Ascension Church

The original rectory, with the convent behind on Keil Street, and the original church, then known as the Roman Catholic Church of the Ascension.  Photo:  Courtesy of George Trautman Collection











Ascension Church – 168 Robinson Street

The Oldest Catholic Church in the City

In April 1887, Bishop Stephen Vincent Ryan, C.M., called the Rev. James M. Bustin to his office at the Chancery in Buffalo and informed him that he was to found a new parish at a place called North Tonawanda in Niagara County. A vast territory extending north to Niagara Falls and east to Lockport was to make up the new parish.

Father Bustin lost no time in organizing his scattered flock. He began by renting Kent 's Hall (owned by Alexander G. Kent, a prominent lumberman), on the second floor at 20 Webster Street. The new congregation met here for the first time. Having bought a lot on the corner of Robinson and Vandervoort Streets, and with some money left over, Father Bustin went ahead with plans to build the Church. The first Ascension Church structure cost $4,500, with $2,425 spent on construction of the rectory. In 1922, the rectory was moved to the southeast corner of Robinson and Vandervoort Streets to make more room for the present brick rectory. The original rectory served as a home for the sexton for many years but was torn down to make way for a parking lot in 1968.

By 1893, Ascension was out of debt and even had a comfortable balance in the bank, when on December 21, 1893, at 2 a.m. the Church caught fire from an overheated furnace. A high wind soon reduced the beautiful new Church to smoldering embers. The rectory also suffered severe damage.

Shortly after the fire, James Rand, William Hepworth, and Mr. Stevens, representing the First Methodist Church, called upon Father Bustin and offered him the use of their church building until Ascension could recover from the fire. Father Bustin had, however, already secured the use of St. Francis Church in Tonawanda.

On December 16, 1894, Bishop Ryan presided at the ceremonies dedicating the new Church which still stands.

Photo: Ascension Church 2005, courtesy of Museum member & volunteer Betty Brandon







Ascension Church - 1952: A Church, a School, a Way of Life

There it is!  Right where I left it in years past.  The same Spiritual anchor for the area and peoples thereupon.  Since some time in the 1600's, it is fair to assume that there was a Roman Catholic presence in the Niagara Frontier.  As was typical of the early explorers, LaSalle carried a cadre of Priests, Monks, Oblates, Novices, etc. to form the sinews to create a string of missions.  These Missions provided a refuge, meeting place, a place of Worship and the satisfaction of Spiritual needs.

Over the next couple of centuries, the Diocese of Buffalo was formed; a Bishop installed; and the necessary hierarchy put in place.  The faithful, meeting on the second floor of a hardware store, petitioned the Bishop to create a new Parish in the Diocese.  In less than a year, the Ascension  Parish in North Tonawanda was created.  That was “lightning speed” for an organization that can argue the placement of a "," (comma) for decades!

And what a Parish it was -- all of the land area south of the Niagara Falls city limits, and west of the Lockport city limits!  Literally, hundreds of square miles.  But the real prize was the thousands of souls with such a rich tapestry of skills, talents, and backgrounds.  Possibly  this is the origin of the ageless admonition of, "Be careful what you ask for; you just may get it"!

With the organizational structure in place, the industrious people of the area went about fund raising activities.  The goal was to buy land and to build a church home and modest rectory.  Soon, dirt was flying, saws were sawing, hammers were nailing, as the frame church rose.  The neighborhood and the parishioners donated hundreds of individual hands in this collective effort.  The scene must have looked like a well-organized beehive.

And, all for naught.  Fire, from a faulty furnace, claimed all of the structural work in a matter of a few frustrating hours.  The fire occurred about 3 or 4 years after completion and dedication.  Again the resilience and determination of the Parishioners was put to the test.

Of course there were no questions about whether to rebuild or where.  "Are the embers and coals cool enough to start the process over again?"  In due time, dirt (and ashes) again was being moved and hand tools were busy.  The big issues this time were  size, grandeur, and schedule.  The St. Francis Parish (of Assisi, in Tonawanda) was extremely helpful with their facilities and generosity.  The one major and significant deviation was the use of Brick!
( ed. note.....The school built later in time, suffered the same fire-fate and recovery as the Sanctuary.)

From the ashes of yesterday, arose a magnificent edifice that dominated the northwest corner of Robinson and Vandervoort Streets in North Tonawanda.  Described as American Gothic, the building of red brick, was accented with functional, visible gray granite structural elements, including opening doublers and buttress capstones.  Perhaps the most spectacular architectural feature was the steeple rising some 70+ feet, affixed with a crucifix.  This steeple, and the religious significance was a beacon and rudder for thousands of the faithful for generations.  After years of acting as a silent sentinel, the steeple was removed to prevent lightning strikes.  This eliminated the hazard, but left an attractive, functional bell tower.

Since its inception, Ascension Parish has been a strong voice and contributor to Diocesan life.  The list of dignitaries and participants in the formation, building, and operation of the Ascension Parish looks like a “Who's Who” of Catholic life in Western New York.  Strong, mutually beneficial bonds have been forged and nourished with neighboring parishes, universities and seminaries, Mount Olivet Cemetery, and fellow parishioners.

Ascension was the original parish in North Tonawanda.  So, in a very narrow sense, Ascension is like the “Grande Dame” of the local parishes.  The sub-division of Ascension into other parishes had to have been somewhat painful but it was handled with grace, honor, and spoken  and unspoken thankfulness.  I do not know the exact geographical boundaries of the parishes, just the emotional and logical.  But one thing I do know is that you say North Tonawanda, I think Ascension; you say Ascension, I think North Tonawanda!

If there was ever a name that said "North Tonawanda",  it would have to be, "Father Hunt's (Ascension), 1952 River Road Lumber Company Little League 'Indians'".

Article: Copyright  2004 by Kelco (Ken Mountain is an Honorary Charter Life Member of the Museum, and volunteer researcher/writer.)

Photo: Reproduced from postcard, courtesy of Lee & Doreen Bowen









History of Ascension Church

In April 1887, Bishop Stephen Vincent Ryan, C.M., called to his office at the Chancery at 50 Franklin Street, Buffalo, the Reverend James M. Bustin and informed him that he was to found a new parish at a place called North Tonawanda in Niagara County.  A vast territory extending north to Niagara Falls and east to Lockport was to make up the new parish.

Father Bustin lost no time in organizing his scattered flock.  He began by renting Kent's Hall, now the second floor of the Cramer Hardware Building at 20 Webster Street (more recently the home of D&K).  It was here that the Holy Sacrifice was offered for the new congregation for the first time.

Having bought a lot on the corner of Robinson and Vandervoort Streets and having some money left over, Father Bustin went ahead with plans to build the Church.   The cost of erecting this first Ascension Church was $4,500 and the Rectory cost $2,425.  Later in 1922, the Rectory was moved to the southeast corner of Robinson and Vandervoort Streets to make more room for the present brick rectory.  It served as a home for the sexton for many years.  In 1968 it was torn down to provide space for a parking lot.

By December 1893, Ascension was out of debt and even had a comfortable balance in the bank, when on December 21, 1893, disaster struck.  At two o'clock in the morning, the Church caught fire from an overheated furnace.  A high wind soon reduced the beautiful new Church to smoldering embers.  The Rectory also suffered severe damage, though most of the building was saved by the heroic work of the volunteer fire department.  By morning, only the blackened walls of the Church basement remained, and the first floor of what had been a comfortable Rectory.

Shortly after the fire, Mr. James Rand, Mr. William Hepworth, and Mr. Stevens, representing the First Methodist Church, called upon Father Bustin and offered him the use of their church building until Ascension could recover from the recent fire.  But owing to the fact that Father Bustin had already secured the use of St. Francis Church in Tonawanda, he was compelled to decline the generous offer.

On December 16, 1894, Bishop Ryan presided at the ceremonies dedicating the new Church which stands today.

Our present day State Senator George D. Maziarz proudly states that his grandfather helped paint the inside of the new church.  Ascension has always been the Maziarz family's parish.

History: Ascension Church records

Photo: Ascension Rectory, courtesy of Museum member & volunteer Ken Mountain

Photo: Reproduced from postcard of Ascension School & Convent, courtesy of Lee & Doreen Bowen, and Ken Mountain









Ascension's Historic Pipe Organ

The instrument located in the gallery of Ascension Church was built by organ builder A. B. Feglemaker in 1896, who had begun building organs in Buffalo in 1858.  In 1875, the firm moved to Erie, Pa.  When a builder creates an instrument, it is assigned an Opus number.  This organ is Opus 601, which means it is the 601st organ made by Mr. Feglemaker.









First Communion - 1947

First Communion Class, Ascension Church, 1947. Beloved Father Francis J. Hunt in rear row at far right. Can you identify any of the children in the photo?












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