Thursday, March 17, 2011
forty-fourth visit: March 17th 2011 oldest Catholic Parish in Pgh, Irish
st. patrick's day
The Feast of Saint Patrick
Old St Patrick Church
1711 Liberty Ave, Pgh PA 15222
Established in 1808, St Patrick is the oldest Catholic parish in Pittsburgh. As far as ethnicity in the 'burgh, immigration-wise: Polish, Ukrainian, and German typically first come to mind. However, the Irish, led by Rev. William F.X. O'Brien, established this, the very first Catholic parish in Pittsburgh, when there were only about 20 Catholic families (total!) in the area. The building was dedicated before the pews were constructed—families were encouraged to hire a carpenter to build their "own" pew and choose its installation spot according to plans drawn on the sanctuary floor.
Due to fires and growing membership, this building in which I attend service is the fourth location of St Patrick's Parish—a building dedicated on St. Patrick's Day in 1936. There are green shamrocks painted into the stained glass. Another bit of building description, from http://www.saintsinthestrip.org/5_1_0.html:
"Included in the church is a piece of the Blarney Stone from Blarney Castle in Ireland. The stone was placed in the tower that sheltered the baptistery."
The main stairs leading to the second-floor sanctuary, I have read, are identical to the Holy Stairs that Jesus climbed to reach Pontius Pilot. The cool bare marble stairs are preceded by a large sign reading "HOLY STAIRS ascend on knees ~ only. [otherwise] please use stairs on either side of front door." I choose the second option. Many worshipers do not. Very impressive. --My excuse: Honestly, I did want to experience this, but I have the kind of knees that hurt after kneeling for a few seconds on padded carpet. From my years of gymnastics, probably. And I really wanted to go on a run later that day.
Week-day services, in my experience, tend to be very intimate in size. This one, taking place at noon doubled my assumption in this way. Not so. I was on time, but found the last seat. Following this: standing room only in the sweet, rather small chapel-like space. Heads of black, silver and red-tinged hair with very little in-between. A sea of green sweaters, green jackets, green dresses. Green ties. Green handbags, green headbands, many green Mardy Gras beads, emerald jewelry, berets of green. Even a green 2-piece suite. Green leather kneeler pads.
2 priests. One Irish. One Italian, who says he grew up thinking he was Irish like all his friends... then wishing so, when he found out otherwise. His family didn't talk openly about their ethnicity. Upon arriving in this country, his parents(?) grandparents(?) became immediately American. My family: similar. I don't really know my definite lineage, just rumors and speculation; so jealous of those who do. But I have found some evidence for educated guessing.
Sermons: The churches world-wide are sparsely attended. It's not that people are no longer religious, it's that there is so much pain, he says. He continues: Never doubt the power of prayer. (To me, prayer = any simple expression of hope. Can a drawing can be an expression of hope?) Talk of the Priests' travel to the Green Isle. Talk of the importance of journaling, writing, and how he can't stop. An Irish trait, perhaps?