Canisius College & The Sisters of St. Joseph

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The fate of the Main Street land immediately north of Jefferson Avenue was sealed when Jesuit Fathers purchased it, described as an “expanse of land and… groves of trees,” as a farm from the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1874. In 1911, the Fathers built Canisius College there, and have been growing it, and buying more land and buildings to expand their campus, ever since.

Though now the gentrified, commanding presence along that portion of Main Street, Canisius College moved to the area at a time when Catholic institutions weren’t necessarily welcomed with open arms in all sections of the city. This wasn’t a problem on this stretch of Main, however, given the fact that the new school was flanked by a well-established Catholic church, Catholic hospitals, several Catholic elementary and high schools, and a convent.

The land was wilderness far beyond the edge of the city when St. Vincent de Paul Parish was founded in 1863. Bishop John Timon and Rev. Joseph Sorg established the church to serve the mostly German quarry men and farmers in the Kensington-Humboldt area. It was, according to the parish’s 100th Anniversary History booklet, “a peaceful, wide open location removed from traffic and congestion of the city.”

As already discussed, three successively larger churches were built over 60 years.  The first 1860’s wooden church became the school when a larger brick church was built in 1887.  And as the neighborhoods surrounding the church, including Parkside, grew, by 1924, the need developed for yet another, newer, larger church building.   The Byzantine-Romanesque style, final home of St Vincent de Paul was opened Thanksgiving Day 1926, with over 5,000 people in attendance. When the church closed in 1993, Canisius College bought the buildings of its old neighbor, and renamed the exquisite Byzantine building the Montante Center.

Also as mentioned, the Sisters of St. Joseph were major developers of Main Street, having first strolled north of the horse-drawn trolley tracks (which then ended at Delevan Avenue) to built their novitiate, south of the church, where Canisius College now stands, and  moving the Deaf Mute Institute to the corner of Dewey and Main in 1898. The name was officially changed to St. Mary’s School for the Deaf in 1936, and continues to be the longest continuously operated institution in the Parkside neighborhood.

St. Mary’s School for the Deaf, 1923

Aside from teaching at both St Vincent’s and St. Mark in Parkside, The Sisters also ran Mt. St. Joseph’s Elementary and High Schools, founded in 1891. The high school was closed in the mid 1980s, but “Little Mount” survives to this day. The Sisters of St Joseph decided to close the school in 2005, but parents and alumni banded together to keep the school open. The school moved from a building recently torn down on the Canisius campus to the former Central Presbyterian Church complex in 2007.

In 1937, Mount St. Joseph’s Teachers College received its charter from New York State to award degrees in Education. In 1968, the curriculum expanded, men were welcomed to the campus for the first time, and Medaille College was born.

Mt St Joseph (High) School For Boys, 1923. Now Medaille College.

©2009 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon

This page is an excerpt from
The Complete History of Parkside
by Steve Cichon

The 174-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York.