by Patrick J. Buechi
Fri, Aug 28th 2020 02:00 pm
This past Fourth of July marked the end of century-long tradition for the Maher family. Since 1912, generations of the family have gathered at Holy Angels Church on Buffalo's Lower West Side to honor matriarch Alice Maher. With the upcoming closing of Holy Angles, this will be the last time the family meets at that church, but they promise to carry on the tradition.
Born in 1848, Mary Alice Maher perished in a fire in her home on July 4, 1912. News clippings the family saved tell different stories on how the first started. It seems Mrs. Maher, the mother of six children, went into her attic, then either knocked over a lamp or dropped a match after lighting a candle and set her house at 873 Niagara St. ablaze.
Cornelius Maher, one of Alice's sons, was one of the fire fighters from Engine 2 who arrived on the scene using horse-drawn fire trucks. Cornelius fought his way through the smoke to the rear of the attic where he found his mother near an upstairs window. The lifeless body of Alice Maher was removed from the attic by Cornelius and his fellow fire fighters. She was survived by her five sons: Cornelius, William, James, Peter and John, and one daughter, Mary Katherine Dowdell.
Originally designed as a tribute to Alice, the July 4 Mass has come to honor all members of the Maher Family.
"My grandfather and his brothers decided from then on, it wasn't going to be a sad day. They would get together, they would have a Mass to celebrate the living and the deceased members of the Maher family," explained Helen Kurzdorfer, granddaughter of Cornelius Maher. "When we were little kids, we used to think it was a holy day because you got dressed up to go to Mass on the Fourth of July. We thought everybody did."
On July 4, 2012, the family celebrated the 100th anniversary of this event with more than 180 family members from several generations gathering from over 11 states to attend the Mass.
On an average year, 25 to 100 family members will attend. Kurzdorfer guesses about 50 still live in the area. Due to the COVID restrictions on travel and large gatherings, few guests from out of state came to this year's Mass.
"There are people who do not go to Church anymore, who would not miss this Mass. It is truly a tradition. It's unfortunate we will not be able to be at Holy Angels, but the tradition is not going to stop," Kurzdorfer said.
The family continue to uphold as many of the traditions as they can. "My mother used to make homemade rolls," Kurzdorfer recalled. "When she passed away, my sister and I started where we made homemade rolls and the rest of the family brings coffee cakes and different things. We have juice and coffee."
The family gathering at a cousin's cottage at Please Beach, but as the generations grew, they became too much for the cottage to hold. Last year, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which has owned and operated Holy Angels Parish since 1852, determined the church, rectory and convent need major structural repair and the repair costs would be excessive. The Oblates will continue to minister at Holy Cross and Our Lady of Hope Parishes in Buffalo.
The last Mass at the church was held July 25.
The Maher family will continue their tradition at a new church, yet to be decided, next year.
"There are some that we know, but we need to talk to everyone in the family. We've gone 108 years that it's been peaceful, that everyone gets along but we want everybody to be happy," Kurzdorfer said, adding she will miss Holy Angels.
"It just feels like home. As big as it is, It's cozy."