In late 1911, the Reverend Nicholas DeMita (1877-1956), the popular Italian-born pastor of the St. Vitus Catholic Church in New Castle, Pennsylvania, began efforts to establish a mission church in the area known as the Seventh Ward. Most of the Italians from the Seventh Ward, an area of New Castle known as Mahoningtown, had been attending services at St. Vitus on the South Side of the city for a number of years. The new mission would be known as St. Lucia Catholic Church, or more popularly as St. Lucy’s.
Construction of a small wooden church began on South Liberty Street in the late summer of 1912. The New Castle News of Tuesday, August 13, 1912, reported, “Work will be started next Monday morning on the construction of a new church building in Mahoningtown for a place of worship for a large number of families that have been attending St. Vitus church. Rev. Father Nicholas DeMita of St. Vitus church, will open the bids Wednesday evening, and it is expected that the work will be rushed during the first week, in order that cornerstone can be laid a week from Sunday.”
That hasty schedule was apparently kept as the New Castle News of Saturday, August 24, 1912, mentioned, “The cornerstone of St. Lucy’s Italian chapel in Mahoningtown will be laid with appropriate ceremonies Sunday afternoon at 2:30 o’clock. All of the solemn rites which go towards making the service a most impressive event will be carried out… Sixty-five or seventy families will compose the parish. Nearly all of those families are prosperous and own their own homes. The mission will have connection with St. Vitus church and will be under the supervision of Father DeMita and his assistant (Rev. Dominic Ronco)…”
The new church, which cost $3,000 to construct, was officially dedicated during a ceremony held on Sunday, October 27, 1912. The New Castle News of the next day elaborated by reporting, “With impressive ceremony, the new Italian Roman Catholic church in Mahoningtown, to be known as St. Lucy’s church, was dedicated Sunday morning at 10:30 o’clock. The Rev. Father E. P. Griffin of Pittsburg, was present for the dedication, and assisted Rev. Father DeMita of St. Vitus church, who has been in charge of the work in Mahoningtown, and has largely been responsible for the building of the new church… Father Griffin, who is pastor of St. Mary of the Mount church in Pittsburg, and has charge of the Pittsburg apostolate, made the formal dedication… Father Griffin preached a splendid sermon in English, reminding the people of the monument the church would be to them, and of their duty to the church. Father Demita spoke in Italian, urging that all must be united in their efforts, and they must live close to the church… The music of the day was splendid, and was a pleasing feature of the services. It was rendered by the choir of St. Vitus church, under the direction of Miss Mary Martin. At the conclusion of the services, about 1:30 o ’clock, Father DeMita entertained the priests at dinner at his home.”
Beginning on the night of Monday, March 24, 1913, the Neshannock Creek and Shenango River, both swollen by recent storms, overflowed their banks and inundated the streets of downtown New Castle for the next few days. The city was paralyzed as the water was six feet deep in parts of Mahoningtown and on the West Side of New Castle. The Great Flood of March 1913, the worst natural disaster in New Castle’s history, was catastrophic to the downtown area as electric service was lost, most railroad and streetcar service was suspended, many homes and businesses suffered considerable damage, hundreds of people were left homeless in the cold weather, and two persons were killed.
The numerous churches of New Castle suffered varying degrees of damage. The New Castle News of Saturday, March 29, 1913, reported, “Because of the flood, but few of the churches in the central district of the city will be able to worship in their own buildings tomorrow… St. Vitus church is not damaged by the flood, and the usual services will be held, but St. Lucy’s church in Mahoningtown is flooded and it will be impossible to hold services there. Father Nicholas DeMita of St. Vitus church is grateful to the mayor, the city police and all others who helped in the work of rescuing the Italian people from the flooded district. Father DeMita did what he was able to do for the help of his people on this side, but is especially grateful for the aid that is being given the helpless flood sufferers.”
Not long after flood the Reverend Joseph Daniels arrived from Charleroi in Washington County to take over as the first resident pastor of St. Lucy’s. One of the earliest mentions of Daniels appeared in the New Castle News of Wednesday, May 14, 1913: “Members of the Italian Catholic church in the Seventh ward participated in a special celebration yesterday morning. In the early morning the blessing of the Statue of the Virgin Star took place. The statue has been presented to the church by Mr. Poll, sculptor of Pittsburg. A very impressive program was carried out during the day, being in charge of Father Joseph Daniels the new priest, who has assumed charge of the church here, having recently come from Charleroi.”
Sometime after the arrival of Daniels the St. Lucy’s mission was upgraded to official church status and given its own parish. The New Castle News of Saturday, October 4, 1913, reported, “Some time ago the Rev. Joseph Daniels was placed in charge of the St. Lucy’s church in the Seventh ward and of the New Castle hospital, thus relieving Rev. DeMita of some of his duties and giving him more time to devote to his own congregation, and last week the deed was transferred from the congregation of the St. Vitus church to the congregation of the church of St. Lucy.”
The independent congregation thrived in the coming years and subsequent pastors included Salvatore Marino from 1914-1917, Ralph DiFilippo from 1917-1920, and Nicholas Mongiello from 1920-1922. In late 1922 the Reverend Sebastian Ippolito (1889-1956), ordained in Italy in 1912, took over as pastor after being transferred from an assignment in Mt. Pleasant, Westmoreland County. Ippolito, from the village of Sant’ Arsenio in Salerno, Italy, had only arrived in the United States about a year prior. Ippolito became a popular fixture in Mahoningtown while overseeing a parish that soon had about 1,200 members.
Without a burial ground of their own the deceased members of St. Lucy’s were interred in other Catholic cemeteries, to include St. Vitus Cemetery in Shenango Township. In early 1928 the church purchased seven acres of land in Mahoningtown from the Valley View Cemetery Association and commenced work on a Catholic burial ground. The first burial took place on Wednesday, March 14, 1928, as seventy-seven-year-old Angelo Nocera of Mahoningtown was laid to rest during a service presided over by the Reverend Ippolito.
Ippolito planned to take a trip back to Italy in early 1929 to visit his sick mother. Father Anthony Pece, a priest with the Congregation of Missionaries of the Precious Blood, arrived to look after the parish. The New Castle News of Friday, January 4, 1929, reported, “Fr. Ippolito is leaving here next Monday for New York City, from there he will sail Thursday, January 10 on the steamer Vulcanea for Italy. Rev. Ippolito’s home is at Salerno, Italy, just south of Naples. The pastor of the local church expects to be away for two months, returning before Easter. This is Rev. Ippolito’s first trip home since coming to the United States about eight years ago… Fr. Anthony Pece will be in charge during the absence of the pastor.”
Ippolito’s return trip was apparently delayed due to immigration and/or work permit issues, and he finally made his way back to New Castle in May 1929. He did not acquire the necessary paperwork to return to work for several more months. The New Castle News of Sunday, September 23, 1929, revealed, “Rev. Sebastian Ippolito, pastor of St. Lucia Italian Catholic church is expected to return this evening from Pittsburgh, Pa., where he has been the past few days. Rev. Ippolito received a permit this past week to be in charge of the St. Lucia church for the next six months.” Father Anthony Pece departed a few weeks later for Rochester, New York, where he established the Most Precious Blood Catholic Parish the following year.
As the congregation steadily grew it became apparent a larger church was needed. Property was purchased on North Cedar Street (at the intersection of East Wabash Avenue) and construction of a new church began in early September 1930. The cornerstone was laid a month later on October 5, 1930. On the morning of Sunday, December 21, 1930, the last service was held in the old church on South Liberty Street. That same afternoon a ceremony was held in the basement of the new church to bless a new bell donated by parishioners Vincenzo Lateano and Joseph Adami. The bell was soon put in place and rang out for the first time a half hour before the midnight mass on Christmas morning. That and subsequent services were held in the basement until the main auditorium of the church was finally completed about a month later.
The new church was formally dedicated during a service held on Sunday, February 15, 1931. The New Castle News of Friday, February 13, 1931, elaborated on the design with, “The church is Gothic in design and the interior has a high open ceiling and eight Gothic windows in which there is beautiful colored glass provide a delightful lighting effect in the interior in the daytime. The electric fixtures are in keeping with the general Gothic design, being of lantern effect and suspended from the high ceiling with artistic chains… The main or center altar is beautiful in lighting effects and above the sanctuary is placed, there is a fine statue of the Sacred Heart. To the left is an altar to the Sacred Heart and to the right is another dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary… Fine new pews are placed on the main floor and to the rear of the church, as a balcony for the choir and the organ… The basement of the church is twelve feet in height and its walls are finished in white brick. It will be used for the social affairs of the parish and by the clubs and other organizations of the parish. The exterior of the church and parsonage is of bricks of an artistic finish and pleasing color. Surmounting the front wall of the church and the belfry are nicely designed crosses.”
The church survived the tough times of the Great Depression and continued to grow as the 1940’s approached. The New Castle News of Tuesday, January 14, 1941, reported, “Plans are being worked out to observe the 10th anniversary of St. Lucy’s church in Mahoningtown on Sunday, February 16. Members of the congregation will take part in the special services which are being planned for the observance. Following committee was announced today Louis Ezzo, Louie Colella, Mike DiVivo, Guy Marchionte, Harry Datillo, Tony Garofolo, Frank Ferucci, Jim Latera, Frank Marchionte and Bart Lombardo.”
Unfortunately, the Reverend Ippolito, who had been suffering from the effects of lung and kidney cancer for several months, passed away on Wednesday, April 18, 1956. He was sixty-six years old and had served the congregation with distinction for the past thirty-four years. The New Castle News of Thursday, April 19, 1956, reported, “Representatives from every Catholic parish in the county will be present at St. Lucy Church at 7 p.m. Friday to dedicate a rosary to Rev. Sebastian Ippolito who died Wednesday. An invitation has been sent to the parishes requesting that all parish officers, deanery officers and Holy Name Society men attend the special service.” A solemn public memorial service was held in the church on Saturday, April 21, 1956, and afterwards he was laid to rest in Calvary Cemetery in Pittsburgh.
New Castle lost another iconic priest a few weeks later. The Reverend Nicholas DeMita, the longtime pastor of St. Vitus Catholic Church who established St. Lucy’s as a mission back in 1912, passed on May 7, 1956.
Later in the year a shrine was dedicated in honor of Ippolito. The New Castle News of Monday, October 1, 1956, announced, “St. Lucy’s parish paid a final tribute to the late Rev. Sebastian Ippolito, who served the families in the Seventh Ward for 37 years, when a shrine was unveiled and dedicated to his memory Sunday afternoon. The shrine of the Scared Heart, favorite of the late father confessor of the parish, was erected by men of the parish and is placed on the church lawn facing Wabash Ave. The whole parish turned out for the dedication ceremonies held before the shrine.”
The Reverend Dominic A. DeBlasio, the assistant to DeMita, took charge of the congregation until the Reverend Dominic J. Oliver, a native of Derry in Westmoreland County, was installed as pastor in June 1956. Oliver attended St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, was ordained in 1942, and had previously been serving as an assistant pastor at Regina Ceola Catholic Church in Pittsburgh. DeBlasio remained in the area as the new pastor of St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Hillsville from 1956-1960 – and later served as pastor at the Purification of Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Ellwood City from 1962-1973.
Under the Reverend Oliver a nearby residence on Cherry Street was acquired to house the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity of New Jersey, a small group of sisters (nuns) who arrived in 1957 to get involved with the youth programs of the church. A kindergarten class taught by the sisters was started that fall. The New Castle News of Wednesday, May 14, 1958, mentioned, “St. Lucy kindergarten will hold the first graduation ceremonies today at 7:30 p.m. in the church hall. The five-year-olds who will enter school in September will receive diplomas for their year in kindergarten. A program will be presented by the youngsters for the parents and a social time will follow. The kindergarten and the program will be directed by Sisters Anna Marie, Mary Ignatious and Michael Mary.”
The neighboring property housing the old Seventh Ward Fire Station on Cherry Street was also purchased. The New Castle News of Saturday, June 14, 1958, mentioned the acquisition with, “The street fair presented by the St. Lucy Church which has been in progress will close tonight with a band concert and prizes. This is the second fair held for the benefit of St Lucy’s parish and is held on the church grounds and the block on N. Cedar St and E. Wabash Ave. adjoining the grounds. The benefit is for the church extension work on the newly purchased property where the old Seventh Ward Fire Station now stands.” The antiquated fire house was vacated when the new fire station on North Cedar Street opened in October 1958. The old building was demolished in January 1959 and the property was subsequently utilized as a parking lot by the church.
In June 1959 the Reverend Oliver, after three years of service, was transferred to a new assignment in Sharpsburg in Allegheny County. The Reverend Wilbert A. Farina, coming from Pittsburgh, arrived in New Castle to serve as pastor for the next two years. Farina was one of five brothers from Armstrong County that served as longtime priests within the Catholic Church.
In August 1961 the church was certainly blessed when the Reverend Vincent C. Bertoline (1915-1991), a native of Derry in Westmoreland County, arrived to take over as pastor. The New Castle News of Saturday, August 5, 1961, announced his arrival with, “Rev. Wilbert R. Farina, pastor of St. Lucy Church, Mahoningtown, since June 1959 has been transferred to Madonna del Castello Church, Swissvale. Announcement of the transfer effective Aug. 9 was announced this week by Most Rev. Bishop John J. Wright of the Pittsburgh Diocese. Succeeding Father Farina to the Maboningtown Church will be Rev. Vincent C. Bertoline, assistant pastor of St. Peter Church, Northside Pittsburgh. He will be Administrator (Vicar Econome) of the local church.”
Bertoline was given an informal reception by his new parishioners. The New Castle News of Thursday, September 7, 1961, mentioned the upcoming event with, “The reception will also be an open house for the parish to open the newly re-decorated church sanctuary and social hall downstairs. Men of the parish have been painting and renovating the church and hall for the past two months, completing the work this week.”
Bertoline, who studied political science at the University of Pittsburgh, later attended St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe and was ordained in Washington D.C. in 1946. One of his earliest assignments was serving as the assistant pastor of St. Vitus Catholic Church in New Castle from 1947-1949. The assignment to St. Lucy’s in 1961 was apparently his first as head pastor and he would make it count. Bertoline faithfully guided his flock in Mahoningtown for the next three decades.
Beginning in 1962 the sisters working at the church were led by a new Mother Superior known as Sister Ann Theresa. The New Castle News of Friday, September 13, 1963, reported on the arrival of two new sisters with, “Sister Angela Marie and Sister Paul Miriam, new missionary sisters at St. Lucy Church, were welcomed by the women of the Holy Rosary Society last night at the fall meeting in the church hall. The sisters of the Missionary Order of Holy Trinity in New Jersey will serve the church and kindergarten. They will live at the Cenacle on Cherry St. They were presented to the women by Sister Ann Theresa, who led the recitation of the Rosary at 7:30 p.m. opening the meeting.” Sister Ann Theresa departed in late 1968 for a new assignment in Philadelphia, where she unfortunately passed away about a year later.
It was under Bertoline’s watch that construction of a massive new church and associated campus began in the summer of 1976 on eleven acres of hilltop site in Mahoningtown. The property was situated on an extension of 3rd Street named Lucymont Drive. Portions of the campus, which included a nursery school, pastor’s residence, gymnasium, and an education center, were in use by the fall of 1977. The new church was officially dedicated on Sunday, August 6, 1978. The grounds of the church have since been dotted with several impressive monuments honoring the church and its Italian heritage.
The old church on Cedar Street, which was apparently used for meetings and community events for a brief time, was damaged by a suspicious fire on Wednesday, October 19, 1983. It was demolished beginning in March 1985 and the lot was completely cleared.
The congregation suffered a great loss when Bertoline, while still serving as pastor, passed away at the age of seventy-five on Monday, August 26, 1991. A public funeral mass and viewing, led by the Reverend Norbert Campbell of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, was conducted at the church on Thursday evening. A Mass of Christian Burial service was held at 11:00am the next morning and was led by the Most Reverend Donald Wuerl, the Bishop of Pittsburgh (from 1988-2006). The beloved Reverend Bertoline was subsequently laid to rest in St. Lucy Cemetery in Mahoningtown.
He was succeeded by the Reverend John J. Cassella, a native son who graduated from New Castle High School back in 1950. Cassella attended St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe and was ordained in 1958. When he departed in 1994 he was subsequently succeeded by a handful of pastors and assistant pastors to include Daniel Sweeney, Daniel Vallecorsa, Ben Vaghetto, Frank Erdeljac, and Kenneth Keene.
In May 1993, as part of a reorganization and consolidation program, St. Lucy Parish was suppressed and merged into the new St. Vincent de Paul Parish. St. Lucy’s Church remained in use as a “worship site,” along with the S.S. Philip & James in New Castle, St. Michael’s in New Castle, and Holy Cross in West Pittsburg, for the new parish. All four of the churches remained open, but dwindling attendance saw three of them closed for good on September 8, 2007. Only St. Lucy’s – officially renamed as the St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church – remained open for services.
In July 2012 the Reverend Frank D. Almade, ordained in assumed the post of pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church. At the same time, in a remarkable move, the Diocese of Pittsburgh also named him pastor of all other parishes in New Castle – St. Vitus, St. Joseph the Worker, and Mary, Mother of Hope. Almade is assisted by two parochial vicars or assistant pastors, and also by the Reverend Frank Erdeljac – who is retired and living in West Pittsburg. Despite the arrangement all four parishes remain separate and independent entities at this time.
To read an article about the Right Rev. Regis Canevin, the Bishop of the Pittsburgh Diocese, leading the Confirmation Rite of sixty students at St. Lucy’s in November 1916 click on: TO CONFIRM CLASS SUNDAY ARTICLE. To read a short blurb about the mass schedule at St. Lucy’s in 1917 click on: MASS SCHEDULE ARTICLE. To read about two weddings held at St. Lucy’s in April 1921 click on: WEDDINGS ARTICLE.
To contact St. Vincent de Paul Parish call (724) 652-5829 or visit their website at www.stvincentnewcastle.org
A gathering of the congregation in front of the original St. Lucia Catholic Church on South Liberty St. This church, later known more popularly as St. Lucy, opened in 1912 as a mission of St. Vitus Catholic Church in New Castle. It served the the Italian immigrant community of Mahoningtown until a new church was opened nearby in 1931. (c1926) Full Size
The second St. Lucy’s Church, which was dedicated on Sunday, February 15, 1931, was located on North Cedar St. at East Wabash Ave. Services were initially held in the basement of this church beginning in late December 1930 while the main auditorium was being completed. (c1950) Full Size
The second St. Lucy’s Catholic Church was in service until replaced by the new St. Lucy’s (now St. Vincent de Paul) on Lucymont Drive in 1978. The old church on Cedar Street was later razed and the site is now a grassy lot. (c1950)
The third St. Lucy’s Church was built on Lucymont Drive – on a hill in Mahoningtown – and was dedicated in August 1978. In September 2007 it was officially renamed as the St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church. (Aug 2010)
(Mar 2012) Full Size
(Mar 2012) Full Size
(May 2013) Full Size