The minutes of the General Council’s January 4,1850 meeting speak favorably of accepting an offer to have the Oblates come to Buffalo, among the factors favorable to accepting this offer were Buffalo’s unique location only 24 hours from NY equidistant to Montreal where the Oblates were already established and only 48 hours to Bytown whose Episcopal Seat was held by Bishop Guigues, o.m.i., who was also the Oblate Vicar in North America and the promise which Buffalo had for growth as a major city in the United States. The minutes mention that the Bishop was seeking three Oblates and describe the offer of a small parish and college, the revenues and land of which would be given to the Oblates, The Bishop was requesting three Oblates, The proposal received the full acceptance of the Council.
In the spring of 1850 Bishop John Timon, C.M., the first Bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo, met with Bishop de Mazenod in the scholasticate in Marseille. In a letter written after that meeting the Bishop expressed his intention to entrust to the Oblates the major seminary, a college and a parish Church. Bishop de Mazenod accepted this offer on April 1,1850.
Following a tiresome and confusing journey three Oblates, Fathers Pierre Amisse, Richard Molony and Joseph Pourret, arrived in Buffalo on the July 26,1850. Their stay in Buffalo, however, was short lived, due to the conviction of Fr. Amisse, the designated superior of the young group who had just finished their scholastic studies, that there had been some mistake in the terms of the agreement. Upon their arrival they learned that the Church which they were to staff was being cared for by a Priest who was reluctant to leave it and also quickly perceived the need for proficiency in English to effectively respond to the needs presented. They departed for Montreal after only fifteen days.
In the spring of 1851, Fr. Tempier, during his Canonical Visitation of the Oblate Foundations in Canada, met with Bishop Timon and to the dismay of the Oblates of the Province, the two entered into an agreement to have the Oblates open a foundation in Buffalo. The following is the agreement which was drawn up following that meeting: “Bishop John Timon, bishop of Buffalo, state of New York America, desiring to procure for his diocese the most abundant means for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, has applied to Bishop Charles Joseph Eugene de Mazenod, bishop of Marseille, founder and Superior General of the Congregation of me Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate for some of his Apostolic workers whom he has trained, and Bishop de Mazenod being favorable to this demand, has settled and concluded the following between the two prelates. Acting in the name of Bishop de Mazenod is François de Paule Henry Tempier, his Vicar General and first assistant in the Congregation, stipulating a follows:
Article I: Bishop Timon grants and confides to the Congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate die direction of his Catholic College of Buffalo which serves at the same time for a Major Seminary and he offers for this purpose the future Episcopal residence near the Cathedral church which at this time is under construction, with power over and care of the little wooden chapel, a short distance from the above-mentioned Episcopal residence.
Article II: The Congregation of the Oblates assume to undertake the direction of the aforesaid college and chapel without the responsibility of the maintenance expenses of both buildings and without being answerable for unforeseen accidents which might occur for example a fire, nor are they to be burdened with the obligation of paying taxes if there are any.
Article III: When the house which the college now occupies will be occupied by Bishop Timon, the Oblate Fathers can then or sooner if it appears good, buy their own land in the section of the city which will appear most suitable in order to build their own community house and a church where they will exercise the ordinary ministry with jurisdiction in a circumscribed territory and vicinity which limits will be fixed by the bishop. The bishop of Buffalo, however, both in consideration of the services to the above-mentioned college which the Oblates will perform and in order to facilitate the means of establishing them will cooperate in this purchase by the donation of one of the plots of land which have been given to him for a church or its equivalent in money.
Made and signed at Buffalo, July 31, 1851, in original and duplicate. The seminarians will pay $130 a year for all expenses, but if they are occupied in the college two or three hours a day, a deduction will be made in their board according to their merits and the ability of the establishment.
Signed: Tempier, Vicar General, o.m.i., John, Bishop of Buffalo.”
On August 21 1851, following a two day journey by steamer from Montreal, Fr. Édouard Chevalier, the designated superior, who was destined to encounter difficulties with Bishop Timon and Fathers Alexandre Soulerin, and William Corbett, arrived in Buffalo. On September 1, 1851, they opened the seminary-college which, like the Chapel, was placed under the Patronage of Saint Joseph, Their first student body consisted of eleven seminarians, seven boarding students and ten day scholars. A month after the opening of the college, two more Oblates, Fr. Alexandre Trudeau from England and Fr. Richard Molony from Montreal joined the Oblate community in Buffalo. Fr. Molony took charge of the “basilica” (the term used to refer to the chapel) which then allowed Fr. Chevalier to concentrate all his efforts on teaching. Some time following this, two other Oblates, Fr. Hector Mauroit and Fr. Antoine Pailler were also sent to form part of the Oblate community in Buffalo.
In the summer of 1852, the Bishop obtained a plot of land with two buildings the “Old Poor House” and an insane asylum on Prospect Hill for $12,000. He, in turn, sold this land to the Oblates for the same sum. Immediately upon securing the property the Oblates began to prepare the “Old Poor House” for classes in September. Having been in poor repair to begin with and having been vacant for six months prior to the Oblate’s arrival, it is reported that this was no small task.
Although there was reported success in this apostolate, most likely due to financial difficulties, the college ceased to be at the end of the school year in 1855. Four of the seven Oblates in the Community were recalled to Canada less than a week after the academic year had ended. During the 1855 academic year Fr. Chevalier tutored the Seminarians who had moved into the Bishop’s residence following the closing of the seminary-college. At the close of that year, the Bishop decided to send his remaining seminarians to study in another seminary in the United States.
Given the fact that the Oblate rules stated that: “After the missions the most important work of our Congregation is undoubtedly the direction of seminaries” and the fact that they had refused to sanction the provincial council’s decision to close the college the year before, it is not surprising that Bishop de Mazenod and the General Administration were less than pleased with this decision taken by the Province without the approbation of the Superior General. In a letter to Fr. Santoni, the provincial, dated October 9,1855, Bishop de Mazenod stated:
“I desire to postpone the answer to your letter of the end of last July until the meeting of the Council of my assistants in order to make them acquainted with the critical situation in which our Buffalo establishment finds itself. It is true that the question, for all practical purposes has been decided, and in fact terminated by the fact of the resolution which you thought it your duty to take, to give up the work of the college and especially by the communication which you sent concerning this resolution to both Bishop Timon and Father Chevalier. It must have been that you judged the difficulties very grave and the solution very pressing to conclude the matter in this way. Now at the point at which matters stand and since the Bishop of Bytown (Bishop Guigues) consulted by you has pronounced in favor of the Provincial Council’s decision what sort of a choice can we make here? Evidently that of accepting the ‘faits accomplis’.”
The lack of acceptance of the closing of the college by the General Council is further attested to in a letter dated the Spring of 1856, in which Fr. Tempier writes the following to Fr. Chevalier: “I know that your Buffalo community is reduced to a small number at this moment as I have also learned that they have taken the extreme measure of closing the college. I cannot see how this measure will be a happy one nor the necessity that caused it. I find that it is extreme. It is a backward step, an about face, a semi-retreat which is not far from a complete retreat.”
Holy Angels Parish
Although not the first parish in the country to be served by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and despite difficult beginnings, Holy Angels holds the distinct honor of hosting the longest continuous presence of the Oblates in the United States. Located on the west side of Buffalo, New York, the present site of Holy Angels has been “home” to Oblates since 1852.
Due to the distance between the new property on which the school was located and the Chapel, following their change of residence in August of 1852, the Oblates no longer staffed either the Chapel or St Peter’s Church, a French church, whose staffing they had been asked to assume soon after their arrival in Buffalo. Plans were undertaken to convert the old insane asylum, a building with two rows of cells separated by a corridor, located on the property, into a parish church. In 1852, following removal of the partitions between the cells, Holy Angels Church, granted the status of a parish by Bishop Timon, came into existence. Through the many changes that have taken place in the neighborhood the Oblate presence and witness has been a constant.
Foundations for a new Church laid in 1856, but, due to lack of funds, work on the building was temporarily suspended for a period of 18 months. The building was resumed and the church, half the size of the present structure was dedicated by Bishop Timon in the presence of Bishop Guigues, on May 10, 1859. In subsequent years the church was enlarged and embellished and is today, one of the most beautiful churches in Buffalo. In addition to the Parish, over the years, the property has served as a juniorate, the provincial house, the center for a very active mission band, and a high school.
arrival of the Grey Nuns and the establishment of Holy Angels School 1857
When one thinks of the beginnings of Holy Angels naturally Bishop Timon and the first community of Oblates to staff the parish come to mind but equally important to the history and growth of Holy Angels was the presence of the Grey Nuns. Holy Angels was also the first foundation of this community of religious women in the United States,
In 1857 Fr. Chevalier approached Mother Bruyère, the Superior General of
the Grey Nuns of the Cross, regarding the possibility of the Grey Nuns coming
to Holy Angels. The first group accompanied by Mother Bruyère, herself, arrived
in Buffalo on October 28, 1857, since their convent was not yet
finished the group of six slept in the parlor of the Oblate residence (the Old Poorhouse). It
is reported that there was only one bed available which, Mother Bruyère
insisted, be used by the designated superior of the Community; the others slept on
mattresses placed on the floor. The sisters survived this living situation
until November 20, 1857 when they were able to move into their six-room
On November 4, 1857, Holy Angels School opened with a student body of 26 (15 boys and 11 girls). Classes were first conducted in the Church but soon were moved to the second floor of the rectory and then to the convent. Within four years the number of students had greatly multiplied. The school expanded and was moved to various locations of the vicinity. Two additional buildings, which later became the property of Nativity and Annunciation parishes, when they were formed, served as part of Holy Angels School. A new school building, a model for the nation, in that each of the classrooms was equipped with individual cloakrooms and lavatories as, well as an auditorium with a balcony was opened in 1906. Holy Angels School, which began with 26 students in 1857, in its heyday, boasted an enrollment of over 500 students. The school was closed in 1988 when Holy Angels joined the twelve parishes in Buffalo who sponsored the Catholic Academy of West Buffalo. The majestic granite building, which, for some time was rented by the Buffalo Public School System, now houses one of D’Youville College’s libraries.
St. Peter’s Church and the Church of the Black Rock
On various occasions the Oblates were offered the staffing of the French speaking Church, St Peter’s. Soon after their arrival in Buffalo, the Pastor of St. Peter’s returned to Europe and the Oblates assumed responsibility for the Parish from the end of August in 1851 to the beginning of July 1852. In 1855, when they were again prevailed upon to accept charge of the parish, Fr. Chevalier agreed to do so for a period of three months. In 1861, once again in need of a Pastor for St. Peters, the Bishop turned to the Oblates. One source mentions that the parishioners of the Parish were reluctant to lose their pastor unless it was the Oblates who would replace him. Fr. Chevalier, this time, encouraged the Oblates to accept the post.
In the spring of 1864, Bishop Timon asked the Oblates to take charge of a parish in Black Rock. The Oblates staffed the Parish for a period of three years. When the care of the Parish was accepted, it was foreseen that the Pastor would be able to reside with the Oblates at Holy Angels and commute to the Parish, however, when it became apparent that the needs of the Parish required the constant presence of the Pastor, thereby requiring him to live separated from the community which was contrary to the notion of religious and Oblate life, the Oblates asked to be relieved of the parish.
In addition to the staffing of the College and parishes the Oblates in Buffalo became known for their preaching of Missions, another of the foundational works of the Institute. In an 1859 letter to the General House, the provincial reports that during the autumn and winter, Fr. Chevalier was barely home two Sundays, having given 14 retreats and missions.
The Codex Historicus reveals that in a period of six years, in addition to 180 missions and retreats, the Oblates had also conducted a dozen retreats for religious communities. In commenting upon the success of these missions, Fr. Chevalier asserted: “I don’t think that I am wrong in saying, that without these missions half of these populations would be loss to Catholicism”.
Fr. Édouard Chevalier
As has been evident thus far the presence of Fr. Chevalier played a major role in the Oblate’s presence in Buffalo. This presence was not, however, without its challenges, particularly as regards his relationship with Bishop Timon. Fr. Chevalier had accompanied Fr. Tempier during the latter’s visit with Bishop Timon which resulted in the Buffalo agreement and was sent as superior of the first Oblate community in Buffalo following the agreement.
Conflicts between he and the Bishop arose over a promissory note given to him by the Bishop, the requirement of the parishes to pay for the burial plots of their poor who had sought a voucher, and letter that, without permission, Fr. Chevalier had written to Cardinal Barnabò is which he complained about the Bishop. Eventually, in 1862 when for the second time, the Bishop revoked Fr. Chevalier’s faculties, he was transferred to Pittsburgh.
Other Institutions in Buffalo
staffed by the Oblates
In recent history, the Oblates have also staffed the following Institutions in the Diocese of Buffalo: Bishop Fallen High School, Cardinal Newmann High School, St. Rose of Lima Parish and Annunciation Parish. At the present time Oblates in Buffalo staff Holy Angels Parish, the Pre-Novitiate Program on the original property and Annunciation Parish which is also located on Buffalo’s west side.
Hank Lemoncelli, O.M.I.
Ortolan, Théophile, o.m.i., Les
Oblats de Marie Immaculée…, Vol. II, pp. 347-352.
Carrière, Gaston, o.m.i., Histoire documentaire de la Congrégation des Missionnaires Oblats de M.I. dans l’Est du Canada…, Vol. IV, pp. 210-245.
Leflon, Jean, Eugene De Mazenod, Bishop of Marseilles, Founder of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Vol. IV, 1838-1861, pp. 124-136.
Wild, Joseph C., o.m.i., Men off Hope: The Background and History of the Oblate Province of Our Lady of Hope, pp. 34-74.