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Houses of worship open their doors for fund-raising tour

Pat Miller of Pine Township says she has driven past St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in McCandless Township a hundred times, and each time she admires the brilliant gold domes that are a community landmark.

“I’ve always wanted to go inside,” she says, explaining how she came up with the idea for the first Houses of Worship Tour, sponsored by the Ingomar Garden Club. Miller presented her suggestion to fellow club members last fall, and “they all thought it was a great idea,” she says.

The self-guided tour is similar to traditional fund-raiser house tours — except that the “houses” being shown are places of worship, specifically one cathedral, two chapels, one temple and four churches, all in the North Hills. Miller, chairwoman of the event, says each worship site has “something unique or gracious about it.”

For the Mother of Divine Providence Chapel, in the Provincial House of the Sisters of Divine Providence in McCandless, the tour is an opportunity to show the community the results of an extensive renovation project to the original chapel, built in the mid-1920s. Sister Michele Bisbey, director of mission effectiveness and a member of the leadership team during the renovation, says the 70-year-old chapel needed major repair.

“But it was the wish of the greater majority of the Sisters that as we made the necessary repairs, that we would also renovate in the spirit of Vatican Council II and the Bishops’ guidelines,” she says, “which means that the space is more accessible for full participation in all liturgical gatherings by all members of the community. Everyone can see, hear and take an active role in the liturgy.”

The integrity of the Romanesque Revival architectural style was maintained during the two-year renovation process. Items commissioned for the worship space included two new stained-glass windows, a glass-etched triptych, bronze tabernacle and flowing water font. Other structural modifications improved were wheelchair accessibility, state-of-the-art acoustic and lighting systems, air conditioning and a complete restoration of the pipe organ.

Jim Barnhill of Greensboro, N.C., created a commissioned devotional sculpture of Mary at Cana for the chapel. The cast bronze piece, based on a biblical account, depicts Mary at the wedding in Cana among empty water vessels. Sister Bisbey says the piece is relevant to the world today in that Mary “gives voice to the needs of her times: She satisfies those needs in accord with God’s word.”

“The Mother of Divine Providence Chapel continues to tell the story of the religious community that was founded in Germany in 1851 and came to Pittsburgh in 1876, and of the Sisters whose dedicated spirit and Providence theology have been nourished and sustained there,” she adds.

The chapel received the 2001 Design Award in the category of Religions Architecture-Renovation from Faith and Form magazine.

Other highlights of the Houses of Worship Tour:

  • St. Alphonsus Church, Wexford. Visitors can view many additions to the building along with renovations and upgrading made over its 162 years. The church is on the same site where Irish and German Catholic immigrants founded the parish in 1840.

  • St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, McCandless Township. The only Orthodox Christian Church in the North Hills — known as “the church with the gold domes” — this cathedral has undergone a major face-lift. Vladimir Drobashevsky, a parishioner and professional designer, sketched the Iconostas (icon screen) made of chestnut wood; it was bought in Yugoslavia and hand-carved in Italy.

  • St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church, Millvale. Beautiful murals by Maxo Vanka (1890-1963), a professional artist who immigrated from Croatia in the 1930s, are featured at this site. Several scenes depict biblical events and historical commentary.

  • Hilland Presbyterian Church, Perrysville. This church has a rich history, recording its first service in 1799. Today, a congregation of about 500 still worships in the sanctuary, originally built in 1836. Several community groups use its fellowship hall.

  • St. Anthony’s Chapel, Troy Hill. This chapel was built from the private funds of Father Suitbert Mollinger, son of a wealthy Belgian family. Stained-glass windows were imported from Europe. Its shrine, dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua, is designated a Historical Landmark by Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation.

  • Temple Ohav Shalom, Allison Park. In 1968, the temple was founded as the North Hills Jewish Community Center. A recent addition, a Holocaust Memorial Garden, is at the rear of the building. A life-sized bronze statue was created by temple member Michael Kraus as a memorial to victims of the Nazi era.

  • Memorial Park Presbyterian Church, McCandless Township. A new sanctuary with an A-frame design was dedicated at this site in 1962. Of special interest are stained-glass windows designed by church member Helga Ross. A biblical garden displays plants, trees and shrubs similar to those found in the Holy Land. Pittsburgh artist Myrleen Harrison designed a butterfly sculpture and fountain in the center.

    Houses of Worship Tour



  • Self-guided, sponsored by the Ingomar Garden Club.
  • 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday.
  • Tickets: $10 in advance; $12 day of tour.
  • (412) 364-2780 or (724) 935-1480.

    Croatian bake sale will be part of tour



    It’s good to know that tradition is alive and well in the kitchen of St. Nicholas Croatian Church in Millvale.

    When the women of the church found out that their parish was part of the Houses of Worship Tour, there was only one thing for them to do: bake.

    It’s something they do often and well.

    “Whenever we have any function at the church, we always go back to our Croatian tradition,” says Lillian Stivorich of Shaler, who usually is up to her elbows in flour once the baking begins. “All you have to say is, ‘We’re having an event next Thursday; everybody bake!’ And everybody bakes.”

    For the church tour, Stivorich says, the women are busy preparing an assortment of nut breads, apple strudel, palacinke (crepes with cheese filling) and nut horns. “And nothing’s from the box,” she adds. “Everything’s made from scratch.”

    Also available for purchase the day of the tour will be egg salad and chicken salad croissant sandwiches, as well as beverages, she says.

    The tour comes at a time when the women aren’t too busy with baking chores. Around Easter and Christmas, the ovens at the church are fired up — just like the ladies, hard at work making their traditional holiday baked goods.

    Stivorich says profits from the bake sale will go toward ways-and-means projects at her church. The women would like to do enough fund raising to buy a new kitchen, she adds.

    “Our ovens conked out last Easter,” she says. “One minute they were baking at 450 degrees, and the next minute at 225 degrees. We were laughing so hard and having so much fun.

    “We’ve got two new stoves now. We’re back in business.”

    Candy Williams


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