Pope Pius IX had created the diocese of Buffalo in 1847, and appointed the Right Reverend John Timon as its first bishop.  He invited the Jesuits to serve in the diocese and to build a college.  They arrived in 1848. On August 20, 1851, Bishop Timon laid the cornerstone of the first church to be called St. Michael’s. Shortly afterwards, St Michael School was opened, with girls being taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph and the Misses Nardin, and the boys under the direction of Laymen.

Canisius High School, which had first started on Ellicott Street in downtown Buffalo, moved to the building next to St. Michael’s on Washington Street in 1872. In December 1912, Canisius College moved into new facilities at Main and Jefferson Streets in Buffalo. In September 1928, the high school received an independent charter, completing its separation from the College. It later moved to its present location on Delaware at West Ferry.

With the end of World War II, the withdrawal from the inner city that had already begun was accelerated. St Michael’s School was closed in 1949. Gradually but steadily the role of St. Michael’s shifted from serving as a parish church to being an inner city haven, its generous schedule of services available to any regardless of place of residence.

With the demolition of St. Michael’s School and the buildings that housed Canisius High School, the parish needed a rectory which was dedicated in 1954.

On the evening of May 23, 1962, a lightening bolt struck the church, setting fire to the timbers of the lower part of the steeple. After roaring up the steeple, the flames quickly engulfed the rest of the church. Plans for the rebuilding began almost immediately, and on September 12, 1963, the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, Masses were celebrated in St. Michael’s for the first time since the fire.

One of the continuing marvels of St. Michael’s is that with a steadily shrinking population, attendance at weekday Masses and novenas remains strong. St. Michael’s remains a very special place in downtown Buffalo. Now as Buffalo undergoes a renascence, the Jesuits at St. Michael’s stand ready to continue to serve the people of downtown.  ✜

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