Saint Patrick, Strip District

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Strip District

Parish History

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.

Photos From the Diocesan Archive:

Third St. Patrick Church, 1911
St. Patrick Church, 1938
Interior of St. Patrick, 1938
Exterior of St. Patrick showing the grotto and gardens, 1940

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