Churches Helped Immigrants Take Leap of Faith in America

By Alex Mell

The Saint Patrick’s and Saint Stanislaus-Kotska parishes were two places where immigrants in the Strip District could worship and pray – with their families and in their own language – for the strength to make it through another week in the steel mills.

According the parish website, in the early 1900’s, over 7,000 families resided in the Strip District. By 2000, there were only 160 families living in the area. This caused a decline in parish membership and resulted in the 1993 joining of St. Patrick’s, St.  Stanislaus-Kotska, the first Polish parish founded in 1875. The diocese closed and sold St. Elizabeth of Hungary, the first ethnic Slovak church in the area.

“St. Stanislaus survived because of the strong base of parishioners in Lawrenceville and other parts of the city,” said Father Harry Nichols, a Priest at St.  Stanislaus-Kotska. “St. Patrick’s died because there was no longer a need for an Irish parish since most of the Irish migrated from the Strip District.”

St. Stanislaus-Kotska was founded because a group of Polish immigrants decided they were tired of congregating on different sides of the city. The first church was building was purchased in 1875 and within the first two years, the congregation outgrew the building, which caused them to build a new church on 21st and Smallman Street.

“We currently have about 1,150 parishioners with only about 25 living in the boundaries of the Strip,” Father Nichols said. “People come from all over the Pittsburgh suburbs to celebrate Mass.”

The church saw damages in 1936 from both the St. Patrick’s Day Flood and an explosion at the Pittsburgh Banana Company, which led to the church’s domes being removed. The two churches merged to the St. Stanislaus-Kotska location because the size of the parish is considerably larger than the St. Patrick’s location in the Strip District.

The original St. Patrick’s Church was located on 11th Street before it was destroyed by a fire in 1854. The parish then bought land on 14th Street and a new church was built in 1858.

Yet another church had to be constructed in 1865 because of the growth of the railroad and the population of the city. The site of the new location was 17th Street and Liberty Avenue. The parish suffered another fire in 1935 that lead to the construction of a smaller church which stands today on the same site.

Masses are still celebrated at St. Patrick’s even though it merged with St. Stanislaus-Kostka.

“St. Patrick’s is kept open because of the historical value it holds and it’s also an excellent place of prayer,” said Father Nichols. “Mass is still celebrated on Monday’s, even though weekend masses are celebrated at St. Stanislaus-Kostka.”