A Community of Faith Built on Living Stones
In the 1820’s and 1830’s, immigrants trickled into the area and started to carve farms out of the wilderness in the area we now know as East Amherst. When the Germans began to clear land for farming, the French settlers migrated further west where the hunting and trapping would be more plentiful.
In the 1830’s, a young priest, Father John Neumann (canonized St. John Neumann in 1977) began to visit here, celebrating Mass and administering the Sacraments in homes, barns, or fields as conditions warranted. In 1839, at Fr. Neumann’s request, the small community acquired a log house that served as a church for the fledgling congregation.
John Neumann left the area in 1840 to join the Redemptorist order in Philadelphia. Consequently, activity as a religious entity nearly ceased. From 1840-1849, the community was periodically visited by two priests from S.S. Peter & Paul in Williamsville.
In 1849, Bishop John Timon, first bishop of Buffalo, established the parish of St. Mary’s of the Assumption at Transit (later to be called “Swormville”). A church, rectory and a frame school building were built at the corner of Dodge and Transit Roads. The churchyard had a small cemetery. All of this work was accomplished under the leadership of Father Frauenhofer although he was not a resident pastor.
Father Menauer, the first resident pastor, was appointed in 1853. He began the first parish records which St. Mary’s still has today. Fr. Menauer died in 1857. St. Mary’s had several different pastors until 1861 when Father Michael Schinabeck was appointed.
The facilities at Dodge and Transit were deemed undesirable because the buildings were too small to accommodate the growth of the parish and the ground was swampy every spring. After due consideration, two acres of land were purchased at the corner of Transit and Stahley Roads and the present complex was begun. The present church was completed in 1865.
By the turn of the century, the one-room schoolhouse, erected at the same time as the church, was too small and replaced in 1907 by the third school. The wooden rectory was replaced by a brick building which, in 1902, became the convent for the Sisters if St. Francis who were invited to teach here. The sisters continue to have a presence in the parish.
A new rectory, built in 1901, is currently used for parish office.
As the years went along, so did the growth of St. Mary’s. By 1930, the community had grown from the original congregation of about 40 families to around 300 families. Once again the parish school was too small and a new one was built in 1931. This undertaking occurred during the worst years of the Great Depression. While financing the construction was difficult, the present school was constructed and classes opened on November 3, 1931 with a total enrollment of 300 in grades one through ten.
The Parish Center erected in 1993 under the leadership of Pastor Vincent Becker. An addition to the Parish Center was built in 2001 to accommodate the larger number of Religious Education students as well as the needs of other organizations and the parish school.
In June 2010, St. Mary’s celebrated the opening of our new church culminating years of planning and hard work by hundreds of parishioners. This worship space, designed by Thomas Kerns Architects and featuring original artwork, seats 1,000 people. The Chapel remains open for daily mass and weddings.
From the handful of families in 1849, St. Mary’s has grown to a parish community of over 2,400 families.