Parish commemorates devastating fire of 1886

Sunday, December 04, 2016 - Updated: 11:00 am
By JOHN FRANKO Staff Writer

The lower North Side community has experienced many ups and downs in the past 130 years, but St. Peter Parish has continued to be a beacon of hope and a vital part of the community.

The deep faith of the parish community helped it to overcome a devastating fire in 1886. The parish recognized that faith during a Mass marking the 130th anniversary of the fire Nov. 13.

“It was a tremendous blow to the parish,” said Benedictine Father Vincent Zidek, pastor of St. Peter, during the liturgy.

As part of the Mass, the parish recognized those who serve the community. On hand were Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Darlene Harris; Christopher Jordan, a city police officer; Jeremy Manke, a city firefighter; and Laurena Townsend, a local emergency medical technician.

Father Vincent pointed out that it was a police officer who summoned firefighters to the blaze. They were present to help the parish in its time of need so it was appropriate to recognize their assistance.

“We are equally grateful to those who continue to provide a tremendous service to our parish and city,” he said. He added that the public servants and their colleagues go out of their way to make the city a safer place.

The fire began just after midnight when a radiator overheated and ignited the interior. When the flames were finally extinguished, all that remained were the exterior walls and interior columns.

But using the original plans, the church was rebuilt in just 17 months and rededicated April 28, 1888.

The original St. Peter Parish was founded in 1850 to meet the growing Irish population on the North Side, then the city of Allegheny. The cornerstone for the parish’s second church was laid April 16, 1871, and the $125,000 church was dedicated July 5, 1874.

In 1876, Bishop Michael Domenec requested that the Diocese of Allegheny split from Pittsburgh. Bishop Domenec was appointed bishop of Allegheny and St. Peter became the pro-cathedral. In 1889, however, the Diocese of Allegheny was dissolved and reunited with Pittsburgh.

The parish was the longtime faith community of Steelers founder Art Rooney, and the Rooney family has maintained ties to it.

Father Vincent said that while the fire demonstrated challenges will always be part of life, “(O)ur Lord tells us that we are never alone because he is always at our side — offering us hope, giving us courage and providing us with strength.”


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