A Brief History of St. Louis Church
By Michael A. Riester, Church Archivist
St. Louis parish was founded on January 5th 1829 through the beneficence of Louis Stephen LeCouteulx de Caumont, a French nobleman, the first resident Catholic of Buffalo and agent of the Holland Land Company. In his New Years Gift to Bishop Jean Dubois of New York, LeCouteulx deeded land for the erection of a church, cemetery, school and priest house for all Catholics.
In 1831, Rev. John Nicolas Mertz, a missionary priest, arrived in the village of Buffalo, becoming the areas first resident priest. Fr. Mertz immediately set about organizing a school and the construction of a church. The new log church, hewn from logs in the nearby forests was named ” Lamb of God” after the depiction of the Lamb of God on a tabernacle door that Fr. Mertz brought with him from Europe. In 1836, St. John Neumann joined Fr. Mertz in ministering to the growing number of German speaking Catholics who had settled in the outlying villages surrounding Buffalo.
In 1838, seven men incorporated themselves under the laws of New York State into a Board of Trustees, thereby assuming the temporal affairs of the parish. In 1843 a larger brick church was built on the site of the log church by Rev. Alexander Pax. This new church was dedicated to St. Louis IX, the patron saint of Louis LeCouteulx.
After the death of LeCouteulx, a fierce rivalry between rival factions in the parish ensued. Disagreements between the trustees and Bishop John Hughes of New York resulted in the parish being placed under Interdict in 1843. This ended a year later. In the late 1840’s, disputes again broke out between the trustees and Bishop Timon resulting in the parish again being placed under Interdict. This second Interdict lasted until 1855. Time proved a great healer under the guidance of Rev. Joseph Sorg who became pastor in 1867. Highly esteemed by his parishioners, Fr. Sorg was given a final resting place in the Church Hall.
On March 25, 1885, fire broke out in the newly erected German American Music Hall across Edward Street. Due to high gusty winds, flames soon spread to the roof of the brick church. Despite valiant attempts by both parishioners and firemen, the church was totally destroyed. The fire claimed the lives of fireman George Roth and parishioner Joseph Grimm.
The next day, plans were set in motion for the construction of a new church in a grand continental gothic style. The first donation was made by Rev. Joseph Sorg and matched by parishioner and successful businessman Gerhard Lang. To assist in fundraising efforts, men of the parish organized the St. Louis Dramatic Circle, one of the nation’s earliest amateur theatrical groups which produced plays including the Shakespearean tragedy Hamlet.
Designed by the architectural firm of Schickel & Ditmar, the present church was richly adorned by local woodworkers and sculptors. The local firm of Riester & Frohe designed the windows in the nave clerestory and the Royal Munich Art Institute executed the sanctuary windows depicting the life of St. Louis IX of France. Our beautiful spire is the highest open laced spire in the United States and is a focal point of our city’s skyline. Our Kimball Organ was installed in 1903.
To celebrate our 175th anniversary, the parish completed a successful restoration of our beautiful church and the creation of a parish archives and museum. Through the dedicated effort of parishioners and friends, St. Louis Church has a bright and promising future and will continue to embrace the vision of our founder Louis LeCouteulx as a spiritual home for all Catholics.
Description of the Present Church
Completed in 1889 by Schickel & Ditmar of New York City, the present Church is built in the continental Gothic style of the 14th century. The exterior is of Medina red sandstone.
The ground plan is cruciform with naves, sanctuary and transept. The nave is divided by magnificent columns of polished granite with richly carved stone capitals.
The dimensions of the Church are:
- Exterior length, 234 feet
- Exterior width, 134 feet
- Height from ground to ridge of roof, 105 feet
- Length of transept, 120 feet
- Nave is 42 feet wide and 75 feet high in the clear
- Side aisles are 19 feet wide and 36 feet height with clear height at the intersection of the nave and transept, 76 feet
The vaulted ceiling is richly groined with ribbing having bosses of foliage of various designs at their intersection.
The principal front on Main St. is designed on grand proportions.
- The chief tower which is without doubt one of the most artistic and elegant in the country, rises to a height of 245 feet.
- There are 2 side towers each 128 feet high.
Of special interest on the exterior is the massive Seth Thomas (Tower) Clock. It was the gift of Hon. Elbridge G. Spaulding, the "Father of the Greenback," who resided directly across from the Church on Main Street.
With 275 pews, the seating capacity is 1,900 however 2,000 persons can be accommodated.
Among the beautiful interior furnishings includes the splendid Kimball Organ acquired under Rev. Dr. Paul Hoelscher's pastorate in 1903 and the ornately carved pulpit with its relief of the four evangelists and statues of the doctors of the Church.
Beside the statues of Saint Anthony and Saint Francis (each carved from a single block of wood) is the marble Baptistery enclosed with ornate icon work.
The altars of Saint Joseph and Seven Dolors, the communion rail of Australian marble and the High Altar, a gift from Miss Emma Lang in 1898 were made by the Lautz Marble Works.
The Sacred Heart Altar was the gift of Gerhard Lang, and the Altar of the Blessed Mother a gift of Chas. And Suzanne Lautz.
Of special interest in the High Altar is the life-size statue of St. Louis surmounted in a niche above a beautiful ebony cross with the likeness of our crucified Lord in ivory.
On either side of the Tabernacle are two large mosaics. The one on the left represents Abraham about to sacrifice his son Isaac and the other on the right represents the offerings of Melchizedek.
St. Louis School
In addition to serving the WNY area with the Holy Sacraments, countless Buffalonians owe their primary education to St. Louis Church's school. As early as the 1830's a school was established at St. Louis as the parochial school in WNY. In 1850 the school building (directly behind the Church) was erected.
At its closing in 1959 it was the oldest educational institution continuously in existence in New York State. It was declared a hazard and torn down in 1986.