St. Bonaventure Monastery and Chapel




Buildings Index


             The original monastery of St. Bonaventure College.

     In 1854, the Franciscan friars at the request of Nicholas Devereux agreed to begin a mission in the Allegany, New York area. In 1855, three priests and one brother arrived in Allegany. Among them was St. Bonaventure's first president, Fr. Pamfilo de Magliano. They were to serve the religious needs of the entire Cattaraugus County area (Kenyon). What started as a mission became the first Franciscan University in the United States.

    The cornerstone to the first building of St. Bonaventure, the  Monastery and Chapel, was laid by Bishop Timon, first Bishop to the Diocese of Buffalo, on August 20, 1856 (NY Freeman's Journal). A few days before the dedication ceremony that cornerstone had been stolen, but it was found abandoned a few miles away (Kenyon). Over 2,000 guests stood in the pouring rain for the dedication (Kenyon).

     The monastery and chapel, designed in Doric Corinthian Style, were the work of a Mr. Scornton, an architect from Utica, NY (NY Freeman's Journal). There was limited help available to build the monastery and chapel, so Fr. Pamfilo directed the making of bricks and cutting stones for the foundation (Kenyon). The friars also made tiles for the roof and planed and sawed lumber for the building (Kenyon). The church front, when completed, was fifty feet high and supported by four large pillars. The church tower, completed on June 13, 1869, made the building five stories high. After a series of additions and changes, the entire monastery and chapel was comprised of two wings, with the church in its center.

The monastery and chapel before the fire of 1930.

    For almost seventy-five years, the monastery and chapel was home to friars, seminarians, and students alike. The building had grown as St. Bonaventure's student enrollment increased and it became the most beautiful of all the campus buildings. However, on May 5, 1930, that would all change. 

    On the afternoon of May 5th, at approximately 3:50pm, Fr. Austin Gough discovered a blaze in the east wing ("Bonas' Loss"). He immediately alerted the rest of the building. The friars and students went to work salvaging what valuables and personal items they could and moving them out to the lawn. 

Students move their belongings to the lawn 
as fire rips through the seminary- May 5, 1930.

 The fire moved faster than the students, however, and engulfed the entire structure in one hour. The Church only added fuel to the fire. It was in the process of being redecorated for the College's Diamond Jubilee in June. The tarps and scaffolding in the building made the blaze even larger ("Bonas' Loss"). 

Collapse of the chapel steeple during the fire.

    Four local fire departments responded to the call- Olean, Allegany, Salamanca, and Bradford. By 6:30pm the fire was under control, but it was too late. The entire building was lost. It was suspected that the fire began due to faulty wiring. The total loss was estimated at $2 million, which included the building, personal belongings, books, manuscripts, valuable paintings, and statuary. No one was seriously hurt or injured.

The chapel and monastery after the fire. 
The statue of the Blessed Virgin (top left corner in niche)
now stands next to the Hickey Dining Hall.

    The monetary damages did not compare to the damage that was done to Bonaventure's spirit. The loss of the first building upon which St. Bonaventure was built saddened the hearts of the administrators and students. The college President at the time, Fr. Thomas Plassmann, was determined not to let this great loss discourage the growth of Bonaventure. A west wing was added to Devereux Hall later in 1930 as housing for the friars and seminarians.  Within a year of the fire, Hickey Memorial Dining Hall was built on the spot of the former monastery and chapel. The statue of the Blessed Mother from the niche at the top of the chapel was placed to the right of Hickey as a remembrance of St. Bonaventure's beginning, where it remains to this day. 

Fr. Thomas Plassmann (center, second from left of man in gray suit) 
and this group of men decided not to let the loss in the fire stop the growth of St. Bonaventure.

Video made from film shot during the fire of 1930!


Last updated:  01/18/13