Anybody living in the Monongahela area is familiar with the beautiful Transfiguration church (now named St. Damien of Molokai) located on West Main Street. I knew that an earlier church building once stood on this site but I never had seen any pictures of it so I was thrilled to discover this photo of the original structure.
(The black and white photographs in this post and the quotes below were found in the Transfiguration Church Diamond Jubilee booklet of 1940. Click the images to zoom and view a larger version of each photograph.)
The construction of the ‘Old Church” began with the laying of the cornerstone on a rainy Friday, August 10, 1865:
The ceremony of laying the corner-stone now commenced. A preacher who stood near the Bishop came to the wise conclusion that the Roman Ritual from which the service was read, was printed in an unknown tongue. The interest taken by the vast crowd in the sermon and ceremony, is best evidenced by the fact that they stood in mud and water for nearly two hours, and when told all was over still lingered around the spot where, in a short time, they had learned so much. Our little congregation has been most kindly treated by the Protestant gentlemen here – they contributed sums varying from $10.00 to $50.00 each.
Protestants and Catholics seem to have been peacefully getting along in Monongahela according to this account. The dimensions of the church are also mentioned:
The church is sixty-two and one half feet long, thirty-six feet wide, twenty-one and one half feet hight to the level of the side walls, and in point of style and comfort excels many places which can boast of only one church.
Monongahela experienced a population boom in the late 1800’s so in 1905 discussions were held regarding the replacement of the now 40 year old church building with a larger, more modern one:
According to the Jubilee booklet published in 1940 a contract was let to the Van Kirk Lumber Company for the sum of $29,146.00 for the church building. The cost of the altars and other interior furnishings came to an additional $3,780.00. The architect was Mr. John Comes who also designed other church buildings for the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
The old church building was not torn down but was moved to the back of the property. In 1911 the congregation “… elected to borrow and expend an additional $7,000.00 to so remodel the old church that it may be used as a school.” The school has since greatly expanded and 103 years later is known as Madonna Catholic Regional School.
Below are a few articles regarding the new church from Monongahela’s largest newspaper, the Daily Republican.
Daily Republican June 8, 1905:
- $52,000 was awarded by the diocese.
- The old church was moved “to the rear of the pastors residence” in the fall of 1904.
Daily Republican July 19th, 1905:
- Completion date was targeted to be April of 1906 (but the church wasn’t dedicated until February 28, 1908).
- Artificial stone was used for the trim.
- Seating capacity is 700.
- Dimensions to be 130 by 54 feet.
- Furnishings should cost about $20,000.
- The name of the architect, Mr. John T. Comes, is misspelled.
Notice the big discrepancy between the projected $20,000 cost of the interior furnishings stated in the newspaper article and the actual $3,780.00 cost. Were there unanticipated expenses that forced the congregation to economize? Perhaps these paragraphs from Jubilee Souvenir booklet of 1940 provide a clue:
In all justice to [the architect] Mr. Comes, we must record at this point that the Altars and interior furnishings are not the work of this great artist and architect but rather the purchases from the catalogues of the T.F. Phillips Company of Dubuque, Iowa. The main altar was purchased from design No. 10529 of their altar catalogue while the side altars are from design No. 10807. The massive Pulpit is from design No. 10200. These together with the confessionals and pews were all selected from the catalogue at a cost of $3,780.00.
It is an irreparable loss that such an artist as Mr. Comes was not permitted to design at least our Main Altar in proportion and in keeping with the design of our beautiful church ediface.
I sounds like in 1940 some felt that the interior furnishings were inferior, especially when contrasted with the design of the church building.
Daily Republican April 27, 1907:
- Mr. Anton must have been loaded
- Monongahela residents were litterbugs even back in 1907. (Some things never change.)
Transfiguration church as it appears today:
- Both steeples have been removed.
- The building to the right lost it’s beautiful front porch which was replaced with a modern ranch style addition, the handsome chimneys were removed and a dormer was added the right side.
- Both properties seem to be well maintained.
- Attractive landscaping has been added.
- The towers still appear to have no lightning protection.
The next time you drive past, note the beautiful woodwork still visible above the second floor on the building to the right. (I believe that is where the church offices are located)
The steeples were both removed in 1954 after a severe lightning storm. Here is the Daily Republican article describing the demolition:
Thoughts and observations:
- The shorter steeple was 25 ft, the higher was 105 ft.
- The earlier articles describe the concrete trim as “artificial stone”.
- Wouldn’t the church fire insurance policy have paid for the repair to the damaged steeple? I wonder why they both were torn down.
Check out this earlier Lost Monongahela blog post from 2010 about Transfiguration church. There you’ll find more photographs and a postcard depicting the church from another angle of view.