Former North Side church, a Croatian enclave, now a memorial site |

Former North Side church, a Croatian enclave, now a memorial site

Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Bill Kurtek of Pine takes a picture of the interpretive panel depicting the now-demolished St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in Troy Hill on Saturday, June 20, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Stephen Willing, co-chairman of the Preserve Croatian Heritage Foundation (tan suit with microphone), unveils the Pennsylvania Historical Marker for St. Nicholas Croatian Church in Troy Hill on Saturday, June 20, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
The Rev. Ivica Majstorovic, visiting from St. Jerome Parish in Chicago, takes pictures of the newly unveiled Pennsylvania Historical Marker for the now-demolished St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in Troy Hill on Saturday, June 20, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
The Pennsylvania Historical Marker for the now-demolished St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in Troy Hill is unveiled Saturday, June 20, 2015.

Officials and parishioners who fought for years to preserve St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church along Route 28 in Troy Hill gathered Saturday for a bittersweet ceremony dedicating a memorial wall where the church once stood.

“The loss of St. Nicholas is devastating to say the least,” said Susan Petrick, a former parishioner and secretary of the Preserve Croatian Heritage Foundation. “It is heart-wrenching for many of us standing here today on the very site where our church once stood, knowing we will never enter its doors again, attend Mass, receive sacraments, have celebrations, witness its beauty, or feel its holiness.

“But we realize that this hillside could now be a barren, weed-infested piece of land, the memory of St. Nicholas swept away in the wind as some preferred.”

The church, built in 1901 as the first Croatian parish in America, became known for its elegant architecture and signature onion domes.

But the parish merged with St. Nicholas in Millvale in 1994 and the church closed in 2004. Despite efforts by the North Side Leadership Conference and the Preserve Croatian Heritage Foundation to buy the church and turn it into a national immigrant museum, the parish and diocese preferred demolition. Officials deemed the church a safety hazard, and said that it could collapse into Route 28.

St. Nicholas church was demolished in 2013.

But the resentment remains today.

“We all had such high hopes,” said Mark Masterson, executive director of the Northside Community Development Fund. “But we had some very powerful detractors. … I wish we could have had a better outcome.”

About 100 people stood in a light but steady rain throughout the 75-minute ceremony.

Twenty feet away, cars rushed by on the recently widened Route 28, which carries about 60,000 commuters a day. PennDOT’s five-year reconstruction project cost $120 million.

Where homes and businesses once stood, a new bike and walking path leads from Penn Brewery to the church memorial site. Crews installed a Pennsylvania State Historical Society marker, murals of the church and four informational boards describing the history of the corridor as a once-thriving Croatian enclave.

“They built (the church) to be a community, a little part of Croatia that would stay right here in Pittsburgh and be there for their children and their grandchildren,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said. “As long as you keep that in your heart, as long as you are able to say that I’m proud of where I’m from, then you’ve lived up to their dream. …”

It was a celebration, of sorts.

But it was decidedly somber.

“That church that stood proudly here has been demolished (and) I’m certainly not happy that happened,” said Josko Paro, Croatian ambassador to the United States. “We fought … but it was of no avail.”

Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632 or [email protected].

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.