The Diocese of Buffalo has closed on an agreement with two investors who have purchased the St. Columban Center for $1.4 million. The property had been for sale since May of 2016.
"I saw this come up for sale and I was so surprised," said Dr. David Johnson, who has been a family practitioner in Kenmore for the past 32 years. He first saw the St. Columban Center in 2011 while he was playing there in a band. Now, he has a vision of turning it into a year round lodging and wedding venue which also would offer creative learning workshops for music and art. "We would have a boat-building workshop and creative writing. Our plan is to do lodging first and we also hope to have a restaurant in there."
Johnson's business partner in purchasing the St. Columban Center is Brenda Shaw, who, along with her husband Ronald, lost their son, Sgt. Daniel J. Shaw. He was killed in action on Nov. 5, 2007, while serving in the U.S. Army during Operation Iraqi Freedom. "We'd like to reach out to veterans and their families, possibly offering programs to those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or to Gold Star families who lost a loved one," said Mrs. Shaw.
Bishop Richard J. Malone, bishop of Buffalo, approved the decision to sell the property which is located along the shores of Lake Erie in the Town of Evans. "We review diocesan operations on a regular basis," said Bishop Malone, "and we determined that it was time to put the Columban Center on the market."
Located on Lake Shore Road, the Columban Center had been the diocesan retreat center for decades, hosting individual and directed retreats and other events for thousands, young and old. Future retreat services will now be incorporated into Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora. While the primary mission of the seminary is the education and formation of candidates for the priesthood, diaconate, and lay ecclesial ministry, the seminary also sees its mission as serving as a pastoral center for the diocese. In keeping with this fuller vision, the seminary will continue to accommodate diocesan-wide retreats, days of prayer, and spiritual conferences.
At nearly 27,000 square feet, the Georgian mansion was known as Suncliff Manor. It was built in 1914 as a summer residence for the Hans Schmidt Family. Schmidt was well known for his leather tanning business in Buffalo. The 15.3 acre property was purchased in 1947 by the diocese, through the support of the St. Columban Retreat League. An addition was completed in 1959.
"The way we feel about this is that it's a sacred place," said Johnson. "We want to leave that cross up in the garden and we want to honor the history of the place. We don't want it to be forgotten that this was a half century of people praying and following their religious path."
"The history is remarkable," said Shaw. "We're only the third owner and it's the first time it's going to be used for a commercial venue." Those with teaching experience in the learning workshop areas and with questions regarding future wedding plans can contact Johnson and Shaw can be reached at SunCliffonthelake@gmail.com.