Former St. Gerard's parishioners to visit new site

Twenty people who were parishioners of the now-closed St. Gerard Roman Catholic Church in Buffalo, N.Y., will make the 900-mile trip to Norcross next weekend to visit the building's future home.

Mary Our Queen Catholic Church is buying the structure, which was closed in 2008, and relocating it to Gwinnett County to replace its outgrown space.

Compare it to a visit by anxious parents to the home of a newly-independent son or daughter.

"You want to know where the child will be residing in the future," said Richard Ciezki, 81, a longtime St. Gerard's parishioner and an organizer of the trip. "We're really looking forward to meeting the people who will populate the building after it goes down there. We're very excited that the church building can be moved and used for the purpose for which it was built by German immigrants in the early 1900s."

St. Gerard's membership had dropped from 1,600 families in the 1960s to 100 when it held its final mass on Jan. 5, 2008.

Meantime, Mary Our Queen on The Corners Parkway was growing. The membership wanted to build another church on nearby land and was looking to buy pews, choir stands and other fixtures from closed churches. In that process, the decision was made to buy an entire church rather than pieces. To construct a church from scratch, with the same quality of materials, officials said, could cost as much as $40 million.

Buying and moving St. Gerard's will cost about $16.5 million. Recently, Mary Our Queen hired a professional fundraiser for the project and has so far raised about $3 million.

It's a costly and time consuming process that will include dismantling of the church on one site, moving it and rebuilding it on another.

The Rev. David Dye, pastor of Mary Our Queen, is optimistic that the funds can be raised. "When there are difficult economic times, people are very generous and turn to the church in an incredible sort of way," he said. While Dye said they won't turn away the large-check donors, the hope is that large numbers of people will contribute smaller, but still significant sums.

The project could take 18 to 24 months.

The group visiting from Buffalo will include the Rev. Francis X. "Butch" Mazur, the last pastor of St. Gerard's, who will lead the pilgrimage. While here, they will present a crucifix from St. Gerard's to the parish of Mary Our Queen. It will join  a 7 1/2-foot, 1,600-pound statue of  the church's patron saint and a Paschal candle stand that were delivered earlier this year.

Their church was named after St. Gerard Sagredo, an Italian bishop from Venice who is credited with bringing Christianity to Hungary. He was canonized in 1083.

The St. Gerard's parishioners "are coming to embrace us and embrace the project," Dye said.

A dinner and reception will be held for the Buffalo visitors at 7 p.m. Aug. 21 at Mary Our Queen.  At 11 a.m. on Aug. 22, there will be a mass and reception. During the Sunday service, the former parishioners will adorn the altar with the cloth, candles, water and wine during the offertory. Mazur will then lead them in a song of blessing.