Saint Peter Church
Saint Peter Church is rich in history. The parish’s roots go back to its founding in 1850. The parish was the result of the growth of the Irish population on the North Side, which was then the City of Allegheny. At first, the people attended Saint Paul Cathedral across the river. As the population of Allegheny grew, support for a separate church also grew. On September 17, 1848, a meeting was held to plan the new parish. Property was purchased for a church and construction began in 1849. The church, costing about ten thousand dollars, was completed and dedicated under the patronage of Saint Peter the Apostle on April 21, 1850.
During the latter half of the 19th century, a rapid growth of the congregation led to the need for a new, larger church to meet the spiritual needs of the people. The congregation hired Pittsburgh architect Andrew Peebles to design their new building. The cornerstone for the present church was laid on April 16, 1871. Construction of the church was slow and by the end of 1872, only the basement was completed. Since the old church had been sold to the railroad company and the congregation had to vacate the building, the basement was blessed on December 1, 1872 and was used for services until the church was completed.
The new church was 165 feet in length and 70 feet in width. The walls were faced with chiseled stone. The window jambs, tracery, moldings, corbels, string-courses, turrets, pinnacles, statue of Saint Peter, and cupola were all made of cut stone. The bell tower and pyramidal spire, topped with an iron finial and cross, measured 200 feet tall. The Gothic structure cost $125,000 and was dedicated on July 5, 1874.
At Bishop Michael Domenec's request, on March 19, 1876 Allegheny was split from the Diocese of Pittsburgh and became a diocese. Bishop Domenec was appointed bishop of the newly formed diocese serving as the pastor of the parish and Saint Peter became the pro-Cathedral. The newly formed diocese was short-lived, however. By the end of 1877 the Diocese of Allegheny was suppressed and a year later was reunited with the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
On November 13, 1886, tragedy struck the parish when the entire church was gutted by a fire with only the walls remaining. Fortunately, the co-Cathedral was rebuilt using the original plans and rededicated on April 22, 1888. Tragedy struck again on November 14, 1927 when a gas line exploded at a facility near the banks of the Allegheny River. The church’s spire and cupola were damaged beyond repair and removed from the church.
Beginning in the 1950's, the North Side suffered a large loss of population. Part of the cause was large urban renewal projects such as Allegheny Center Mall and Three Rivers Stadium, which led to the tearing down of a number of homes and the relocation of people from the city to the suburbs. Similar trends followed in the 1980’s as the Parkway North was constructed. Many homes were leveled and residents were forced to live elsewhere.
Similar trends ensured after the steel industry collapsed in the 1980’s. Many city residents lost their jobs and moved away, and houses and business were abandoned and neglected. Needless-to-say, parish membership struggled and suffered, as well.
Saint Mary Church
In the mid-1800’s immigrants from Germany and Switzerland came to the East North Side of Allegheny to establish new homes. They came to escape persecution, wars and unemployment in Europe. Religion was an integral part of their lives and so in 1848 a German Church was established. The first pastor was Father John Mosetizh, a Redemptorist.
Second in importance only to the profession of their Faith itself, was the religious education of their children, and a private school taught by Catholic lay teachers and established in 1850.
After two years, Father Mosetizh, already well-advanced in years returned to his native country, Austria, and was succeeded by Father John Stibiel, a young, energetic and saintly priest who recognized the need for a larger church and school. Plans were completed for the structure, and Father Stibiel worked side by side with the men of the parish to build the new church. The church was dedicated December 10, 1854, two days after the Proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception was first issued and in honor of this historic event, the parish was given the name of Saint Mary.
In 1870, the parish was placed under the administration of the Benedictine Monks of Saint Vincent Archabbey. Masses, sermons, hymn books, prayer books, and letters from the church were all in German until World War I, when English became the language of the parish. The new school that was built at this time was placed under the charge of Benedictine Sisters in 1878.
Saint Mary Church experienced tremendous growth. Its boundaries extended from Sharpsburg on the east, to Beaver Falls on the west. Within the zealous congregation, numerous societies for the honor of God and the veneration of the Blessed Mother were formed.
After 133 years of existence, the East Street Valley Expressway set in motion a series of events which culminated in the suppression of Saint Mary’s Church. A final Mass was celebrated on September 27, 1981. Father Jude Coughlin, O.S.B., assistant pastor at the time wrote: “A parish is not buildings but people striving for salvation. So as children of God let us bring the same intense loyalty, dedication and devotion displayed here at Saint Mary’s so grandly over the years to our new setting as we wend our journey to eternal life.”
Saint Cyprian Church
In 1920, the Polish speaking community of the lower North Side petitioned Bishop J. Regis Canevin to have a church of their own. Permission was granted and on March 6, 1920, Reverend Anthony Pniak, Pastor of Guardian Angels Church in the West End, was assigned the responsibility of directing the affairs of the newly organized Saint Cyprian Church.
He immediately called a meeting of the parishioners, consisting of approximately four hundred families. The Church committee was elected and with Father Pniak’s energetic direction, the Concordia Club, located at 204 East Stockton Avenue, was purchased. Remodeling this four-story structure to provide living quarters for the priests, living quarters for the teaching Felician Nuns, eight classrooms, and the main church area created a $200,000 debt. The generosity and hard work of the Polish people kept the parish solvent despite the depression and World War II. In 1964, Urban Renewal of the City determined that Saint Cyprian’s Church be demolished to make room for Allegheny Center.
Mary Immaculate Church
Mary Immaculate Church was established in 1940 as a mission of the Italian Regina Coeli Parish. The mission was established to meet the needs of the Italian residents of the East North Side. In 1939 the priests of Regina Coeli conducted a census of the East North Side and found about 400 families in the district. On July 21, 1940, encouraged by the late Bishop Hugh C. Boyle, 75 souls gathered at the American Legion Hall on East Street to participate in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. As Christ has risen gloriously to His Heavenly Kingdom from the poverty of Bethlehem, so the development of Mary Immaculate Church seemed destined. For the next six months Mass and instruction for the children continued to be held in the American Legion Hall until the mission could get its own church. The interim found the pastor and various committees in constant search for a permanent church building. Their search was rewarded when on Christmas Eve, 1940 the land and property on the corner of Suismon and Middle Streets [formerly the Tenth United Presbyterian Church, which was at that time being used by the Jehovah’s Witnesses] was formally acquired by Mary Immaculate Church. No greater Christmas gift could have been given to the Italian community of the east side of North Pittsburgh.
Eagerly the parish families banded together to bring about the renovation of the church. The first services were held on Candlemas Day, February 1, 1941. The next four months found the interior transformed from an ordinary meeting hall into a beautiful sanctuary of devotion. All the vestments, sacred vessels and furnishings were donated by parishioners and friends. The church was formally dedicated by Bishop Boyle on June 29, 1941.
During the next eight years the parish grew and the church was remodeled. On April 24, 1949, the Shrine Chapel of Mary Immaculate was rededicated.
From the inception of the Mission Church in 1941, the parishioners began to make necessary arrangements for the instruction of their children. One week after the dedication of the church, work was begun on the school. Work was completed in time for the Fall of the 1941 school year. The children from the Mother Church, Regina Coeli, and the sister Mission, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, boarded the school bus, “Old Faithful” to attend classes at Mary Immaculate School. The first graduating class in June of 1949 was made up of those youngsters who had braved the weather and sat thru the noise of remodeling the church and school. They began their first year in the old church building with four classrooms. By graduation day, the students were housed in a modern new school building containing eight grades, a library and medical center.
The church remained a mission of Regina Coeli until 1964.
Mary Immaculate — Saint Cyprian Church
In 1964, when City Planners decided to take Saint Cyprian Church to make room for an urban renewal project., the parish immediately solved its dilemma by merging with the mission church, Mary Immaculate, to form Mary Immaculate — Saint Cyprian Church. The Mary Immaculate Church building served as the home for the new congregation. The harmonious integration of these two distinct ethnic groups reflected the true Christian spirit of the Catholic Church.
Our Lady, Queen of Peace Church
As the East Street Valley Expressway [Parkway North] was set in motion, parishioners of the suppressed Saint Mary Church were merged with parishioners of Mary Immaculate – Saint Cyprian Church on September 28, 1981 to form Our Lady, Queen of Peace Church.