Diocese established 23 April, 1847, now comprises the counties of Erie, Niagara, Genesee, Orleans, Chautauqua, Wyoming, Cattaraugus, and Allegany, in the State of New York, U.S.A. an area of 6,357 square miles. It was set apart from the great Diocese of New York and the see located at Buffalo on Lake Erie, the territory comprising nearly one-third of the State of New York. In 1868 the Diocese of Rochester was formed from the eastern counties of this territory; and in 1896, after Bishop Ryan's death, four more counties, Steuben, Schuyler, Chemung, and Tioga, were taken from the Diocese of Buffalo and added to the Rochester jurisdiction.
Two of the nations of the Iroquois League, the Senecas and the Cayugas, dwelt in this region before the advent of the white men. The Senecas had villages in the valley of the Genesee about twenty miles from Lake Ontario, and the Cayugas erected their cabins near the lake which still bears their name. The Seneca was the most populous and warlike nation of the League. In their frequent raids into the country of the Hurons of Northern Canada, they carried off many captives who had been instructed in Christianity by the French missionaries from Quebec. So numerous were these Huron Christian captives that they formed an entire village, which was called St. Michael's, in memory of their old Huron home. Jesuit missionaries visited these towns in 1656, and cheered the Christian captives who had lost all hope of ever again beholding a "Black Robe". In 1669 this village was located in the north-east part of the present town of East Bloomfield. The Rev. Father Fremin, a Jesuit, established his residence in this town in the fall of 1668, built a chapel, and said the first Mass there, 3 November, 1668. Three years later the Rev. James Pierron became the resident missionary at Gannagaro, or St. James, a Seneca town situated on Boughton Hill, south of the present village of Victor. The principal village of the Cayugas was situated about three and one-half miles south of Union Springs, near Great Gully Brook. This was called St. Joseph's by the Jesuits. Father Carheil built a chapel there in November, 1668, and immediately began his work of instructing. There was another town of the Cayugas at the northern extremity of Seneca Lake. Another chapel was built in the large Seneca town of Gandachioragon, or Totiakton, which was called the Immaculate Conception by the Jesuits. This was situated near Lima, about ten miles west of St. James.
The Jesuits had four or five prosperous missions within the territory of the original Diocese of Buffalo, in which they laboured successfully for ten years until English intrigue and subsequent wars with the French forced them from the field. During those years they baptized nearly all the dying; they imparted a general knowledge of Christianity to the two western nations of the League; they strengthened the old Huron Christians in their faith, and added several hundred Iroquois converts to the Church. Many of the Iroquois chiefs sided with the English, in the war of the latter against the French, and the French missionaries were forced from the field of their labours. Many of the Christian Indians had already abandoned their homes in the Iroquois country for the new settlements on the St. Lawrence, under the protection of the French; and many more accompanied the Fathers in their flight, and settled on the St. Regis, or at Caughnawaga, where they still practise the Faith they acquired in their Iroquois homes. In the summer of 1669 the explorer, La Salle, with two Sulpicians and a party of twenty-five men, started to explore the region of the Great Lakes in search of a north-west passage to India. They skirted along the southern shore of Lake Ontario, crossing the mouth of Niagara River, until they reached Burlington Bay, where the party disbanded. La Salle went again in 1678, with Father Hennepin, in a large vessel which entered the Niagara River on 6th December, to the strains of the Te Deum . The next day a party with Father Hennepin ascended the river in a canoe, and landed on the northern shore, near the present suspension bridge on the Canada side. On 11 December, 1678, they landed on the other side of the river where Father Hennepin said Mass. This was probably the first Mass celebrated within the present limits of the Diocese of Buffalo. A little fort was built there as a protection against Indian assault. Then they proceeded up the river, about five miles about the Falls, where the "Griffon" was built. Father Hennepin remained there all winter, holding service for the men in a little chapel until the vessel was towed up the river to the present harbour of Black Rock, where it anchored until it was in readiness to sail as the first vessel on the lakes.
After Denonville had destroyed the Seneca towns in 1687, he sent a detachment of his army to establish a fort at the mouth of the Niagara River. A garrison of one hundred men was left there with a chaplain. Many died the following winter, and the fort was abandoned. It was reoccupied in 1726, and from that date regular services were held in the chapel until 1759, when the fort capitulated to the English. Soon after the Revolutionary War the Government began building military roads, and the State legislature made appropriations for building highways, and these offered intending settlers better facilities for proceeding farther inland. There was a highway through the State before 1820, reaching to Lake Erie. Buffalo and Erie County offered advantages to intending settlers, and about 1820 many Alsatians located in the vicinity. Many of these were Catholics, but they had no priest, and they could only keep alive the religious spirit by family devotions. The Rev. Patrick Kelly, ordained by Bishop Connolly of New York in 1821, was sent to minister to the Catholics of the western part of the State. He visited Buffalo the same year, and held one public service in a little frame building on Pearl Street. The Rev. Stephen Badin was the first priest to remain any length of time in Buffalo. His field of labour was Kentucky, but sickness compelled him to seek rest. He visited Buffalo for six weeks as the guest of Louis Le Couteulx, who then lived at the corner of Main and Exchange Streets. Here he said Mass for the Catholics of the town; and he urged them to organize and form a congregation. Mr. Le Couteulx started the good work by donating a site for church, cemetery, and priest's residence, at the corner of Main and Edward Streets. The deed was sent to Bishop Dubois as a New Year's gift in January, 1829. Bishop Dubois visited Buffalo the same year and concluded that the number of Catholics in the vicinity required the attention of a resident priest, so the Rev. John Nicholas Mertz was sent as the first pastor of Buffalo. On this occasion Bishop Dubois sang a solemn high Mass in the court-house; and in the afternoon a procession composed of different nationalities marched from the court-house to the site for the new church where the ground was blessed by the bishop. father Mertz rented a little frame building on Pearl Street, back of the old Eagle tavern; and here he held services until the "Lamb of God ", a rough timber church, was erected on the property at Main and Edward Streets. The corner stone of this first church of the diocese was laid 8 July, 1831, but the church was not opened for services until the following year. In the next five years congregations were formed at Lancaster, Williamsville, Nor Bush, East Eden, and Lockport. Father Mertz, with his assistant, the Rev. Alexander Pax, looked after the spiritual interests of the Catholics of the first four places, and the Rev. Bernard O'Reilly of Rochester attended the Catholics of Lockport.
Buffalo grew quickly after becoming a city. The church on Main Street was too small for the rapidly increasing numbers. The English-speaking members withdrew from the church in 1837 and formed a separate congregation, renting the second floor of a building at the corner of Main Street and the Terrace; where the Rev. Charles Smith said Mass for them once a month. Father Smith was employed on the other Sundays at Java, or in looking after the spiritual well-being of the Catholics employed in the construction of the Genesee Valley Canal. Soon afterwards property was bought at the corner of Ellicott and Batavia Streets, for a church for the English-speaking Catholics of the city. The Rev. John N. Neumann, who was afterwards Bishop of Philadelphia, and who has been proposed for canonization went to Buffalo in July, 1836, and laboured zealously for four years in the missions of the Erie County and vicinity. The missionary then had few of the comforts and conveniences of the present day and Father Neumann was often compelled to tramp many miles over rough roads, or through the forest, carrying his vestments on his back, to say Mass or to administer to the sick. The Rev. Bernard O'Reilly of Rochester, who was afterwards Bishop of Hartford, also did effective work among those engaged in building the Erie Canal and in constructing the locks at Lockport. The Rev. Thomas McEvoy of Java attended to the spiritual wants of the Catholics of three or four counties. He resided at Java, and from this place he frequently visited clusters of Catholics in Allegany, Wyoming, Steuben, and Chautauqua counties. Among the lay people Louis Le Couteulx was the greatest benefactor of the incipient church in Buffalo. He located at Buffalo in 1803, and it was at his house, corner of Main and Exchange Streets, that the Catholics were first assembled and were urged to form a congregation. Besides donating the site for the first church, he also gave the land for the Deaf Mute Institute, the Infant Asylum, the Immaculate Conception church, and the Buffalo Orphan asylum. Other lay people of that period and later prominent in church work were: Patrick Milton, Maurice Vaughn, Patrick Cannon, John Connolly, Mrs. O'Rourke, Mrs. Rowen, Mrs. Kimmit, and Messrs. Ambrose, Feldman, Fisher, Steffan, Dingens, Lautz, Paul, Diebold, Gittere, Pfohl, Wechter, Doll, Smith, Miller, Hager, Guinther, Vogt, Davis, John Straus, Gerhard Lang, and their families.
The Very Rev. John Timon, a Visitor General of the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians) was consecrated first Bishop of Buffalo in the cathedral in New York, 17 October, 1847, by Bishop Hughes. The new bishop appointed the Rev. Bernard O'Reilly, pastor of St. Patrick's church, Rochester, his vicar-general, and began a retreat for his priests ; then he gave missions for his people in the sixteen churches of the diocese. Many of these were plain frame structures, without architectural ornament, and many of them had no altar except a table or some rough timber fitted up for the purpose. In many cases services were held in rented buildings, especially where public works attracted large numbers of men but gave no promise of permanent settlement. Such was the case along the Erie Canal and the Genesee Valley Canal, where services were held in the largest workmen's shanty, or in the nearest town hall. Men engaged in these public works were attracted by the fertility of the soil or the advantages of localities, and sent for their families and friends, and established homes in the western part of the State along the lines of public traffic. Thus little Catholic settlements were formed, and incipient congregations were organized. The first Catholic congregations were made up of settlers from the East or immigrants from Europe.
The growth of the Church, before the advent of the bishop to the western part of the State, was entirely from immigration. Many were lost to the Church during this period because they had settled in remote localities, and priests were scarce. Nearly all the priests who laboured in Western New York during this period were from Europe, and some were not permanently attached to the diocese. The small number of priests could not visit regularly the many small settlements in that extensive territory, and many Catholics would not see a priest for months, or even years. Under such conditions it was but natural that some should fall away. Before there was a resident priest at Buffalo people journeyed all the way to Albany to have their children baptized, others took their children to Monroe, Michigan, where there was a resident priest. When young people decided to get married, two or three of the respectable old people of the community were called in as witnesses ; troth was plighted, and the couple became man and wife, with the understanding that as soon as a priest came the blessing of the Church would be invoked upon the marriage. A journey to Albany in those days was a difficult undertaking. It meant many days travel through the forest, on horseback, by stage-coach, or rough wagons. When the Erie Canal was built, part of the journey could be made by packet boat; but as a rule people postponed the reception of the sacraments until some priest went through this region on his way to the Catholic settlements of the West, or in transit between the East and Montreal or Quebec. Priests were scarce for some years after Buffalo was made a diocese ; and one of Bishop Timon's first labours was directed to the establishment of colleges and seminaries for the education of youth. He induced the Oblates, the Franciscans, and the Jesuits to send communities to found colleges, and to assist in the formation of parishes. The Oblate Fathers in August, 1851, started a seminary and college in a brick building, which was located on the site of the present cathedral rectory. This institution was later transferred to Prospect Hill, on the site of the present Holy Angels church property. The Franciscans in 1855 located at Ellicottville, but shortly after moved to Allegany. The Jesuits started the present St. Michael's Church and Canisius College (1851). After the advent of Bishop Timon fallen-away Catholics began to return to the Church, and many non-Catholics embraced the Faith. His missions and his lectures in all the towns of the diocese awakened an interest in Catholic teaching and practice; and from three to five hundred new members were added to the Church each year through the conversion of non-Catholics. Much of the prejudice also, which existed in some localities, was dispelled by the diffusion of knowledge of the Church.
(1) Bishop Timon died 16 April, 1867. He was born 12 February, 1797, at Conewago, Pennsylvania, and ordained at St. Louis, Missouri, in June, 1825. For a long time he was a missionary in Texas and in April, 1840, was named Prefect Apostolic there but refused the office.
(2) The Very Rev. Stephen Vincent Ryan who, like his predecessor, was a Visitor General of the Congregation of the Mission, was appointed to succeed him as Bishop of Buffalo and was consecrated 8 November, 1868. Bishop Ryan was born 1 January, 1825, at Almonte, Ontario, Upper Canada. Distinguished for his piety, zeal, and learning, he continued the great work of Bishop Timon. He died 10 April, 1896.
(3) The Rev. James E. Quigley, D.D., his successor, was consecrated 24 February, 1897. Bishop Quigley's condemnation of the attempt of the Socialists to identify their doctrines with the principles of labour unionism, and thus wean men from their allegiance to the Church, gained for him a national reputation. He was promoted to the vacant archbishopric of Chicago, 19 February, 1903.
(4) The Rev. Charles H. Colton of New York, was next appointed to the see and consecrated in St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York, 24 August, 1903.
There are 264 priests in the diocese ; 168 secular, 96 of religious orders; 142 churches with resident priests, 32 mission churches, and 16 chapels ; 54 Brothers and 1,085 Sisters of religious orders, teaching 94 parochial schools, with 27,787 pupils. There is one university, Niagara, under the Lazarist Fathers; five colleges for boys with 952 students; and two seminaries for secular clergy, and one for religious, with 181 students. The seminary at Niagara is conducted by the Lazarists ; that at Allegany, by the Franciscans. The preparatory seminaries are the college departments at Niagara and at Allegany, and the colleges of Canisius, Holy Angels, and the Christian Brothers. The Oblates have a seminary in Buffalo for candidates for their order, and the Passionists have one in Dunkirk for their students. There are 159 students in the large seminaries, 81 in the preparatory, and 200 students in the university. There are eight academies for young ladies, with 1,200 students. St. John's Protectory for homeless, or wayward boys, founded in 1861, accommodates about 600 boys, who are taught some trade, along with the elementary branches of education. A Deaf Mute Institute, started in Buffalo in 1856, is now an important institution, under the charge of the Sisters of St. Joseph, with 166 pupils. In 1861 Bishop Timon secured the sisters of St. Francis to care for the aged; these sisters now have three houses: one in Buffalo, one in Gardenville and one in Williamsville, with 600 inmates. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd in 1855 started a refuge for wayward girls and fallen women. They care for 150 inmates and 75 children. In 1888 the Rev. Daniel Walsh established the Working Boys Home, in which 80 boys and young men now find a comfortable home. In 1906 Bishop Colton established the St. Charles's Home for Working Girls, under the Sisters of Mercy. Bishop Quigley founded two mission houses for poor children, the Angel Guardian Mission and the St. James's Mission. In June, 1848, Bishop Timon secured a community of Sisters of Charity and placed them in the orphan asylum, which now has 250 orphans, and a large number of young girls employed in a technical school. There is a German orphan asylum in Buffalo, incorporated in 1874, in which there are 370 orphans, under the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis. The Polish orphan asylum at Doyle, under the care of the Felician Sisters of St. Francis, has 186 inmates. The Sisters of St. Joseph have the Orphan Asylum at Dunkirk with 88 orphans ; and the Sisters of Charity direct an infant asylum in Buffalo, where 185 infant children can be accommodated, with 60 patients in the maternity hospital. The Sisters of Charity hospital accommodates 250 patients. Their emergency hospital treats 1,200 patients a year. The sisters of Mercy at the Mercy Hospital accommodate about 40 patients. Estimated Catholic population 200,000.
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