Niagara Gazette


January 20, 2014

HIGGS: Moving along to St. Mary of the Cataract


Niagara Gazette — Now, let’s get back to the landmark buildings that have been places of worship for many years. Former pastor, the Rev. Michael H. Burzynski, Ph.D. of St. Mary of the Cataract, Roman Catholic Church left behind some interesting historical material that was written as a welcome to visitors to Niagara Falls. He stated that “The history of Niagara Falls is intimately linked with the Catholic faith.” His references include Father Louis Hennepin, the first European to see the Falls of Niagara in 1678, Saint John Brabeuf’s citing of a cross in the heavens near where the church now stands and the many French and Irish Catholics who were among the earliest settlers of this area.

Saint John Neumann’s establishment of a mission station was the beginnings of the parish in 1836. While the “Saint Mary’s Church was built in the year 1847, its sacristy (a room in a church where sacred vessels and vestments are kept or meetings are held) is the oldest structure in continuous use in Niagara Falls” according to Rev. Burzynski’s welcome brochure. He noted it was originally the carriage house for the home of George Porter and was constructed in 1813 as a stable.

During 2008, the Niagara Falls Historic Preservation Commission submitted documents for designation of landmark status. They presented the building exterior and interior public areas including the four separate buildings, the church, rectory, convent and a detached garage. (The application did not deal with the accessory garage.) Located at 231 Fourth St. in downtown Niagara Falls, the application noted the property was owned by the Diocese of Buffalo and occupied by St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church.

They also credited the Rev. John P. Neuman, who was later canonized as America’s second saint, with organizing a few families in Niagara Falls to petition Bishop Timon to send a priest to cater to these residents. The parish was officially established in 1847 and included the communities of Niagara Falls, Lewiston and Youngstown. Our familiar early citizen and landowner, Augustus Porter sold them the land in 1848 where the present church still stands for one dollar according to reference from Bishop Timon. There is some discrepancy in these dates as there is reference to the oldest part of the church, the nave, being built in 1847. The Rev. John Boyle from Lockport was its first pastor. During 1851, the Rev. William Stephens moved from Lewiston and built a small stone church on Fourth Street. When he passed away he was buried behind this church building.

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