“A Pictorial History of the Roman Catholic Churches of Lockport” ties the city’s 19th century development to the changes in the 21st century.

The glossy, spiral-bound 42-page book, which was put together by the Niagara County Historical Society, is timely during this period of transition, where the five or six Catholic churches are becoming two — or maybe three.

The Rev. Joseph Dumphrey wrote the introduction and conclusion. The staff of the Niagara County Historical Society Center and volunteers provided the research. There is an appropriate balance of glossy pictures and text.

Dumphrey, who is now the parochial vicar of St. John the Baptist Church, explains why there were five Catholic churches in a small city the size of Lockport. St. Anthony’s, St. Mary’s, St. Joseph’s, St. Patrick’s and St. John the Baptist are within about a 1-mile radius of Church Street.

Yet there were good reasons for each of the churches to be built, Dumphrey says. Reach back to the Old World, where the Irish, Germans and Italians ventured from home to the hope of a better life in the New World. Look south where miners from Pennsylvania and West Virginia were seeking work. Look to Lockport, where a huge rock hurdle was in the way of Americans reaching west.

The parishes emerged from all levels of the church, Dumphrey wrote. The bishops from New York City to Buffalo wanted the churches to exist. The canal diggers of the 1820s and the steelworkers of the 1920s wanted their churches to exist. In the mid-19th century, the influx of German immigrants helped break down the language barrier by building St. Mary’s.

St. John’s

Lockport was a far western outpost of the Diocese of New York when St. John’s was established in 1834 on Chestnut Street . Priests traveled from Lewiston to Rochester along the Honeymoon Trail to minister to the communities. The Diocese of Buffalo was not established until 1847.

Anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic groups sprang up, feeling threatened by the influx of Irish Catholics. In 1853, a group from the “No Nothing Party” demanded to be let into St. John’s Church to search for weapons and explosives.

St. Mary of Namur

Lockport grew, and the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur came to Lockport from Belgium, Ireland, Germany and Luxembourg to set up a school in 1862. St. Joseph’s School was opened in 1868 for the convenience of the Germans. Tuition was $2 a term. St. Joseph’s Academy was closed in 1957 when it was incorporated with DeSales High School.

St. Mary’s

Europe was unsettled in the 19th century and there was a bloody process of unification in Germany and Ireland. German Catholics attended St. John the Baptist, the only Catholic Church in Lockport, but there were cultural and language barriers between the Irish and Germans.

John Timon, the first bishop of Buffalo, realized there was a need for a church for German Catholics. The German Catholics purchased a building previously used by the Grace Episcopal Church at Saxton and Walnut. St. Mary’s was dedicated in 1859 as a personal church and became one of the largest German congregations outside of Buffalo. A new church was built in 1886. The school was built in 1892.

St. Patrick’s

St. John’s could not accommodate the influx of Irish Catholics fleeing the Potato Famine in Ireland. Also, it was inconvenient for new immigrants who lived west of the Erie Canal in Lowertown. The cornerstone of St. Patrick’s was laid on All Saints Day in 1857. The church opened on All Saints Day on Nov. 1, 1863.

When several Lockport churches merged in 2007, the new parish on Church Street, formerly St. Patrick’s, was named “All Saints.” St. Mary’s of Gasport was merged into St. John the Baptist.

St. Joseph’s

Almost 4 million Italians came to America the first quarter of the 20th century. Lockport became the home of many Italians who settled in “Lowertown” — the area below the escarpment. There were language and cultural differences with Irish and German descendants who were settled in.

The cornerstone of St. Joseph’s was laid in 1916, and the church on Market Street was built for $14,000. The church was dedicated by Bishop Colton and Father Baker.

St. Anthony’s

Former miners from Pennsylvania and West Virginia migrated to Lockport and settled near the railroad yard on the west side of Lockport. St. Joe’s was beneath the escarpment and it was difficult for the west-siders to get to Mass. St. Anthony’s was built to give Catholics on the west end a parish of their own. It was finished in less than six months in 1928 at a cost of $40,000.

St. Joe’s and St. Anthony’s were twinned and then merged with St. Patrick’s, now All Saints. The evolution of the Catholic Churches is not over, however. St. Mary’s is appealing the merger/closing and a decision from the Vatican is expected Feb. 6, 2009.

There is a sign at the church on Saxton Street. It reads, “St. Mary’s R.C. Church — We are an appealing parish. Join us.”

The booklet contains many color pictures. It is available at the History Center Museum Store at 215 Niagara St. or at www.NiagaraHistory.org. The cost is $11.95.

Contact reporter Bill Wolcott at 439-9222, ext. 6246.

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