Corpus Christi was established in 1898 by Fr. Hyacinth Fudzinski, a Franciscan Conventual friar, to accommodate a rapidly growing Polish immigrant community in one of the most densely populated neighborhoods of Buffalo. The original church was an existing frame house that immediately became too small for the ever-increasing congregation. A second church/school building with a seating capacity for 1,000 also was outgrown within 10 years of its construction.
The cornerstone of the present Romanesque Revival church was laid in 1907. Built of Onondaga limestone faced with red Medina sandstone, Corpus Christi was designed by noted Buffalo architects Schmill and Gould. Eventually the parish grew into a six building complex. This church, like churches in all of Buffalo’s immigrant neighborhoods, became the actual as well as the symbolic focal point of community life. An elementary school, run by the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph, instructed parish children until the 1980’s. In addition, needlework clubs; dramatic societies; bowling, baseball, and basketball teams; lodges; and mutual benefit associations all used the church as a meeting place. In its most prosperous years, the Corpus Christi served not only the spiritual, but also the educational, social and recreational needs of 2,000 families in its congregation.
The awe-inspiring church interior, featuring some of the finest ecclesiastical art in the city, has 11,000 light bulbs illuminating the sanctuary. In the sanctuary apse is a rendering of Raphael Santi’s (1483-1520) famous Disputa. It depicts the Church’s illustrious theologians and mystics trying to plumb the mysteries of the Eucharist. The exquisite stained glass windows were made by Franz Mayer Works in Munich, Germany.
“The Father Justin ‘s Rosary Hour” radio program was originally broadcast from the sanctuary of Corpus Christi Church starting in 1931. It remains the oldest continuing religious radio program in the Polish language worldwide.
Corpus Christi is a distinctive “skyscraper” on Buffalo’s East Side. During construction, the gold crosses atop the copper domes of its twin towers were filled with hundreds of letters written by the Parish’s children. These spires rise m ajestically above the landmarks of the art deco Central Terminal and storied Broadway Market. The church bells have recently been repaired, ringing out as a call to faith and hope in a neighborhood that is struggling for a second chance.
The beauty and magnificence of Corpus Christi Church is something that can only truly be appreciated in person. Corpus Christi has a rich history and its story is one of hard work, prosperity, decline, and finally a struggle to survive in a distressed East Side neighborhood in Buffalo, New York.
In June 2003, it was announced that the Franciscan Friars were leaving Corpus Christi and that the church would most likely close at the end of the year. The last chapter in the story of Corpus Christi seemed to be near an end. However; through the hard work and enormous efforts of many loyal and dedicated parishioners and especially Monsignor Matthew Kopacz of St. Casimers parish, the prayers of the people of Corpus Christi were answered and the church’s future was no longer in question. Msgr. Kopacz contacted the Pauline Fathers and Brothers, and after visiting Corpus Christi they decided to assume control of the parish. The Pauline Fathers and Brothers took over control of the parish in January 2004 and have since given it a new life with many hopes and dreams for the future.
The Pauline Fathers and Brothers are in charge of Jasna Gora in Czestochowa, Poland, the home of the original icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa and the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
The story of Corpus Christi begins with Fr. Hyacinth Fudzinski, who was born in Czarnkow, Poland in 1855. Fr. Hyacinth was the organizer and first pastor of Corpus Christi Parish as well as the founder and First Provincial of the Friars Minor Conventual.
At the turn of the 19 th century, Bishop James Quigley of the Diocese of Buffalo asked Fr. Hyacinth to come and organize a parish for the increasing amount of Polish immigrants who were settling here.
Fr. Hyacinth chose the corner of Clark and Kent streets as the site for his new parish, Corpus Christi, which was the seventh Polish parish established in Buffalo. Many homes and lots were bought out to make room for the new church. One of these homes was remodeled and made into the first parish church and was located where the present rectory now stands.
The rapid increase of new parishioners demanded that a larger church be built, and construction began in August of 1898. The former Corpus Christi Parish School served as the new church on the first floor, a school on the second floor and a parish hall on the third. Shortly after the new church/school /hall was completed, classes began and were taught by the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph. The school was closed in 1988, and was eventually torn down and replaced by a large parking lot.
In 1900, work began on building the present rectory, and in 1905 on the sisters’ convent. The amount of parishioners continued to increase, and in 1907 construction of the present church began and was completed in 1909. Funded at the then astronomical amount of $200,000 the beautiful church built of red sandstone still rises above the roof tops of the East Side with its twin spires topped by gold crosses which were filled with hundreds of letters to Jesus written by the school children.
Fr. Hyacinth retired as pastor in 1923, and was replaced by Fr. Michael Cieslik who served 16 years at Corpus Christi. Young, energetic and devoted to the youth of the parish, he was responsible for the painting and decoration of the interior of the church. Fr. Michael also began the construction of two recreational centers, one for the “Girls Club”, which is now The Kolbe Center, and another, the “Corpus Christi Club” which is located on Sears Street.
The “Father Justin’s Rosary Hour” radio program was broadcast from the sanctuary of the church for several years during which Fr. Michael was pastor, and later broadcast from the second floor of the “Girls Club” (Kolbe Center). The late Fr. Justin Figas, was the founder and director of the rosary hour program until his death in 1959. The Fr. Justin Rosary Hour is the oldest continuing hour-long religious network program in the Polish language in the world.
Fr. Emil Majchrzak was assistant pastor of Corpus Christi for five years before becoming pastor. Fr. Emil was responsible for forming the school library and the “Mothers Club”, as well as making many necessary repairs to the school, the rectory and the convent. For the benefit of the sick and infirm he had the perpetual novena to St. Anthony of Padua broadcast over the radio each Tuesday from the sanctuary of the church.
From 1945-1960, Fr. Eustace Bartoszewicz served as fourth pastor. He was responsible for many of the renovations of the church, such as enlarging the sanctuary, adding the pictures of the Saints over the arches, and the mural above the church’s center entrance. Renovations to the other parish buildings were completed in time for the church’s 50 th anniversary. Two new bells and six clocks were added to the church towers. The bells, located in the north tower are named for St. Francis, St. Anthony, and St. Hyacinth.
Fr. Norbert Zonca, (1960-1969), also made many repairs and improvements to the church buildings. One of the biggest improvements he made was the rebuilding of the church organ at a cost of over $20,000.
Renovation of the church interior and repairs to the stained glass windows were started in 1968 by Fr. Norbert and were to be completed for Corpus Christi’s 75th anniversary.
Corpus Christi’s sixth pastor, Fr. Emil Tokarz, spent many years at the church as an assistant, and was known for the special care he gave to his parishioners, especially those who were ill or shut-in. He also implemented the renovation plans, which Fr. Norbert had begun.
Fr. Emil didn’t live to celebrate Corpus Christi’s 75th anniversary. He died in January of 1971, and Fr. Anthony Konieczny became pastor of Corpus Christi (1971-1979). Soon after coming to Buffalo, Fr. Anthony began to acquaint himself with the needs and aspirations of the people of the parish. During his ministry he concerned himself with the renewal of Christian life and the parish community.
Fr. Walter Mruk came to Corpus Christi in August 1979. Fr. Walter introduced special ministers of the Eucharist, a new Fraternity of Secular Franciscans and increased the membership of the Rosary Society.
Fr. Anthony eventually returned to Corpus Christi and remained in residence after Fr. Karl Kolodziejski was appointed pastor. Fr. Karl was pastor until 2003 when the Franciscans announced that they were leaving Corpus Christi.
Since January 2004 when the Paulines arrived some old parishioners have returned and new ones have joined. The pastoral staff is working together with the parishioners to keep Corpus Christi alive and successful. Renovations to the Rectory, Church and former Convent have given the parish new life and a positive outlook for the future.
Every first Sunday of the month at Corpus Christi is known as Coffee Sunday. Once a month a few ladies of the parish get together and after each mass host this event at the Kolbe Center. This is a great opportunity for priests and parishioners to get to know each other.
The once uncertain future of this beautiful church now looks bright and promising. With the continued efforts of staff and parishioners and the blessings of Our Lady of Czestochowa, we can only expect wonderful things to happen here.