By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette — I saw Mike Parsnick recently and he reminded me that in the very early days of immigration in Niagara Falls, the Polish immigrants living on the east side of the city and working on the hydraulic canal attended Mass at St. Mary’s of the Cataract Church on Fourth Street before they built a small wooden church to call their own on 13th Street which was later moved to land owned by the parish on 14th Street.
However, it was not long before the parishioners outgrew their little wooden church and Schmill & Gould, well-known architects in the Buffalo area were hired to design a new church. Braas Brothers Company was contracted on Oct. 2, 1905, to build the new church for $34,700. Stone from the hydraulic canal was chosen as the building material as so many of the parishioners had worked on the canal and it held a special place in the hearts of the church members. By December 1905, the foundation was completed and the walls were erected in the spring of 1906.
Let’s take a little time out to relate some history of Schmill & Gould as they exist today as Schneider Design Architects, PC at 443 Delaware Ave. in Buffalo. In 1886, Karl G. Schmill began the practice of architecture in Buffalo and soon formed the partnership with George C. Gould. Some notable achievements of this partnership were: Transfiguration RC Church (1893), St. John the Evangelist RC Church, Corpus Christi RC Church (1907) and Assumption RC Church (1914). Just prior to his death in 1914, his son Karl Jr. joined his father’s firm and was soon followed by his brother William Schmill Together the two brothers continued to design many churches, rectories, convents, and schools. William died in 1952 and Karl continued with a partner, C. J. Hoffmeyer until his retirement in 1956 when Schmill & Hoffmeyer expanded to form Schmill, Hoffmeyer, Sloan & Schneider. This eventually evolved into today’s Schneider Design, Architects, PC. A complete list of their projects over the years can be seen at www.schneiderdesign.com.
Back to the church, one thing led to another and soon a rectory for the clergy was added to the property.
Wladyslaw H. Zawadzki, a Polish-American architect was awarded this contract. He was well known for his design of the Polonia Hotel, Hodkiewicz-Cohen Bakery and the Polish Union Hall in Buffalo among others. Completed in 1907, a one-story addition was later added during 1966. He also designed the garage built in 1907 which was originally used as a stable for the priests’ horses and carriage and later was altered to house vehicles.
But wait, there is more. The original school was located on the second floor of a building owned by Jacob Pasek on 13th Street in 1904. During 1908, the original church was renovated into three classrooms with the teaching nuns occupying the remainder of the building. By 1910 there were 240 pupils enrolled. The Rev. Alexander Pitass, the first church pastor at Holy Trinity, soon began plans for the present day school building. Architect Zawadzki designed this school in 1913 and the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph taught classes continuously in this building until the late 1960s. The school closed in 1974 and the classrooms were leased to the Head Start program.
As enrollment increased, there was a need for additional teachers which ultimately led to the need for additional living quarters for the teacher nuns so the parishioners decided to create a convent. Again Zawadzki was called into action and the building was completed in 1910. The convent was later converted to serve as a retirement home named “The Holy Trinity RC Manor.”
There was a plan in place to take care of parishioners from birth to death and with that in mind; the parish acquired 4.71 acres of land in Lewiston in 1910 for a cemetery. By 1949 the cemetery had increased to 54.31 acres. Later, 25 acres were partitioned by the New York Power Authority and Thruway Authority during the Niagara Power Project which left only 29 acres in parish hands.
They continued upgrades on a regular basis both during early construction and over the years. In 1912, the Rev. Pitass had three church bells made and installed. Later, in 1928, Rev. Francis Wasik was appointed pastor to Holy Trinity where he remained for 20 years. This pastor only had the church murals repainted in 1939, as he was a careful manager of finances through the depression and recovery period until his death in 1948.
The Rev. Cyman followed in the footsteps of his predecessors and began considerable work modernizing the heating and lighting systems, and redecorating the church interior. All the stonework was pointed and cafeteria facilities for school children were added. Donations were taken for new altars which were found to be a disappointment to some as they were wider with plainer altars covering the section where the doorways had been. The former many rounded bulb and crystal chandeliers were replaced with new lantern-type chandeliers and M.M. Rzeznik of Buffalo and a specialist in ecclesiastical painting, painted the murals in the sanctuary.
In another matter, as our nation celebrates Veterans Day, please take a moment to remember the men and women who have served our country in both peacetime and times of conflict. And, in the words of former President John F. Kennedy: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.