Saint Boniface

Ground was broken for the new church on April 5, 1959 and the work started immediately. The altars, Stations of the Cross and statues, came from Daprato Studios, the pews from the Rochester Novelty Company and the new organ from the Teller Organ Company of Erie, PA. Stained glass windows were ordered from Pike Glass Studios.

The church was completed and opened on March 6th, 1960. The altars were consecrated by the Most Rev. Lawrence B. Casey, Rochester’s auxiliary bishop on March 29, 1960. The parish celebrated 100 years of history with the solemn dedication of the new church by Bishop James E. Kearney.

Aerial view of St. Boniface



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8 Responses to “St. Boniface at the center of Swillburg”

  1. avatar Anonymous says:

    Choir, any interior images of the old St. Boniface?

    Very nice history lesson once again, thank you.

  2. Anon — Not that is immediately available. I'm very diligently working to try and get some of St. Boniface and other local parishes. I served Mass in St. Boniface only once and I was very impressed. The inside is what most everybody wants to see. Believe me I'm trying to get them. Thanks for reading. I'm trying to think of what church to do next. Or any part of the history of the DoR. All suggestions are most welcomed?

  3. avatar Sed says:

    St. Philip Neri would be worth a history lesson. Keep up the great work!

  4. avatar Mary Kay says:

    Seconding the request for indoor shots of St. Boniface – thanks for all the diocesan history work you're doing!

  5. avatar Anonymous says:

    Choir,

    You wrote another great article. This is better than reading the Catholic Courier Newspaper.

    Leave it to the Diocese of Rochester, to award a demolition contract for the old St. Boniface parish to a Jewish owned company, rather than one of the Catholic owned companies, whose family financially supported the diocese.

    I don't have one nice word to say about our current Bishop, but I am forced to acknowledge that he did give millions of dollars of "no-bid" work on the Sacred Heart Cathedral renovation project to Catholic owned firms, LeChase Construction, LaBella Architects and Frederico Wrecking Company.

  6. avatar Semper says:

    It's been said by many, many people in the pews that the "problems" at St. Anne have directly coincided with a "revival" of sorts at St. Boniface. The church, I believe, was in danger of closing, but with so many refugees, things are looking up.

  7. Sed: I did some preliminary work on St. Philip Neri and there is so much history, especially with the fire in February of 1967. From the fire, the DoR has two Eucharistic martyrs. The priest and nun died while rescuing the Blessed Sacrament. Stay tuned. If you have any personal connection with SPN and would like to tell me, let me know.

    Both Father Weinmann and Sister Lillian Marie were quite something.

  8. avatar Gen says:

    I can't think of many nuns who would die for the sake of the Blessed Sacrament nowadays.

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