Father Pitt

Why should the beautiful die?

St. Mary’s Church, McKees Rocks

Now the home of St. John of God Parish, this is a splendid Gothic church that many another Catholic diocese would be proud to have for its cathedral. The fact that there are literally dozens of churches equally splendid in Pittsburgh and its surroundings is something Pittsburghers simply accept, but it absolutely astonishes outsiders. This one took four years to build; it opened in 1905. The architect was Akron-based William P. Ginther.

Camera: Olympus E-20n.

Here we see the main entrance and the top end of the improvised wooden wheelchair ramp, which looks like a Kennywood ride—perfectly safe but rather exciting.

Camera: Konica-Minolta DiMAGE Z3.

This was originally the German parish in this part of McKees Rocks. Above we see it from the parish cemetery, which is on a hilltop overlooking McKees Rocks in Kennedy Township.

William P. Ginther also designed the adjoining rectory, which is certainly a fine place to keep one’s priests.

Camera: Canon PowerShot A590 (hacked).
Camera: Olympus E-20n.

Father Pitt does not know the original purpose of the building that is now the Xavier Personal Care Home. It looks like a work from the 1920s or 1930s, executed in the storybook fantasy Gothic that was popular then. Was it a convent for the sisters who taught at the parish school? Perhaps a parishioner will enlighten us. (Update: Note the comment from Shelley below, for which old Pa Pitt is very grateful, confirming that this was where the sisters lived.)

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0 responses to “St. Mary’s Church, McKees Rocks”

  1. Magnificent building. I suppose the three front doors are for the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost or should I say Holy Spirit.

    • That may be the symbolic justification. A large church, especially a Catholic church, usually has three doors in the front for simple safety reasons: it is a well-known habit of Catholics to burst out of the church like caged beasts escaping the moment Mass is over.

      • Hardly, sir. Catholics leave in dribs and drabs. Some never return to their pews after receiving communion (leading visitors to suspect that this whole transubstantiation thing must be incredibly dangerous). Some kneel for a moment and then leave. Some, feeling the need for a little boost through the week, leave after the final blessing. Others wait for the prelude to the final hymn, hoping that nobody will notice their exit as they look for the correct page. Some stay for the first verse and bolt as soon as the Priest has turned his back to exit. Some stay through the end of the hymn (usually the second verse) and then make their way out. Finally, some stay long enough to pray a rosary, light a candle, and grumble about everyone who left earlier.

        So you see, the exit from mass is not much of a mass exodus at all, but a gradual, orderly affair.

        The beginning of mass is similar. While the church may look a bit bare for the first hymn, it usually fills up in time for Communion. Attendance counters will do their job earlier or later in the mass, depending on whether the diocese is assessing tithes from the congregation, or distributing grants based on attendance.

        The real reason for having multiple doors is so that congregants can choose to either stop and shake the Priest’s hand as they exit, or sneak around behind him, depending on how long it has been since they went to Confession. There are two side doors so that escapees can choose the one that Father can’t see from his position at the main door.

  2. Yes, that building was the convent. It housed the Sisters of Devine Providence that taught at the 12 grades of St. Mary’s School.

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  4. The Xavier Personal Care building originally was the convent for St. Mary’s, which was inhabited by Divine Providence nuns. Sister Xavier was the longtime elementary school principal at St. Mary’s. She terrorized small children by carrying her “friend Brownie,” a leather razor strap that she hung from her waistband and used to beat us.

  5. Yes, the last photo is a picture of the convent for the nuns who taught at the school. There are no pictures of the school that still stands, and is now a personal care home. Also, the inside of this church is beautiful, but was more spectacular before they stripped the marble altar that used to go to the vaulted ceiling, and before they took all of the chandeliers out. The whole campus is a shell of itself now.

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