Dunkirk, New York Historical Summary

In 1860, the second Passionist foundation in the United States was established when Bishop John Timon, C.M., of Buffalo invited the Passionists to take charge of St. Mary’s Parish in Dunkirk, a small industrial city on Lake Erie, 40 miles west of Buffalo. The Passionists hoped this site would be a base for preaching the Gospel in this new region. St. Mary’s Monastery, adjacent to the parish, was built in 1861, then enlarged in 1887. By the end of the century, Passionists had helped found approximately 18 mission stations in the surrounding rural areas.

By 1935, St. Mary’s Church had been renovated and St. Mary’s School was thriving. However, with the eroding post-World War II economic situation of the region, combined with limited financial resources and lack of vocations, the Passionists were forced to close the monastery in 1968. In 1972 the Passionists returned the parish to the Buffalo Diocese. It is now known as St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish.

For many years Dunkirk was a center of Passionist education. In 1888 St. Mary’s Monastery became home to the Passionist Preparatory Seminary, a seminary high school. Temporarily transferred to Baltimore from 1913 until 1920, the seminary returned to a new 75-acre campus on the shore of Lake Erie, a few miles west of Dunkirk. Holy Cross Seminary, or “The Prep,” offered an atmosphere of study, prayer, and sports. A new wing was added in 1926, a seminary chapel in 1934, and some modernization in 1948. It eventually was accredited as a two-year college. From 1920 to 1932 the seminary hosted a men’s retreat movement. After the seminary was closed in 1968, the Passionists attempted to run a variety of ministries there and rented the facility to the Association of Retarded Children from 1972 to 1976. By the mid-1980s, the last Passionist had left and the building was razed.

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