Niagara Gazette

November 18, 2013

HIGGS: It's the people that make the church

By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Since the definition of a landmark refers mainly to the structure itself we have learned much about the building of the Holy Trinity complex on the East Side of Niagara Falls in the early 1900s. Most of this information was found in the document prepared by the Niagara Falls Historic Preservation Commission in conjunction with the City of Niagara Falls Planning Office and the original research was completed by parishioners and friends of Holy Trinity Parish in January 2008.

Now it is time to get some real-life stories from the parishioners themselves. Like any other building whether a landmark or not, it is the people who bring it to life. After all, of what value is a beautifully designed church building if there is no occupancy? Reading about the continuous building at this complex during these early years, I wondered where the funding came from. First, it was the large magnificent church, then the garage, the convent, the school and so forth. Each of these projects was deemed necessary by the parishioners as their numbers grew and donations (sometimes pennies) were willingly given. The church was their community and they truly supported it.

I met with a friend who was born Angela Zaidel 80-plus years ago and raised on 15th Street across from Holy Trinity School. The neighborhood at the time was mixed with residents of many ethnic backgrounds with many of them of Polish descent. She, like most of them, attended her early childhood school years at Holy Trinity. Learning the polish language was mandatory and the teachers were nuns as I mentioned in an earlier article.

Each grade had separate classrooms as there was always a large population of students. Boys and girls studied together but there were separate entrance ways as in the public schools at the time. Students attended Mass before a full day of schooling. They went home for lunch as they all lived nearby. Angie lived in an apartment with her family behind the grocery store owned by her family.

Angie graduated from the eighth grade at Holy Trinity and after school she helped out at her father’s grocery store after her mother died at age 51 in 1947. Since she was needed at the store after she graduated she went to Trott Vocational as this was a two-year journey instead of the three years at the Niagara Falls High School. She went on to Kelly Business School part time on Main Street then to beauty school in Buffalo to prepare for the exam. While helping her Dad at the store she did hair for a few customers.

The store was typical of the early days using a notebook to keep a record of purchases and payments. She showed me the book that the customer was obligated to bring to the store where purchases were made in both the store records and this book. They had a big brass cash register like many others. The family made and sold their own sausage which was also common in these neighborhood stores.

She told me that one day Certo Bros. came to the store to deliver soda and told her father Frank that it looked like he was about to be robbed. He noticed two people on either side of the building who looked suspicious. Frank brought out his gun and gave it to his son and they shut off the lights. The men apparently thought they were on to something so instead of coming in the store they drove off in the Certo Bros. delivery truck.

As I mentioned before, the church was their life from birth to death and Angie as well as most of the parishioners were baptized in the church, celebrated their First Communion and Confirmation there also. So, when Angie married Hank in 1953 it was at Holy Trinity Church (where else?) They actually met at a wedding reception in the third floor hall. Hank had lived on 15th Street also but later moved to Royal Avenue and he attended Lady of Lebanon Church. I looked at her wedding book; they had three groomsmen and three bridesmaids. They walked from the bride’s house in a procession to the church and were led by a friend playing the accordion. The Rev. Cyman officiated at the ceremony and the reception was held upstairs in the third floor hall where they met. They honeymooned in New York City.

The newlyweds lived for a few years behind the store with her father and continued to serve the Holy Trinity Church as a couple. They later moved to their own home and Angie found employment at the Niagara Gazette where she worked for many years. Hank worked in local industry and served as an usher and worked on the building and grounds committee at Holy Trinity and Angie was active in the mother’s club and fundraising. Their two daughters attended Holy Trinity with the eldest graduating eighth grade. She later taught religious education there for a few years. The youngest finished her religious education at Lady of Lebanon when the Holy Trinity School closed in 1974. Hank has since passed away and Angie now attends Divine Mercy RC Church.

This family was not the only family who lived a good part of their life attending, serving and enjoying their neighborhood church. This is just a sample of life during these times where hard work and devotion to family and church was a major part of it.

Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.