Father Pitt

Why should the beautiful die?

The Top Ten Catholic Churches in Pittsburgh

This article, by far the most popular one Father Pitt has ever published, continues to accumulate pictures. Some of them are large by Internet standards: if you click on a large picture, in most browsers it will be sized to fit your browser window.

Mr. Alan Veeck writes:

I have a group of friends who want to visit “The Ten Most Beautiful Catholic Churches in Pittsburgh” for Mass (I likely have seen the top ten UGLIEST Catholic Churches… Pittsburgh, as I understand it, is something of a “center” for this sort of thing) but I was wondering what your take was on the Top Ten list?

Father Pitt, after lifting his wig and scratching his head for a bit, came up with this list, which is in no particular order:

1. Sacred Heart, Shady Avenue, Shadyside. The door of this church is a portal to an alternate universe where beauty and devotion reign in tandem.

2. St Paul’s Cathedral, Fifth Avenue, Oakland. It gets better as it ages: like any great cathedral, it grows organically, adding chapels and decorations as the years go by. After a century, it’s only getting started. The grounds and matching outbuildings (notably Synod Hall) add to the impression of a great European cathedral. Besides all that, the organ is one of the best in the city.

3. Immaculate Heart of Mary, Polish Hill. Built by Polish railroad workers in their meager leisure hours, it dominates its neighborhood with its huge green dome, just the way it should.

4. St. Stanislaus Kostka, 21st Street, Strip. The interior is full of rich dark wood and beautiful stained-glass Polish saints. The location is also spectacular: the rose window faces a broad plaza that’s the center of the wholesale produce business in Pittsburgh.

5. St. Nicholas, Millvale. The church is dignified but unassuming on the outside; inside, however, its extraordinary murals (which make a strong metaphorical connection between the horrors of war and the horrors of industry) are some of Pittsburgh’s greatest artistic treasures.

6. Holy Rosary, Homewood. Designed by Ralph Adams Cram, so no more needs to be said.

7. St. Boniface, East Street, North Side. The Parkway North swerved to avoid this masterpiece, but destroyed the neighborhood that kept it alive. Now home of the officially approved non-schismatic Latin Mass community in Pittsburgh.

8. Epiphany, Lower Hill. For a short time, between the demolition of the old St, Paul’s downtown and the opening of the current St. Paul’s in Oakland, this church served as the cathedral for the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Its enormous rose window in the west front is distinctive.

9. St. John the Baptist Ukrainian, East Carson Street, South Side. The gilded domes (which used to be bright blue) feature in many postcard views of Pittsburgh.

10. St. Bernard, Washington Road, Mount Lebanon. St. Bernard’s church presides over a whole matching medieval village of warm honey-colored stone and brightly colored roof tiles. It’s a rich congregation that has produced its own gloriously illustrated coffee-table book about the building.

St. Anthony Chapel in Troy Hill should also be mentioned; with the biggest collection of relics outside the Vatican, it’s a world-class pilgrimage site.

Mike Aquilina, the well-known Catholic writer, has mentioned that he thinks St. Patrick in the Strip should be added. The building is small and undistinguished on the outside, but the statuary garden (with statues of American saints and heroes of the faith) is something special, and the Sacra Scala, a stairway that must be ascended on the knees in prayer, is an experience worth coming for.

Of course, by restricting the list to Roman Catholic churches, we miss some of the most striking church buildings in Pittsburgh. A very incomplete supplementary list:

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, downtown

First Presbyterian, downtown (worth seeing for its Tiffany glass)

First English Lutheran, downtown

East Liberty Presbyterian

Calvary Episcopal, Shadyside
First Methodist, Shadyside

Calvary United Methodist, Allegheny West (famous for its Tiffany glass, some of the best work ever to come out of Tiffany’s studio)

Emmanuel Episcopal, Allegheny West

First Baptist, Oakland


Heinz Chapel, Oakland

St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox, McKees Rocks Bottoms
Shadyside Presbyterian

Old St. Luke’s, Woodville, Scott Township


Rodef Shalom synagogue, Oakland (not strictly a church, but one of our most striking religious buildings)

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0 responses to “The Top Ten Catholic Churches in Pittsburgh”

  1. here via Mike’s blog.

    Most of your top 10 is on our “Seven Church” route for Holy Thursday.

    I’ve yet to visit St. Bernard’s (and I live only 10 minutes away), Holy Rosary or St. John the Baptist.

    I’ll make a note to do that soon.

    I will say I was so taken by St. Nicholas in Millvale when we visited. WOW, very interesting.

    My personal fave (aside from the Holy Steps at St. Pat’s in the Strip) is Immaculate Heart of Mary on Polish Hill. It is a sight to be seen and just so beautiful and peaceful.


  2. What a handsome blog! Thanks for the beautiful pictures and helpful comments.

    Pittsburgh is one of the world’s most magnificent cities. Few places anywhere have as many superb works of Gothic architecture. Ralph Adams Cram seems to have loved East Liberty Presbyterian Church above all his many works. Charles Klauder’s Heinz Chapel rivals some of the finest specimens in Europe.
    For me, Egan and Prindeville’s Saint Paul Cathedral is one of the world’s great churches: the facade is an incredible conception; the exterior transepts (with their towers) are highly original; the interior has a wonderful spaciousness, mystery, and yes, joy. Quite a beautiful altar as well! (Sure, I wish the nave vaulting was taller and made with stone, and the nave length another hundred feet or so.. but it is a great cathedral nonetheless).

    Hopefully, the great Rudolph von Beckerath organ will soon be out of the shop and playing again!

  3. I would love the chance to visit these churches during Holy thursday. Does some one have a map and in what order the churches are visited.

  4. Thank you for the wonderful jog to my memory. I made my First Holy Communion at Holy Rosary back in 1953! Back then the Catholic Faith was still practiced in buildings that said “Catholic Church” out front. Now the building remains, as beautiful as ever (on the outside, anyway; I assume the Communion rail has been torn out and other wreckovation “improvements” made), but I’m not so sure that what goes on inside the building is still truly Catholic.

  5. Regarding the first item on your list – “Prepared to be Broke”; I believe you meant the title to read “Prepare to be Broke”. You might want to add “triple check your work before submitting” to your list.

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