St. Patrick was founded in 1808, the first parish in the city of Pittsburgh (the first church in what is now the city was a small chapel built by the French in Fort Duquesne 1754-1758). It was also the first parish within the current boundaries of the diocese. Before the year 1800, the only time local Catholics saw a priest was when one passed through the city on his way further west. Beginning sometime after 1800, the city was occasionally visited by priests from parishes in counties further east.
In 1808, Rev. William F.X. O'Brien was assigned to Pittsburgh to establish a parish. At this time only about 20 Catholic families lived in the city. That year he laid the cornerstone for the new church, although the church was not dedicated until August of 1811. Even then the church was not completed. No pews were installed. Instead, plans for the pews were drawn on the floor and, as they could afford it, families would hire a carpenter to build their pew on the site they picked out.
As the city population began to rise, so too did the congregation of St. Patrick. In 1825, an addition to the church was begun and the exterior was completed in 1826. Even this addition proved inadequate and the pastor of St. Patrick, Fr. Charles Maguire, called a meeting of local Catholics on August 27, 1827, to consider the building of a new church, which would later become St. Paul Cathedral. To secure the financial support of the rapidly growing German population, Fr. Maguire agreed to turn St. Patrick over to the Germans after the new church was built. When St. Paul was dedicated in the summer of 1834, St. Patrick became a German ethnic parish.
The parish's German phase lasted only five years. Due to financial disputes with the pastor of St. Paul regarding rental fees for the church, the Germans decided to abandon St. Patrick and found a new parish. In October of 1840, an English speaking congregation was again established in St. Patrick.
On August 10, 1854, a machine shop next to the church caught fire and the flames spread to the church and destroyed it. As the city was growing, it was decided to move the site of the church from 11th Street to 14th Street. The new church was dedicated on August 15, 1858.
This church did not last long. The economic and population boom engendered by the Civil War soon led to overcrowding. As the same time the Pennsylvania Railroad Company wished to purchase the site of the church for expansion. A lot was purchased on 17th Street and Liberty Avenue and work began on a new church. This church was dedicated on December 15, 1865. The old church was sold to the railroad company and torn down.
By 1923, the future of the parish was in doubt. Most of the parish' s residents had been pushed out of the area by the expansion of business in the area, particularly the produce industry. Only 35 families remained in the parish. But that year also saw the arrival of a new pastor, Rev. James Cox. This priest revitalized the parish dramatically. In 1924, the parish became the "American Shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes" by Rev. Cox in thanks for the healing of his eyes at Lourdes earlier. Beginning in 1925, a local radio station began broadcasting the daily Mass from St. Patrick, a practice that lasted for 33 years. When the depression began, St. Patrick became a center for relief for the poor. The parish distributed over two million free meals and 500,000 baskets of food, clothing and fuel.
On March 21, 1935, a fire destroyed St. Patrick church. While a new church was being built, the parish used the Good Samaritan Chapel to celebrate Mass. The new St. Patrick church was dedicated on March 17, 1936. Included in the church was a piece of the Blarney Stone from Blarney Castle in Ireland. The stone was placed in the tower that sheltered the baptistry. In 1937, the Monastery Gardens were erected. The gardens included a large outdoor grotto containing a marble altar. Outdoor Masses were celebrated there in good weather.
By the end of the twentieth century, the population in the city had dropped to the point that it was no longer practical for each parish in the Strip District to remain independent. In 1993, St. Patrick merged with St. Stanislaus Kostka and St. Elizabeth to form the new St. Patrick-St. Stanislaus Kostka parish. St. Patrick church remains open and continues to serve the new parish.
The origin of this parish is not well documented. It was established as a mission of St. Michael, Elizabeth in 1865, although the pastor of St. Michael may have visited Alpsville before that year. Alpsville owed its existence to the coal mines in the area. At first, Mass was celebrated monthly in private homes. By 1865, the population of Alpsville had grown to the point that a church was practical. In 1866, responsibility for Alpsville was transferred from St. Michael to a professor at St. Michael Seminary, who was given responsibility for building the church. Work on the church began in 1866. The cornerstone was laid on September 23, 1866, and the completed church was dedicated on September 1, 1867.
In 1871, St. Patrick became an independent parish with the appointment of a resident pastor. The parish prospered for the remainder of the century. However, around the turn of the century the mines around Alpsville began to play out. When the mines closed, the miners moved away. By 1908 the population of Alpsville had dropped to the point that St. Patrick changed status with its mission, St. Charles Borromeo in Sutersville. St. Patrick became the mission of St. Charles.
On January 1, 1924, the church was destroyed in a fire. Work began immediately on a new church. The new church was dedicated on Labor Day of 1924. In 1951 the Diocese of Greensburg was created. As Sutersville was in the new diocese and Alpsville remained in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, responsibility for St. Patrick was transferred to St. Peter, McKeesport. When St. Denis parish was established in Versailles in 1955, they took over the mission of St. Patrick.
By the 1990's the population of the area had dropped to the point that it could no longer support the number of parishes in existence. In 1993, St. Patrick was merged with St. Denis and St. Perpetua in McKeesport to form a new parish. The new parish took the name St. Patrick. After the merger, St. Patrick Church closed and was later sold.
Our Lady Queen of Peace was established on September 28, 1981. The parish was established through the merger of St. Mary and Mary Immaculate-St. Cyprian parishes. The immediate cause of the merger was the purchase of St. Mary by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to make room for highway construction. Due to the declining population of the North Side, the diocese decided to merge the two parishes and use the Mary Immaculate-St. Cyprian Church for the new parish.
This parish had a short life. The population of the North Side continued to drop and in 1993 the parish was merged with St. Peter, North Side. The new parish retained the name St. Peter. Our Lady Queen of Peace Church remains open and continues to serve the new parish.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help was established in 1937 as a mission of the Italian parish of Regina Coeli. In that year the assistant pastor of Regina Coeli began celebrating Mass in the Brighton Road District for the Italians living there. For two years Mass was celebrated in the Lodge Hall of the Independent Beneficial Society of the Order of the Italian Sons and Daughters of America. In 1939, a new pastor was assigned to Regina Coeli. He began discussions with local residents to discuss purchasing a church for the area. In that year, the Central Mission church building of the McClure Avenue Presbyterian Church came on the market. Local committees were organized to raise funds to buy the church. On January 27, 1940, the church was purchased. The church was renovated and dedicated on July 4, 1940.
In 1958, responsibility for the mission was transferred to St. Leo. Beginning around this time, the population of the area began to steadily decline. By 1993, the population of the North Side had dropped to the point that the community could no longer support the number of parishes in existence. In that year, Our Lady of Perpetual Help was merged with three parishes to form the new Risen Lord parish. As part of the merger, Our Lady of Perpetual Help was closed and sold shortly afterwards.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help was established in 1929 as a Polish parish. Before the parish was founded, local Catholics attended St. Ladislaus in Natrona. To get to St. Ladislaus, the people of Natrona Heights had to cross railroad tracks that lacked crossings or safety signals. In 1918, the Catholics of Natrona Heights, concerned for the safety of the children who had to cross those tracks to attend St. Ladislaus School, began raising funds for a school and attached chapel. Eventually, they realized that if they were to have a chapel, they would also need a resident pastor. They petitioned the bishop for a priest and one was assigned to the new parish on February 1, 1929.
The first Mass was celebrated on February 11, 1929, in a private home. In May of 1929, the parish built a hall in 16 days to be used for fund raising events. However, the pastor decided to convert the building to a church. The church was dedicated on May 30, 1929.
On February 20, 1945, fire struck the church. The fire completely gutted the interior but left the walls intact. While repairs were made to the church, Mass was celebrated in the basement of a local public school. After five months, the church reopened.
The fire led to a decision by the parish to build a new, fire resistant church. Ground was broken for the new church on April 6, 1952. The cornerstone was laid on July 6, 1952, and the completed building was dedicated on August 30, 1953. The church continues to serve the community today, but the parish does not. Due to population losses in the area in the late twentieth century, Our Lady of Perpetual Help merged with Most Blessed Sacrament parish to form the new Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament parish. Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church remains open and serves the new parish.
Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament was founded on January 18, 1910, when the bishop instructed Father August Black to establish a new parish. His first effort involved renting a storeroom to use to celebrate Mass and preparing the room for services. The first Mass of the new parish was celebrated on July 17, 1910. The parish immediately began fund raising for a church. Work on the church began late in 1913 or early in 1914. Progress was rapid and on March 1, 1914, the cornerstone was laid. The completed church was dedicated on June 1, 1914.
In 1925, the parish built a school which operated until 1937, when it closed. At the end of World War II, the parish experienced a significant spurt of growth. The school was reopened in 1951. The church was soon overcrowded. Also at this time, the church began showing its age. Faced with the need for extensive repairs to a church that was too small, the parish decided to build a new church. Since the school was also facing crowding problems, the decision was made to build an addition to the school that would include a church on the lower level and classrooms on the upper level. The new addition was dedicated on October 25, 1959. The old church was torn down in 1961.
The fortunes of the parish soon turned, however. Beginning in the 1960's, the congregation began to rapidly drop as people moved from the city to the suburbs. In the 1980's, the congregation dropped to the point that the parish did not need as large a church as they had. During the decade, the church was partitioned and part of the space was used to create a social hall.
By the 1990's, the congregation had dropped to the point that it was no longer feasible to maintain the parish as an independent entity. In 1992, Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament merged with five other parishes to form the new St. Charles Lwanga parish. At first, Our Lady of Most Blessed Sacrament Church remained open and served the new parish. In 1996, the parish decided that the cost of keeping the church open exceeded the benefits. On February 18, 1996, the parish celebrated the closing liturgy of the church. Soon afterwards the building was sold.
Our Lady Help of Christians was established in 1898 as an Italian parish. The origin of the parish can be traced to the rise of immigrants from Italy in the late nineteenth century. In 1895 the Italian Franciscan Fathers were invited to come to Pittsburgh. They took charge of the Italian parish in the Hill District, St. Peter. In 1894, the Italian residents of the East Liberty area petitioned the bishop for permission to form their own parish. This petition was denied. To meet the needs of the East Liberty Italians, the pastor of St. Peter began visiting the area to celebrate Mass. The first Mass for Italians celebrated in East Liberty took place in February of 1895 in the school hall of Ss. Peter and Paul parish. From that point, a Mass was celebrated almost monthly for the Italians.
In 1896, the pastor of St. Peter again petitioned the bishop for permission to establish a parish for the Italians in East Liberty. This time permission was granted. The first organizational meeting of the parish was held on April 12, 1896. Fund raising for a church began in 1896. Work on the church began in 1897. The cornerstone was laid on September 17, 1897, and the completed church was dedicated on April 17, 1898. Even after the church was built, improvements continued to be made to the building. In 1904, frescoes were painted on the walls and ceiling of the church. Unfortunately, the next year an electrical fire destroyed the church.
While reconstruction of the church took place, Mass was moved to the school. By December of 1905, the basement of the new church was completed and beginning on December 17, Mass moved to the basement. The superstructure of the church was completed earlier the next year and the building was dedicated on April 17, 1906. Over the years the church was renovated and redecorated. Renovations took place in the late 1940's, the late 1950's, the 1970's, and the 1980's.
By this time the population of the city had dropped to the point that it could no longer support the number of independent parishes in existence. In 1992, Our Lady Help of Christians merged with five other parishes to form the new St. Charles Lwanga parish. As part of the merger, Our Lady Help of Christians Church closed and was later sold.
St. Nicholas, the first Croatian ethnic parish in the United States, was founded in 1894. This parish was the result of Croatian immigration to the North Side to work in local industry in the late nineteenth century. In 1894, the local community wrote to Croatia to ask that a priest be sent to Pittsburgh. In August of 1894, the first Mass of the parish was held in the basement chapel of St. Paul Cathedral. By the fall, a building was purchased on East Ohio Street and converted to a church. The new church was dedicated on January 27, 1895.
As immigration continued to increase, the church soon became inadequate to meet the needs of the congregation. In 1899 the congregation was split as to whether to build the new church in Millvale or to remain on the North Side. When the decision was made to remain on the North Side, the faction that favored moving to Millvale did so and founded St. Nicholas parish, Millvale.
On September 16, 1900, the cornerstone for the new church was laid and on September 8, 1901, the church was dedicated. In 1920, the church faced a threat from urban renewal. The city decided to widen East Ohio Street, on which the church was located. Building owners along the road were given the option to either relocate or to move their building. Most people decided to sell and to let their buildings be torn down. The parish, however, decided to move the church. In April of 1921, the church was lifted on jacks and moved twenty feet back from the existing road. The move was completed in the fall of 1921.
Although the church has been renovated several times over the years, it still continues to serve the community. However, it is no longer an independent parish. With the loss of industry and related population late in the century, the diocese embarked in a program of reorganization and revitalization. In 1994 St. Nicholas, North Side was merged with St. Nicholas, Millvale to form a new parish, also called St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas church remained open as a worship site for the new parish.
St. Nicholas was established as a Croatian parish in 1900. The origin of the parish can be traced to the influx of Croatian immigrants to the area to work in local industries in the late nineteenth century. In 1894, the first Croatian parish in the diocese, St. Nicholas in what was then the City of Allegheny, now Pittsburgh's North Side, was founded. By the end of the century the congregation had outgrown its church. The question as to where to build the new church led to a split in the congregation. The pastor and the members who lived in Etna and Millvale wanted to build the new church in Millvale. The remainder of the congregation wanted to build the church in the North Side. Unable to find a consensus, the congregation split. The pastor and part of the congregation purchased land in Millvale to build a church. The rest of the congregation made arrangements to get a new pastor and purchased land in the North Side.
The first Mass in Millvale was celebrated on January 4, 1900, in a former carriage house on the property purchased for the church. This building was used for Mass until a church could be built. Work on the church progressed rapidly. Ground was broken on May 22, 1900. The cornerstone was laid on July 22, 1900, and the completed church was dedicated on November 25, 1900.
Disaster struck the church on March 26, 1921, when it was burned down in a fire. The pastor moved Mass to the parish hall while the church was being rebuilt. The original architect of the church was hired to draw up plans for the church and work soon began. The rebuilt church was dedicated on May 30, 1922.
In 1937, the pastor of the church decided to renovate the interior of the church. He hired Maximilain Vanka to paint a series of murals in the church reflecting the Croatian immigrant experience. The initial murals were dedicated in June of 1937. The artist added additional murals in 1941. These murals reflected the painter's pacifist beliefs, in response to the world war then underway. These murals make the church unique in the diocese.
As the rise of population at the end of the nineteenth century led to the creation of the parish, the loss of population at the end of the twentieth century led to its suppression. In 1994 the two Croatian parishes named after St. Nicholas were again reunited. The new parish also retains the name of St. Nicholas. The Millvale church remains open and continues to serve the new parish.