A Monongahela Valley Church In Ruins – Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, Duquesne PA

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.

View of the rear of Holy Trinity. The front of the church faced the Duquesne Works. You can see billows of smoke from the mill. You can even see a smoke stack between two of the buildings if you look closely.
1960’s photo of the Holy Trinity Church interior with the pre-Vatican II style chancel.

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”.

Two steeplejacks at work. Click image to enlarge.

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.

Foremost was Vatican II which introduced major changes to the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. According to the Diocese Of Pittsburgh:

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.”

A post Vatican II church interior.
A post Vatican II church interior.

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.

Architectural rendering of the new facility.

Ground was broken for the new church on April 7th, 1968 and the dedication ceremony was held April 25, 1970.

The current Holy Trinity church building dedicated April, 25, 1970.


Holy_Trinity_West_Mifflin 4
Holy Trinity interior.

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.

8 thoughts on “A Monongahela Valley Church In Ruins – Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, Duquesne PA

  1. Ashley July 16, 2015 / 12:20 am

    Do you know the address to the holy trinity Roman Catholic Church?


  2. Jan October 1, 2015 / 5:09 pm

    529 Grant Avenue Extension West Mifflin, PA 15122


  3. Daisy February 10, 2016 / 3:29 pm

    The city of Duquesne has been trying to locate the current owners of the building, as they understand that it is no longer the Diocese of Pittsburgh. They have thought about remodeling it for some time, but are unable to contact the owners.


  4. Bob M. August 30, 2016 / 5:55 am

    Another architectural marvel – lost to vandals, storms, and in about an hour – the wrecking ball. 😦


  5. Tres Chic Design October 7, 2016 / 7:00 am

    was it demolished?


  6. cheese5318 April 1, 2017 / 6:19 am

    It’s a perpetuating lie that all those church building changes were required for the New Mass. Priests aren’t *required* even to face the congregation nor is the document “Art and Environment in Worship” even a binding document. So sad what has happened to our once-beautiful Catholic churches.


  7. Ann Marie June 30, 2017 / 12:59 pm

    I’m late to the party here, I realize, but I’d like to comment that in all the articles I have read on this subject, no one has mentioned one of the main reasons that Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Duquesne was relocated to the West Mifflin location on West Grant Avenue, and there were several. And Vatican II changes had nothing to do with the move. When the church was built in the early 1900’s, it was built in one of the finest parts of town, with many gorgeous mansions and a beautifully landscaped area. Over the years, especially in the 60’s the area declined greatly, along with other areas of the cities. It was not safe to walk in that area at night, there were very few parking spots near the church and to worship, you had to walk several blocks sometimes. There was an illegal abortionist ‘clinic’ just a few doors down the street and drug sales in this area were rampant, not to mention the homeless and alcoholics we had to pass, who even sat on the church steps as we entered and exited for services. In addition, the structure of the church was already declining: the wooden altar (not marble) was falling apart and had to be ‘topped’. The organ pipes were disintegrating and became like ‘sugar’ particles. The choir loft was no longer safe. The pastor at the time held a vote of all the congregation, and it was nearly unanimous, save SEVEN parishioners: build at the cemetery, where there was plenty of land which the church owned and would not have to purchase anywhere else. The location was not far from the core of the congregation which was already visiting its deceased relatives there anyway as well as moving more north toward the West Mifflin area if not leaving the area completely. The church was sold to a local (Baptist?) group, deconsecrated, and few looked back. The Catholic Church in the entire Pittsburgh area was declining at the time. Decisions had to be made. I recently was ‘home’ and drove past the lot where the beautiful church stood. No one wishes more than I that that church still stood and would have been remodeled to its previous glory that some of us remember from our very early childhood. (I was an organist for the church for nearly 10 years.) But if it had been remodeled, it would almost be a stand-alone structure with nothing around it to support it, and for what purpose? The best we can say about Duquesne today is that the population seems to have stabilized recently with no further dramatic drop. Another good thing we can say is that we have many, many wonderful memories of a church structure that served many immigrant Slovaks well in their faith. Mine was planted and nourished there.


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