One of the people I follow on Flickr recently posted a photo (click here to view it) of the interior of the former Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church of Duquesne PA in its ruined state. It’s hard to believe that anybody would abandon such a grand building and let it deteriorate. This is the story of what happened.
Holy Trinity didn’t always look this way of course. The buff brick church building was built on South First Street in 1907 by Slovak immigrants with hopes that the building would grace the neighborhood for many years.
Only 48 years after construction things took a turn for the worse architecturally. According to the website Abandoned.net the church’s steeples were removed in 1955 due to “safety concerns”.
Then, shortly thereafter it was determined that:
… remodeling was not sufficient for the ongoing maintenance problems plaguing the church. Planning for a new church structure began in the late-1960’s and an architect for the new facility, Joseph J. Balobeck and Associates of Pittsburgh, was selected.
According to this version of events it seems that after only 48 years the church was so worn out that it wasn’t feasible to repair it. This is only part of the story however. What the Abandoned.net article doesn’t tell you is that there were other factors which entered into the decision to vacate the old church building.
This church [Holy Trinity] served the congregation until the 1960’s. By that time, the church building needed major repairs. In addition, the reforms of Vatican II made it necessary to make major renovations to the building.
Vatican II encouraged greater lay participation in the liturgy and this had ramifications for the layout of new churches as well as the redesign of old ones. According to this article the altar was to be “… relocated and moved as far forward as possible often to the center of the church so the priest is part of the assembly. This also improves sight lines. Items such as altar rails and pulpits are removed as they inhibit the sense of participation. Worshipers should be arranged around the altar so they can see each other.”
With changes to the liturgy and the resulting edicts regarding church design (found in “Environment and Art in Catholic Worship”) it is easy to see why the decision was made to abandon instead of remodel the pre-Vatican II style church. Plans were made to build a new church 1.5 miles away in West Mifflin Borough.
Ground was broken for the new church on April 7th, 1968 and the dedication ceremony was held April 25, 1970.
As with many other steel towns in Mon-Valley, Duquesne residents abandoned the city (and its horrible air quality) for life the suburbs. The new church with ample parking, located on top of the hill in West Mifflin served the congregation well in this regard.
Today it is sad to see the old yellow brick building on South First Street in such a state of disrepair. Some say the new church is not as beautiful as the old one. (click here and read the comments). But looking back I think the move was a wise decision for the parish.
Only 14 years after the move to the new church, the Duquesne Works (right across the street from the old church building) closed for good and the city of Duquesne entered a death spiral. The population declined from a high of 21,396 in 1930 to 11,410 in 1970 to 5,565 in 2010. The city lost 24% of its population from 2000 to 2010. Median household income at $20,418 is now less than half that of the rest of Pennsylvania.
With the town collapsing all around them, imagine how difficult it would have been to maintain a building with such elaborate stonework, water damaged plaster walls due to crumbling mortar, eroding window tracery, corroded copper saddles and gutters along with a complicated steep roof and two aging steeples. (the cost of scaffolding alone to repair the steeples could easily amount to $100,000.) The new church on the other hand looks practical, non-intimidating, easy to maintain with easy access for older or handicapped members. I can understand the sentimental feelings former parishoners feel when viewing photos like this but I think in retrospect things worked out for the best.
So why am I posting this on Lost Monongahela? Well, first I want to thank the Monongahela resident whose photography brought this to my attention and second, the 1953 photo above came from the archives of Yohe Roofing, Inc., a family owned company which has been doing business in the Monongahela area for generations. I am 99% certain that the steeplejacks pictured below are Marcus Yohe and Paul Gavlak (co-owners of the firm in 1953).
p.s. It looks like population decline slowed considerably between 2010 and 2012, hopefully this marks a turning point for Duquesne.