The earliest Catholic services held in Mahoningtown, which later became the Seventh Ward of New Castle, Pennsylvania, took place in the early 1880’s. It was at that time that the Reverend Joseph F. Gallagher, the pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church, began providing occasional services in private homes or other locations.
In 1904 the St. Mary Catholic Church, essentially an “Irish-ethnic” congregation, established a small mission church in Mahoningtown. The initial meeting to organize the congregation was held in the home of local resident J. L. Agan on Ashland Avenue. The congregation met at several locations until local banker William Smith donated a building at the corner of South Liberty and Clayton Streets. The building had been in use as a schoolhouse at one time.
The mission was elevated to independent church/parish status in about 1906 and soon adopted the name of St. Margaret Catholic Church. It was named in honor of Saint Margaret of Scotland, however early newspaper reports sometimes refer to this church as St. Patrick’s. A year later the church was given the responsibility to provide once-a-month Catholic services in the village of West Pittsburg.
The first resident pastor at St. Margaret’s was the Reverend Charles Sullivan, who arrived in October 1906. He was succeeded in early 1907 by the Reverend Patrick F. Quinn. Quinn soon purchased a home at #312 West Madison Avenue for use as a rectory and was instrumental in leading fundraising efforts to have a new church built.
A few years later the congregation purchased a series of lots of the southeast corner of West Clayton and 2nd Streets – almost directly behind the rectory. In May 1913 the Reverend Quinn, who had set the congregation up for success, departed for a new assignment. He was succeeded by the Scottish-born Reverend Peter J. McKenna, who immediately continued efforts to erect a church. Meanwhile, another Catholic church known as St. Lucia or St. Lucy, a mission of the St. Vitus Catholic Church, was opened nearby. St. Lucy Catholic Church, which soon became an independent parish, catered to the Italian Catholics of Mahoningtown.
In June 1913, after accepting the plans of Pittsburgh-based architect Carlton Strong, it was decided to erect a small brick church on West Clayton Street. It was planned to follow up the church project, which would cost about $12,000, with a new rectory, parochial school, and convent. Construction of the new St. Margaret Catholic Church began in 1914 and a cornerstone laying ceremony was held on Sunday, June 18, 1914. The Reverend Florence F. O’Shea, the pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church, presided over the ceremony. The completed church was dedicated during a ceremony held on Sunday, October 25, 1914. A new rectory was opened next to the church in December 1927, but plans for the parochial school and convent never materialized.
McKenna faithfully served the congregation for sixteen years until he was reassigned to take over St. Mary Catholic Church in 1929. It was during his pastorship that the Holy Cross Catholic Church was erected in West Pittsburg in 1925. Holy Cross forever remained a mission of St. Margaret’s and never achieved independent church/parish status. The pastors of St. Margaret’s, with a few periods of exception in the 1930’s and 1940’s, generally provided services at Holy Cross as well. St. Margaret’s was usually the smallest Catholic Church (in terms of attendance) in New Castle, and had about 500 parishioners at its peak.
Subsequent pastors at St. Margaret Catholic Chruch included Joseph B. Keating (1929-1930), Anthony P. Scholz (1930-1938), Michael P. Hinnebusch (1938-1942), James F. Kernan (1942-1948), and Joseph W. Lowney (1948-1949). In July 1949 the Reverend John O’Rourke, the chaplain at the New Castle Hospital, was given double duty as the temporary pastor of St. Margaret’s. The Reverend Michael F. Carmody took over in late 1951 and served for six years. He was succeeded by Vincent P. Powell (1957-1960), Raymond A. Vollmer (1960-1963), Aloysius A. Kuenzig (1963-1969), Robert F. Wallace (1969-1971), Harry W. Riegel (1971-1976), and Francis Silas (1976-1983).
On Sunday, November 18, 1979, the congregation, under the Reverend Francis Silas, held a ceremony to celebrate its 75th anniversary. The Reverend Vincent Leonard, the Bishop of Pittsburgh (from 1969-1983), was on hand to witness the festivities.
The Reverend John L. Gudewicz took over as pastor in early 1983 and served until June 1988. At that time it was announced that a reorganization plan would see the pastor of Madonna Catholic Church, the Reverend Stan M. Gregorek, perform double duty at St. Margaret’s. Additionally, Holy Cross Church would now be served by the pastor at St. Teresa Catholic Church in Koppel. When Gregorek was reassigned (from Madonna and St. Margaret’s) in early 1992 he was replaced by the Reverend Edward Schleicher, who took over at St. Margaret’s, Holy Cross, and St. Michael’s.
In late March 1993 it was announced, a part of a Diocese-wide reorganization and revitalization plan, that St. Margaret’s Parish would be suppressed and the church would be closed down. Four other churches, including St. Lucy’s and Holy Cross, would be merged as “worship sites” under the new St. Vincent de Paul Parish.
The New Castle News of Tuesday, March 30, 1993, reported, “The tiny congregation at 311 W. Clayton St., anticipating that it might be a casualty of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh’s reorganization plans, “got together and decided to go out with dignity and class,” said the Rev. Edward Schleicher, who has pastored St. Margaret, St. Michael and Holy Cross churches since Jan. 21, 1992. The first thing the congregation did was to make a “substantial” donation to St. Vitus School, the priest said. Interest from this bequest will be used to educate children in need of financial assistance… The congregation also contributed one place setting of the church’s original china to the Lawrence County Historical Society. The remaining dinner plates will be fashioned into commemorative plaques and presented to members of the 95 remaining families following the parish’s final mass at 2 p.m. May 23. The church council, which already paved the basketball court section of the parking lot playground abutting the church, plans to donate the property to the city. The playground, which is church property, has been used by neighborhood children for many years.”
The last service, presided over by the Reverend Schleicher, was held at St. Margaret’s on Sunday, May 23, 1993. Afterwards, the congregation, after ninety-nine years of existence, was dispersed. Schleicher departed the next day for a new assignment at the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Muse, Washington County, and the faithful parishioners joined other churches. The church building on West Clayton Street was subsequently used as a religious studies center and auxiliary parish hall. It was finally torn down in about 2008 and today is nothing more than a vacant grassy lot.
St. Margaret’s was started as a mission of St Mary Catholic Church in 1904 – but became an independent church/parish two years later. The congregation met at several locations in Mahoningtown until a brick church (shown above) was dedicated on West Clayton Street on October 25, 1914. St. Margaret’s was in service for many years until it was closed in May 1993 – with its assets absorbed into the new St. Vincent de Paul Parish. (c1925) Full Size
St. Margaret’s Parish was suppressed in 1993 and the church was closed. The building remained in use for the new St. Vincent de Paul Parish as a religious studies center and auxiliary social hall until it was razed in about 2008. (c1925)
This old aerial map shows the location of St. Margaret Catholic Church in the residential area of Mahoningtown. (Sept 1967) Full Size
A view of the rectory and St. Margaret’s Church looking west along West Clayton Street. (1932) Full Size
St. Margaret Catholic Church, closed in 1993 and subsequently used as a religious studies center, was demolished in about 2008. This photo shows the former location of the church at the southeast corner of West Clayton and 2nd Streets. I believe the large house in the background is the former rectory that was built in 1927. (Aug 2013) Full Size
The former rectory is now a private residence. (Aug 2015) Full Size
Russ Carley #
St. Margaret of Scotland was a mission church of St. Mary until 1906, when a resident pastor was appointed. (From the Diocesan Archives http://diopitt.org/parishes/saint-margaret-new-castle)