New church at St. Joseph will mix old and new

Thursday, October 15, 2009

By Len Barcousky, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Darrell Sapp/Post-Gazette

A view from the grotto and the garden toward the new St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in O'Hara.

When asked about their vision for a new church, members of St. Joseph parish asked for "traditional Catholic touches."

"They wanted statues, stained-glass windows, candles and kneelers," Mary Ann Heneroty said. She is president of the pastoral council for the O'Hara-based Roman Catholic congregation.

She predicted that parishioners and visitors would be very pleased when they see the final result on Dorseyville Road. Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik will dedicate the building with an 11 a.m. Mass on Sunday.

The new church, with its soaring ceiling, ties together the old and the new, Mrs. Heneroty said.

Most of the stained-glass windows and wooden entrance doors came from the former St. Peter Church in McKeesport.

The crucifix suspended over the nave and a baptismal font were found in a diocesan warehouse. Stations of the cross -- sculptures showing scenes from the crucifixion of Christ -- are from the old St. Joseph Church.

Pews and the church organ are new, as is the 7-foot-high rose window above the altar. Its eight angels illustrate events and attributes connected to St. Joseph, the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Brenenborg Brown Group of Pittsburgh was the architect for the project.

The new worship space replaces a "temporary" basement church built 49 years ago. The history of the congregation, however, goes back an additional century. The parish was formed in 1845 in Sharpsburg and relocated to O'Hara in 1960.

It serves about 900 families, representing about 2,300 people, according to the Rev. Thomas Miller, the church pastor. About 300 children attend religious instruction classes each week. St. Joseph serves Catholics in O'Hara, Sharpsburg and part of Fox Chapel.

The worship space seats 610 people and includes a separate "crying room" for parents with very young children.

A new parish hall, to be named for Pope John Paul II, occupies the lower level of the building.

A third element is an outdoor Marian shrine, honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The new church has been built next to the old St. Joseph church and school.

The budget for the project is about $6 million. Less than $1 million remains to be raised, according to Elizabeth McCarthy. She and her husband, Denis, are co-chairing the capital campaign. Fred O'Brien is building committee coordinator.

"We wanted people to participate on whatever level they felt comfortable with," Mrs. McCarthy said. "They have responded with unbelievable generosity."

Fundraising began about five years ago following a feasibility study that estimated the congregation could raise about $2 million. "We surprised ourselves and the experts," Mrs. McCarthy said.

Despite the economic turmoil of the past 18 months, only a handful of people have said they would not be able to honor their pledges, she said.

All this week crews from Nello Construction, of Canonsburg, and other subcontractors were working down a list of tasks to be completed before Sunday's dedication. Father Miller appeared to know the name of every worker, artist and foreman involved with the project.

They included Nick Parrendo, president of Hunt Glass Studios in Pittsburgh, who designed the rose window; Nello Construction's project manager Bill Eisentraut; Sharon Serbin, of Highland Park, who repainted statuary; church landscaper Dan Eichenlaub; and Bob Orringer, of O'Hara, who is refinishing the brass hardware throughout the building.

Father Miller called Suzanne Gilch, the pastoral associate at St. Joseph, indispensable. "Her skills are critical to getting the work done," he said.

Landscaper Tom Liscowski, of West Deer, had a personal con- nection to the church. He attend-ed elementary classes at the long-closed St. Joseph School.

His crews have moved into place more than 250 tons of boulders and hundreds of shrubs and flowering plants for an outdoor prayer grotto dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

"There is not anything else like this in the area," Mrs. McCarthy said. "We already have people coming there to pray and meditate."