McKeesport parishes to mark new era
Three Catholic parishes will merge this weekend in McKeesport to form a new parish, one that leaders hope will be large enough and strong enough to thrive for many years.
For the last three weeks, St. Pius V, St. Martin de Porres and St. Mary Czestochowa have been celebrating Mass together at St. Mary Czestochowa’s church on Versailles Avenue. A special ceremony there Sunday will re-christen the three as the parish of Corpus Christi.
“We are creating a stronger parish, a stronger body of Christ. … That’s where the name comes from, ‘Corpus Christi,'” said the Rev. Stephen Kresak, who will lead the parish. “One of the things people have noticed is how wonderful it is to be in a full church again.”
An act of God brought about the consolidation, in the secular sense: February’s mammoth snowstorms left St. Pius V with roof damage and severe leaks. Parishioners from St. Pius, where Kresak is also the pastor, moved down the street to St. Mary Czestochowa and talks of further mergers began with St. Martin de Porres on Seventh Avenue, which was struggling with declining membership and costly building repairs.
The merged parish will have about 2,000 families, a building in good repair, and finances on solid ground, Kresak said.
“When I went to Mass, it felt like Christmas all over again. … All the pews were filled,” said Laurie Gricar, 46, a member of the choir and president of the St. Mary/St. Pius Ladies of Charity, which does church outreach to the poor, elderly and homebound. “If anything, it’s going to make us bigger, stronger and more powerful.”
The area was formerly dotted with many Catholic churches divided along ethnic lines — sometimes just blocks apart, like primarily Irish St. Pius V a few minutes’ walk up Versailles Avenue from formerly Polish St. Mary Czestochowa, Kresak said. But declining population and dissolving cultural barriers led parishes into several rounds of consolidation.
The merger of the ethnically Slovak Holy Trinity parish, the mostly German St. Mary, the Croatian-Catholic Sacred Heart parish and the more mixed St. Peter’s created St. Martin de Porres in 1995. The ethnically Hungarian St. Stephen’s parish merged with St. Pius in 1994, although Mass continued at St. Stephen’s until 2002.
The property at St. Pius V will be sold, as will the church building and former school at St. Martin de Porres, which was originally the church for Holy Trinity.
At noon Sunday, Regional Vicar the Rev. Fred Caine will ceremonially display the church’s new cornerstone identifying it as Corpus Christi, and Kresak will take the oath to become the new church’s pastor.