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SS Philip & James Parish - New Castle PA

A History from the 1947 Silver Jubilee Book

The history of SS. Philip &: James Parish is a monument of love and religious fervor. Due to the untiring and willing efforts of members of its Congregation a splendid edifice of brick and stone was built in a short time. It became later the center of their activities and at the same time it contributed materially to the raising of their standard of living and the role they are playing in the community. It is a splendid monument portraying the struggles and efforts of people who were anxious to build a proper abode to the Lord and who wanted to educate their children in matters of religion, morals and science.

Purchasing of Land

Through cooperation of the late Rev. Fr. Baczewski, pastor of the Madonna Church. a plot of land situated at the corner of Chartes, Hanna and Balph Avenues was purchased in the section of town known as "Sheep Hill". The name of this section is due to the fact that for many years before the church had been erected, early pioneers of Welsh stock grazed here their sheep. and even today one can find vestiges of their ancient settlements. The names of the streets at the intersection of which the new church was built, are those of early settlers in New Castle, and can still be found in the records of the city and are remembered by its residents. They were pioneer settlers who owned farms, brickyards and small country stores.

There were no paved streets in this section of town, no light, no telephone service or drainage, nor other sanitary facilities. It truly was a wilderness. This was the eighth and last ward of the city of New Castle. which with its population of 55.000 people rates as one of the third class cities in our state.

Homes were not so numerous in this section of the city. The Welsh were moving out to other parts of town and then the Poles came to settle here. The locality which has been chosen for the new church was by no means enhancing; it was a former brickyard which after being abandoned by its owners was used for some time as a dumping ground. However it offered an advantage - it was the only suitable lot of ground, the measurements of which made it possible to erect a church. The lot measured 120 by 250 feet.

Arrival of the New Pastor

Again through the intercession and good offices of the late Rev. Fr. Baczewski, whose memory will linger forever among citizens of New Castle, being cherished for his kindness and love of mankind, the new pastor was appointed. He arrived in New Castle on Sunday, August 13th. 1922. Since no church was as yet available arrangements were made immediately to use the St. Michael's (Slovak) church for Sunday services, which were held at 7:30 and 9 :30 in the morning.

The task of erecting a suitable church and parish was undertaken by the new pastor together with the energetic and faithful Church Committee composed of A. Lasky, J. Cegielka, J. Golis, J. Brzezinski, M. Ludwiczak.

The new pastor was heartily greeted by his flock and work was started immediately on erecting a church. In this great task the pastor was immeasurably assisted by contributions which were flowing in abundantly and willingly from all the members of the congregation.

Church Organizations Were Instituted

Immediately upon his arrival on his new post the young and energetic pastor undertook the task of organizing the religious life of his parishioners. To do this he proceeded to organize a number of church and fraternal societies, most of which have been called to life in the year 1923. Thus the SS. Philip & James Society. Nr. 488 was organized as well as the following church societies: Rosary Society, Sodality, Holy Name Society, Parish Choir and Children of Mary. To take care of educational and religious needs of the parishioner's children a private school was organized where instruction was given on Saturdays and Sundays. During the first year of existence of this school a record breaking number of 175 children was enrolled.

Building Activities Have Been Undertaken

While busy with organizing the religious and spiritual life of his parish and watching over the needs of the flock which has been entrusted to his care. the pastor gave also great attention to building activities. being very anxious to have a proper church erected as soon as possible. On May 13th, 1923, the ground under the new church was blessed by the Rev. Fr. Baczewski. Immediately after this ceremony. work on excavation and construction was begun, being entrusted to the care of H. Lang, architect from Pittsburgh and T. Boyle, contractor from New Castle.

After work on building the church was already well under way attention was given to the rectory. Work on it has been started on July 1st, 1923, and the contractor promised to have work both on the basement of the church and on the rectory completed by the end of depression set in, factories began to close down. men were losing work right and left. One could have expected that these difficulties will stop activities and delay the completion of the church which would have to wait some more opportune time. However the pastor, undaunted by difficulties and obstacles, carried on his work and the building was being erected. Many difficulties and critical moments had to be lived through. Funds were lacking, contributions dropped off to a trickle, as parishioners were unemployed and having a hard time of making ends meet. However work was continued and the superstructure of the church was completed on the outside. After the most necessary furnishings have been provided for, the first mass was sung in the new church again on Christmas Day, December 25th, 1924.

Improvements

Having completed the huge and difficult task of building the church. the pastor turned his attention to improvements which were necessary to embellish its surrounding and improve the conditions of living and working. Streets were paved, light, telephone and water lines installed. Church bells have been purchased and installed. Altars for the church have been donated by St. Joseph's Orphanage of Pittsburgh. Pews, railings, vestment cases as well as statues and an organ were purchased.

Parish School

It took the pastor many months of untiring efforts to convince his parishioners of the advantages of a parish school. At first financial difficulties were making the task almost impossible, but finally it was decided to open a Parochial School in the basement of the church. Work was started immediately after having been approved by the Parish Committee' and on September 6th, 1925 the school, fully equipped, was formally opened. The teaching of children was entrusted to the Sisters of the Holy Ghost of Pittsburgh.

Work on completion of the school was greatly facilitated by the generous attitude of the Board of Education of Youngstown, Ohio, which donated seats for the school. Other necessary improvements and objects were donated by members of the parish, who once convinced of the necessity of having a school, gave all their support to the work. The school was formally blessed by the pastor, and a proper sermon was delivered by the Rev.C. Zielinski. Vespers were sung and benediction was given by the Rev. M. W. Drelak.

In the first year of its activity the school had an enrollment of over 200 children. The school has 8 elementary grades. The first Sister Superior was Ven. M. Bronislawa.

All during this time 8. great number of lesser tasks was performed aimed at further improvement of the church and Parish. On April 1st, 1926 the rectory was fully equipped and a passage from the rectory to the church was constructed. To house the sisters who were teaching in school a convent house was rented and furnished. In May 1926 work has been started on building a new garage. The structure of cement the year. Work on the rectory proceeded briskly and the 10 room dwelling with attic and basement, executed in Tudor Style was completed and furnished on Thanksgiving Day of the year 1923.

Church Basement Completed

While work on the rectory was carried on, the contractor and the pastor by no means neglected the erection of the main building of the parish - the church. The church basement was completed early in December, 1923, and among feverish joy of the parishioners first services were held on Christmas morning, December 25th, 1923. It was a meager seat of worship. There were temporary altars, lights, seats etc. There was no heat or other conveniences, but is was their own church where they could pray and worship to their hearts content. The parish choir and the entire congregation sang joyfully "Gloria in Excelsis Deo". It. was for the first time that the Word of God was preached to them from the pulpit of their own church, built by their efforts and contributions. Many a silent tear was shed on this memorable day, and many n thought reverted back through the ages to the early years of Christiandom and to the catacombs, where the faithful gathered to listen to the word of God.

Work on excavation for the basement and laying of the drainage tystem was done by the men and boys of the parish. The city of New Castle donated the stone necessary for the construction; it might be mentioned that the stone used in construction of the basement was from the abutement of old Gardner Avenue Bridge, through which so many of our folks passed every day on their way to work.

Building of the Church Proper

The basement was used for divine services but it presented many a hardship, specially in cold weather as there was no heat. So at the annual meeting of the Parish, held on January 2nd, 1924 it had been decided to go ahead with the building of the superstructure where the church would be located. Material to be used in this work was tapestry brick and Indiana limestone, of which all trimming were to be executed in Gothic Style. The church was designed to seat 500 persons.

Before however work on the superstructure of the church was begun numerous religious activities took place in the basement of the church. On March 16th, 1924. first mission was held, by the Rev J. Janowski and Mollo S. J. On May 1st the first feast of the Saint Patrons of the Church - SS. Philip & James - was held. Vespers and benediction by Rev. A. Necid and sermon by Rev. F. Baczewski, who contrituted so much to the creation of this new parish.

Laying of the Cornerstone

On May 11th, 1924 the cornerstone for the church was laid by the Most Rev. H. C. Boyle, Bishop of Pittsburgh. A sermon was delivered at this occasion by Rev. M. W. Drelak, at that time pastor at Imperial, Pa.

One could hardly find a less appropriate time to undertake the great task of erecting the church. Shortly after work on it was begun the blocks, measuring 20 feet by 22 feet was completed in August, 1926. It is noteworthy to state that all the work was done by men of the parish, who never spared their efforts when it came to helping the church and the pastor.

Completion of the Church

Although the church was completed externally and usable for divine services, much work remained to be done on the inside. A campaign was started to collect funds necessary to cover all the improvements which were necessary. Plastering was finished and the interior of the imposing Gothic structure was decorated in a most beautiful way. After all work on the interior of the church was completed, the great day of formal dedication arrived. It was September 3rd, 1928. It started with a parade from Gardner Avenue Railroad Station through Moravia and Chartes street, winding up on the parish grounds. Neighboring parishes - St. Michael's, Madonna's and St. Nicholas were represented at these ceremonies.

The formal blessing of the beautifully finished church was performed by the Most Rev. Bishop H. C. Boyle of Pittsburgh. A sermon was delivered by the Rt. Rev. Msgr. M. Orzechowski of Cleveland, Ohio. The high mass was celebrated by the Rev. Fr. Baczewski, with Rev. M. W. Drelak as deacon, Rev. M. Rosenthal as subdeacon, and the Revs. C. Zielinski and S. Kupiec as masters of ceremonies.

Thus the work of building a new parish has been completed. With all these difficult and often tedious tasks behind him the pastor devoted all his energy to the good of his flock and engaged in numerous activi. ties, their aim being further consolidation of the religious spirit of his parishioners and building up of the parish to new heights of development.

During thtl years which followed the parish was often host to prom. 1nent visitors. With proud memory do we recall the day when Archbishop J. Cieplak visited New Castle during his tour of America. It was on December 31st, 1925.

Further Improvements

With the growth of the parish the number of those who Jeft this earth was increasing too. It is characteristic of Polish people, that they want to worship in their own church and also want to sleep their eternal sleep among their own people, on grounds blessed by their pastor. To fulfill this wish of theirs a tract of land on route No. 388 in Shenango Township was purchased, a cemetery was organized. Many a parishioner sleeps there now among friends and relatives who undertook the last journey before him.

Convent

The Sisters who were teaching in school were housed in a building rented, which however was not entirely suitable for the purpose. It has been decided to acquire a new and better building for them and work on it was completed on July 1, 1937.

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Last Updated on October 20, 2011