Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Choosing icons: rescuing Wright and the Calasanctius mural

Cover Story

Choosing Icons


As Frank Lloyd Wright emerged from the car parked under the porte-cochere, Father Vercek hurried out to greet him. The architect was pointing his cane and shaking it at the long awkward shed-roof lean-to addition across the front of the house. “Who did this? Who made these changes? This is not my work,” he sputtered, visibly upset at the mutilation of his dramatic concept. How would Leonardo DaVinci have reacted if he had been presented with a repainted Mona Lisa without the smile?

As Father Varcek recalled the incident, he then explained to Wright that they were a religious order and needed a chapel, to which Wright responded in apparent resignation, “Well, I guess, if you need it.”

John Conlin, Graycliff Conservancy newsletter, August 2000

This is a Frank Lloyd Wright story of Buffalo. The great architect came back to visit one of his early works and was enraged that it hadn’t been kept precisely as he’d designed it. Seeing the Graycliff estate near Buffalo as an old man of 91, a few months before his death, Wright was annoyed. We do not know how Wright felt about seeing an empty lot where his Larkin Company warehouse had stood, or how he felt at seeing the partial demolition, by neglect, of his other Buffalo work.

Wright’s relationship with the Larkin Company, his design of houses for Larkin president Darwin D. Martin, and his design of the company’s headquarters itself, have been studied intensively because Wright’s Buffalo oeuvre is the most significant, and most influential, of his early career. Wright’s own diary entries and public statements about his work here indicate the intensity of his attachment to the Martin family. We know that that relationship endured, that the lives of patron and of artist interlaced. It was more than 20 years after Wright completed the Martin home in Buffalo that he designed Graycliff for Martin’s wife, Isabel. She needed light in this, her summer retreat, so Wright built her a place into which all the sky and sun of the great expanse of the lake shore could enter. So when Wright visited Buffalo in 1958, over 30 years after he’d designed the place, and saw that a religious order had altered one of the triumphs of his early days, he lost his temper.

The priests of the Piarist order had built their chapel into the house at Graycliff such that the roof-line, the famous cantilevered line, was, the preservationists now say, “mutilated.” Wright calmed when told that what those priests had done was for a spiritual purpose, and indeed that their tenancy at Graycliff had prevented the place from falling entirely to ruin or even to demolition. Altered, yes. Turned from a summer retreat to a year-round residence, yes. Preserved, imperfectly, yes, but preserved nonetheless. When, in 1999, 40 years after Wright’s death, a group of architectural preservationists bought Graycliff from the Piarists, the preservationists, being preservationists, decided early on to remove the Piarists’ chapel, and to demolish the Piarists’ dormitory. The Graycliff Conservancy’s goal, naturally, was to return the estate to Wright’s original design.

But Wright’s was not the only art on the site.

The Piarist priests had acquired Graycliff in 1951. By that time, the estate had already passed from the Martin family. The Piarists knew what they were getting: a summer home designed by a famous architect, a structure lacking a ready purchaser other than themselves, a structure in need of some change in order to make it winter-habitable. They also knew their own mission.

The Piarists are a teaching order whose founder was a 17th-century Spaniard named Josef Calasanz. In Latin, Calasanz is Calasanctius. Calasanctius is the name the order has given to many of the schools it has founded, including their school, now closed, in Buffalo.

The bare fact of this story is that in 1967, the Piarists commissioned a work of art to commemorate their order’s 350th anniversary. The art was a mural, a sgrafitto, depicting St. Joseph Calasanctius and the abandoned children whom he saved from the streets of Rome, where Calasanctius and his fellow priests had gathered them up, housed them and educated them, just as the “red priest” Antonio Vivaldi would so famously later do for the abandoned girls of Venice. Calasanz the Spanish nobleman had created a free school for the poor, and founded an order, the Scholae Pio, to carry on that mission.

For almost four centuries now, the priests of the Piarist order have continued that work. It is an order less famous than the Jesuits or the Franciscans, yet withal an order that had become over that time a very large educational presence in Europe. There are or were Piarist schools in Spain, Ireland, Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Romania, but most especially in Hungary. At Graycliff, the Piarists had established their home in North America. For them, with this haven in the United States, with their successful school in nearby Buffalo, and because of the peace so many of them had found after decades of war and of calamitous anti-Catholic oppression and displacement in Europe, this Graycliff estate was a new beginning—a place to celebrate their own survival, surely, and the survival of their Calasanctius mission.

There were Poles and Spaniards among them, but most of the Piarists of Graycliff were Hungarians. Most had come to America after World War Two. Some came in 1956, having been made refugees after the Soviet Union’s military forces had brutally suppressed a popular uprising against Hungary’s communist government. All the Piarists were teachers; some were more. Their roster included a mathematician, theologians, and a psychologist, all of whom had been educated in Rome, Berlin and in the universities of the old Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary. They were of necessity linguists and translators. A few had taught at the ancient university at Koloszvar, the city that had been capitol of the Austro-Hungarian empire’s Transylvania province but that had, since 1918, been in Romania. (The Hungarians had called the town Koloszvar for about 900 years. The German-speakers, or Saxons, of that area had called it Klausenburg for about 500 years. The Romanians, to whom the Treaty of Trianon had given the area in 1918, call it Cluj-Napoca).

In 1967, these émigrés commissioned a Polish-born muralist named Jozef Slawinski to put his sgrafitto technique to commemorating Calasanctius. Slawinski created a 12-by-18-foot mural a foot thick consisting of layers of black, white, yellow and red concrete. The sgrafitto technique, like fresco, requires quick work by the artist to reveal the image before the material sets.

For the ensuing 30 years, the Calasanctius mural hung on the east face of the dormitory even as the Piarist presence there dwindled. By 1999, all but two of the Piarists had died or had left for the Piarist’s other American school, in Devon, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia.

When the Graycliff Conservancy took possession of the estate in 1999, the preservationists wanted the dormitory demolished and the mural removed. There was, in the minds of the preservationists, no competition between the master architect Wright’s design and the new structures built by an obscure group of central Europeans whose brief presence had recently ended.

There was the issue, the lingering problem, of what to do with the mural. The Conservancy wanted the dormitory gone, but did not want to burden itself with the task of raising funds to cope with the unwanted mural, too. It took four years, until 2003, to raise enough money to remove the Piarists’ mural from the dormitory, which was then demolished. It took almost two more years to relocate the mural. (The engineers who did the job were the same ones who’d moved the Cape Hatteras lighthouse.) The mural is now on the campus of Buffalo State College.

By the time it was unveiled in its new setting, it had become known as “the Slawinski mural” rather than “the Calasanctius mural” or “the Piarist mural.” The keynote speakers at the installation event were the president of the college, the county executive whose money had conserved and moved it, and the president of the Polish Arts Club of Buffalo, who introduced the artist’s widow, Wanda Slawinska. There were no Piarists present. There was no Hungarian spoken. And although much effort had been invested, fruitlessly, in identifying them, none of the original benefactors or patrons of the Piarists were named, because their names had been worn away by the elements.

Graycliff had been the Piarists’ headquarters in the United States. They came to use it mainly as a place of rest, meditation and religious study, and as a retirement home for priests who could no longer teach a full schedule at the Calasanctius school. Within a few miles of Graycliff along the Lake Erie shore, four other Catholic organizations own retreat houses, also formerly the estates of wealthy Buffalo families.

The estate, called Graycliff because of the 60-foot shale cliff on which it is perched, was built as a summer place for Darwin Martin’s wife, Isabel. She wanted light, as much as possible, because of her failing eyes, so Wright designed enormous windows, including the first “picture window,” to catch the light from the broad expanse of lake and sky at cliff’s edge. Darwin Martin was introduced to Frank Lloyd Wright by Martin’s brother, who, while living in Chicago, had come to know Wright’s work in neighboring Oak Park. Frank Lloyd Wright and Darwin Martin would have an extraordinary, enduring and productive relationship, starting with Martin’s commission of the handsome but unimposing Barton House in Buffalo in 1903. Wright’s masterwork in Buffalo was Darwin Martin’s house, commissioned in 1905 and built over the next two years for the extraordinary sum of $175,000 and many, many further adjustments. The Darwin Martin House, now in the final stages of a restoration that was begun in the 1980s, is mentioned in the same terms as the Guggenheim Museum, Fallingwater, the Johnson Company headquarters, Taliesin, and the Prairie Style (of which it is an exemplar) in the vocabulary of Wright’s work. Graycliff, built in 1927, deserves but has not yet had the level of scholarly attention afforded other Wright structures; it is a handsome place, but not the overwhelming design presence or the artistic assertion of the Darwin Martin House.

The Piarists knew what they had at Graycliff. But in the early 1950s, this small province of a teaching order consisted of, if not penniless refugees, men who had taken a vow of poverty—and men who had been dispossessed of both their community’s holdings and of their mission in their homelands. They had come to Buffalo to further their mission.

That mission, that part of it concerning teaching, included their explicit effort to inculcate in their students an appreciation for art, not limited to religious art. Their school, when they had raised enough funds to open it, was an American version of a European lyceum or an English “public” school. It was nondenominational. It was racially integrated and religiously diverse, attended by Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox and Muslims. The Piarists were also men of their time, which is to say, educated men of a previous age who found themselves situated in a city with universities, colleges, diverse and significant architecture and, in the early 1960s, a set of vigorous institutions that were demonstrating progressive thinking and growth.

They saw a Buffalo we would see again. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Buffalo was a place of remarkable energy, especially in the immediate neighborhood of the Piarists’ school. There was a brand-new college campus in the city only a few blocks away, and next to it, there was a brand-new addition to its famous art gallery. In the city center was a brand-new central library and a brand-new county office building for the just-reformed regional government. There were plans for a massive expansion of the University of Buffalo, which had just gone from being an isolated private school to being a part of the massive public system of the Empire State under the new patrician governor, Nelson Rockefeller. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, experimental hovercraft were tested in Buffalo’s harbor; engineers for Bell Aerospace and other defense contractors designed and tested rocket equipment in and near the laboratories where only a few years before they had designed and tested the first jet engines. Buffalo was a border community and a large Great Lakes port on the newly-completed Saint Lawrence Seaway, and plans had been drawn up for a new international airport. Buffalo was a major center for manufacturing and metals fabrication. With its large cultural institutions, its diverse and growing economy, its diverse and growing population, Buffalo in the late 1950s had the sophistication and the prospects for growth of a major regional capitol. The Piarists were very rational in choosing Buffalo as the North American nexus for their international brotherhood.

The Piarists were persons, too, of course, beyond their membership in their order. They were immigrant veterans of the horrific recent history of central Europe that had been, in their individual childhoods, a peaceful place of family, homeland, native language and, in the Dual Monarchy, a peaceful and diverse empire encompassing territory from present-day Austria to the Russian border, and from southern Poland to the Adriatic Sea. Latin, French and German were their languages of scholarship; English, their medium for teaching and business in this new place; but Hungarian and Polish were their languages of identity. The surest dimension of their collective identity was that they were men of the 20th century, men who had known the brutal reality of having been born in a big empire, once a collection of small nations, that had been smashed to pieces when they were boys.

Safely here, they, being mainly Hungarian, welcomed refugees from the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. They built the dormitory at Graycliff for refugees, which is to say, persons who had fled for their lives. They themselves and the new refugees of 1956 had left everything material, houses and furniture and musical instruments, of course; farms, title to lands, naturally; but even diplomas, credentials—the indices of individual personality and achievement. Among them were younger men who had fought Central Asian conscripts of the Soviet forces that had thrust into ancient Budapest as other Central Asians had centuries earlier. (The historic alliance of Catholic Poles and Catholic Hungarians was forged, notwithstanding the mutual unintelligibility of their languages, in their wars of survival against invasion by the Mongols and by the Turks. Poles and Hungarians regarded themselves as the defenders of Christian Europe, and so they were.) These Budapest boys who came to live at Graycliff had fought the new invaders from the East heroically, tragically, without guns. They had faced the Russian tanks of 1956 with homemade gasoline bombs. They had thrown bricks at them. They had set up burning barricades. And they had lost, and they had fled, on foot, to Austria, to Yugoslavia, and eventually, to North America, to Graycliff. There are stories of the priests hosting young men who would slip back and forth into nearby Canada in the 1960s, men who would go back to Europe to harass the Communists in their homeland. At Graycliff, there is access to the beach from the main house down a now decrepit iron staircase tower, which ends on the beach at a low concrete structure which houses a ruined diesel winch for a boat-hoist. The beach below the cliff narrows and widens with the seasons; there was no harbor there, nor lighthouse, but the landform itself is a beacon, because the iron staircase tower to Graycliff is but a few hundred yards from the half-mile-wide gap in the shale cliffs where Eighteenmile Creek empties into Lake Erie. From there, it is just 15 miles across Lake Erie to Canada. Small boats make the crossing routinely.

The Piarists were casualties of the war as well as of the post-war Communist government. So was their countryman, the revered but now forgotten Joszef Cardinal Mindszenty, whom the Piarists hosted at Graycliff and at their school in Buffalo in 1971. It is now not much recalled, if at all, how much of a symbol of the Cold War the late Cardinal Mindszenty was. Mindszenty, the bishop of the ancient Hungarian royal city of Esztergom, where Mathias had accepted Christianity in the year 1000, had become archbishop and then cardinal and thus a representative of the pope. His leadership of the Catholics of Catholic Hungary is extensively credited with having kept the Hungarian government of the 1930s and 1940s from murdering ethnic and religious minorities.

The Catholic Church in Hungary (unlike the Catholic Church in the former province of Slovakia, now the Slovak Republic, just to the north) was not allied with Nazi Germany, though the government of Hungary was. And even though it had promulgated an anti-Semitic quota for university admissions after World War One, the Hungarian government had refused to kill Jewish Hungarians. Indeed, until the cataclysmic change of its government in 1944, the Kingdom of Hungary, ruled by its aging regent Admiral Horthy, maintained much of its historic religious and ethnic diversity.

But the cataclysm came. A new, aggressively pro-Nazi government took over in May 1944. It reorganized the local police authorities all across the country according to Nazi protocols. In that month of May 1944, the Hungarian state itself started deporting the Jews of Hungary. Between May and July of 1944, 435,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz. Six months later, the anti-Semitic Arrow Cross movement took power and started the killing on home soil. When the Arrow Cross fascists came in, they jailed the Cardinal of Hungary, Joseph Mindszenty, in part because Mindszenty and his church protested the deportation and murder of Hungarian Jews.

The Arrow Cross suppressed the Catholic Church, and rounded up the Jews of Budapest, and killed them—except for those who were saved by some truly heroic gentiles who put their lives on the line for strangers. The Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg was one of those gentiles. So was the Hungarian Tibor Baranski, later recognized as a Righteous Gentile at Yad Veshem in Israel. So was another Hungarian, Dr. Clara Ambrus, recognized as a Righteous Gentile at Yad Veshem in 2006.

Tibor Baranski and Clara Ambrus and her husband, Dr. Julian Ambrus, came to Buffalo after World War Two. When Cardinal Mindszenty came to visit Buffalo after his release by the Hungarian Communists in 1971, among the people who greeted him were Tibor Baranski and Dr. Clara Ambrus—for both Baranski and Ambrus were friends of, neighbors of, and supporters of the Piarist priests of Graycliff. The Baranski and Ambrus children attended the Piarists’ school, named for St. Joseph Calasanctius, here in Buffalo.

The founder of the Piarist order had been canonized for having given sanctuary and educational uplift to orphans in Rome. In Buffalo, rescue and relief in this peaceful refuge was the experience of those Hungarians, Jew and gentiles alike, who came together to support the Calasanctius mission.

Jozef Slawinski’s work is of the same era and dimension as the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera’s. It is public, its scale is large, its subject matter is heroic, and it is aggressively political. The simplicity of Slawinski’s composition is deceptive: it seems to indicate naivete or primitivism. But to recall the artist’s education in pre-war Poland, and to reflect on the rapid onset of overwhelming change forced by currents in politics and in the arts in that place and at that time, is to begin to recognize his assertions. The icons of Orthodoxy are reflected in this work. Slawinski employed the planar and heroic didacticism of the Byzantine imperial style, rather than the fleshy and rounded and muscle-detailing Soviet imperial style, and in that choice of style is a political assertion. It makes a certain sense in the context of Polish art that is not so apparent this far west of where Orthodox Russia so dominated, so forcefully and repeatedly dominated, Slawinski’s Catholic Poland. This struggle is there at the forefront of, and not lurking behind, the ostensible focus of the works.

Critics and art historians have had difficulty with Slawinski. To recognize the contrast between Socialist realism and its naturalism, versus the abstract and iconic presentation that Slawinski chose, is to recognize that the politics of his imagery actually becomes the subject. A local museum curator characterized Slawinski’s work as “immigrant art,” which is a sort of polite accusation of naïveté. The comment reveals, however, both a class bias and an uninformed, ahistorical consciousness.

Slawinski demonstrated his technical competence at naturalism elsewhere in his work, so the Calasanctius mural, in context, is not a naïve work, but an assertion of something else. Slawinski’s austere formality looks like mid-20th-century realism made magical, or made simple. Slawinski’s other work at first glance seems like so much of the soft American version of Socialist Realism, the kind commissioned by the Depression-era Works Project Administration. Indeed, the public spaces in which it is shown—the main lobby of the Erie County Medical Center on Grider Street; the post office and a school in the northwestern Buffalo neighborhood of Riverside, and now outside of the Butler Library on the Buffalo State College campus—are consistent with that ethic. Public space, public art, simple stuff.

But the politics aren’t socialist and secular. The politics of Slawinski’s images are fundamentally different. Slawinski’s subjects are subversive of secularism. The hospital mural is a filiopietistic hymn of praise to the Polish immigrant community of Buffalo and Western New York and thus is most precisely “immigrant art”; but moreso, the Buffalo Polonia triptych is a documentary of Catholicism, as if to say, it’s the faith that endures, and through the faith the nation. The West Hertel School mural is of the heroes of the War of 1812, as the commission had commanded, but there in the background, precursors of all the mundane activity in the foreground, are the Jesuits and Recollets. This is historically correct, because it was they, the missionaries, who in 1679 were the first Europeans to penetrate the interior of North America, via the Niagara River passage only a mile from that school. But it is also a political and a spiritual assertion as well: the Church and its soldiers are the background. Looking at Slawinski’s private work for the Franciscans, politics and religion are interwoven: Mary is being crowned a queen of a medieval nation in one work, the Polish king Mieszko is being baptized in another; both of these monarchs see their conversion on the edge of the realms of Roman and Byzantine Christianity, which is the political borderland and the cultural border-region that was Slawinski’s native realm. The late Nobel Prize-winning poet Czeslaw Milosz spent his political and artistic life navigating these currents; he wrote essays about the “nationhood” of Catholicism, and about the transcendent religiosity of a Polish national identity that existed without benefit of a nation-state. The complexity of identity is made further complicated by overlapping claims of—what do we call them, Catholic ethnic groups? Catholic nations? Catholic peoples?—to the same historical heroes. Stefan Batory, for one: a hero to the Poles, a prince of Transylvania, the elected king of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth…complexity that is impenetrable and obsolete to Americans was formative to minds shaped in Central Europe in the days when Czeslaw Milosz, the Piarist priests of Graycliff and Jozef Slawinski were young. The borders have changed, the vocabulary has been lost.

But the narrative of the image survives. The Calasanctius mural is of the Catholic priest who began free education, education as liberation and empowerment of the poor, but of course not the kind of socialist or revolutionary empowerment that was the subject of the other muralists of the mid 20th century. The central figure in the Calasanctius mural is the teacher. The women are iconic Magdalenes visiting from Byzantine frescoes. The doubting men of Rome look like senators of great political stature and power, but they are marginalized and dwarfed by the presence of the humble saint, whose work and subject and focus is Christ-like, and thus noble. These tensions reveal Slawinski as thus an emphatically political artist. His politics are the politics of John Paul II—the pro-labor, pro-Solidarity subversive from Krakow who understood the power of the Soviet empire, and who undermined it with his own.

Most of the rest of Slawinski’s art is not available for public view except on the Web site of the Polish Arts Club. The largest collection of his work is confined within the Franciscan residence midway between Buffalo and Graycliff.

One work that is publicly accessible is a smaller work, a bas-relief plaque in hammered copper like a dark icon (the artist’s reference to the structure of Eastern images is dramatic). This piece is hidden in an ill-lit recess of the lobby of Buffalo’s City Hall. It is Slawinski’s memorial to the Katyn massacre.

Katyn is a name known to Poles. Katyn was once known to the world, in the way that My Lai, Rwanda, Ground Zero and other geographies of horror and outrage are known to the world. Katyn is the name of a forest in eastern Poland in which 15,000 Polish army officers were slaughtered by Stalin’s secret police.

Slawinski’s plaque is a grim, dignified work of mourning for a monstrous crime. In metal like an icon, it is a dark negation of any possibility that that crime can be forgiven. In hammered copper, it is a reversal of the iconic Russian vocabulary of religious art, in which the painting of the face of the Virgin, or of a saint, is surrounded by the protective strength and richness of the metal. Here, the image of the horror is on the metal itself: The only paint is a small field of red above the central figure, red for the Polish flag.

Slawinski’s mural of Saint Joseph Calasanctius was unveiled by dignitaries on a November morning in Buffalo in 2005. The artist’s widow and about 60 other people attended the event. The president of the college spoke. The executive director of the Graycliff Conservancy spoke. So did the leader of the Polish Arts Club, a not-for-profit entity that had lobbied and solicited contributions for the conservation effort from various local foundations. The main donor was Erie County, whose executive, Joel Giambra, read a text that made reference to the history and significance of the mural, its commission and its subject:

Madame President, thank you for your courage and foresight in offering this mural a permanent home on your campus.

This mural is about courage.

This mural is about a revolution in human history.

We are standing today on a piece of public land that is dedicated to a revolutionary concept called public education.

The roots of that concept are in Rome—in the 17th century—almost 400 years ago.

This mural is a portrait of a young man from Spain, a man of noble birth. His special mission was saving the abandoned children of the streets of Rome. Joseph Calasanctius could have been an American because he believed in the revolutionary concept—the idea that even abandoned children could be educated just like the children of the aristocracy.

The religious order which he founded stayed in Italy. That order went to Poland. It went to Hungary, and to Spain, to South America, even to India. And then they came to Buffalo.

The story of their presence here is for others to tell.

But their concept of freedom is their gift, and our legacy—and their idea of freedom was education.

How fitting, then—that this revolutionary ideal would find a home in Buffalo, New York.

Buffalo is, after all, the home of a great revolutionary movement.

Buffalo is the home of the Underground Railroad.

Buffalo is the place that opened all of free America to immigrants like my ancestors who came here for freedom and opportunity.

Just as today, kids from every corner of the world come to Buffalo State College for freedom and opportunity the Buffalo way—the Calasanctius way—through education.

So this is exactly the right place for this mural.

Because here is where we can make the connection across generations, across continents, across the span of history—a connection with a concept.

The community reaction was appropriate: Aficionados applauded, employees of the college congratulated Wanda Slawinska, and the media made of it a small story.

The challenge remaining, now that the mural has been conserved, is in giving it a context.

Graycliff is now in its third phase of restoration. It is a remarkable success story in which a great many people have had a hand. Graycliff restoration will cost less than $5 million because the ongoing occupation by the Piarists between 1951 and 1999 kept the building alive, albeit imperfectly. The Darwin Martin House restoration will cost 10 times as much, maybe more, including a new visitor center, because the structure was so damaged by abandonment, partial demolition and the abuse of neighborhood kids.

But there are few remaining who can still speak to the connection between Buffalo and the great historic continuity of Catholic faith, struggle, scholarship and community, of which, for a brief 40 years, the Piarists were a part. Graycliff was a refuge for Isabel Martin, whose husband Darwin Martin made commercial and architectural history as a brilliant businessman and an enlightened patron of art and architecture. A brotherhood of priests from a rich historic tradition came to Graycliff, turned it into a refuge for themselves and for young people who fought against oppression 50 years ago, when they defended the fragile civilization of the West against monstrous despotism, as had their ancestors.

This is a hard story to tell. Mention a small nation in central Europe and most Americans think of anti-Semitism, and of the cruel and mindless wars of long ago. And besides, even the Cold War is over. Teenagers do not know even approximately what Communism was—not even approximately. The Piarist priests of Buffalo are no more. Their students have moved away. The elder Tibor Baranski is dead. The younger Tibor Baranski is an attorney practicing in Beijing. Even the refugees to whom the Piarists gave refuge have moved on. The dormitory that housed them has been knocked down. A search of the database of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library in 2007 reveals no—zero—results for “Calasanctius,” “Piarist,” “Father Gerencser” or “Scholae Pio” in authors, titles, subjects or even keywords in any of the holdings.

The only physical evidence of the Piarists’ former presence in Buffalo is an incongruous piece of what looks like religious art standing in an alcove behind the library of a public college. But it is a handsome work. It is powerful, even there in its curious new context. It is sheltered from the aggressions of the Great Lakes climate, which is snowy in winter, but surpassingly clement in summer, when the lake-breeze moderates the heat of even the hottest summer days, which is when people from the city spend as much time as they can on the beaches, or at their summer homes perched on the shale cliffs above, enjoying the light.