Solemn rituals mark end of St. Anthony
For more than a century, Monongahela Catholics worshiped at St. Anthony Church.
At the end of a 4 p.m. Mass Saturday, many of those parishioners weren't ready to leave the church for the last time.
Following the final Mass at St. Anthony, a closing rite was held. It concluded with the congregation, led by pastor, the Rev. Bill Terza, exiting the church. The front door to the church was locked for the final time.
“In this church, we have encountered Jesus Christ in Word, sacrament and one another,” Terza said. “But now, after 110 years of faith, and with gratitude to almighty God for what He has allowed us to accomplish here, I declare this Church of St. Anthony closed.”
However, about 25 parishioners remained seated in the church even after the doors were closed. A side door to the building was left unlocked so the parishioners could leave.
Monongahela police were on scene for observation. The Pittsburgh diocese also hired a private security company, which had guards standing at the side door.
As a reporter from The Valley Independent asked the security officer his name and firm, Terza walked through the doorway, placed a hand on the reporter and lightly pushed him aside, tersely stating, “No one is permitted back into the church.”
Parishioner Charlene Altemare said those inside spontaneously began to recite the Rosary. She stayed for awhile before walking out.
“I'm very sad,” Altemare said. “That's my church that's closing. I've been here since birth. My mother is 93 and she's heartbroken.”
On March 24, Diocese of Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik announced the pending closure of the Park Avenue site. The Mass Saturday concluded an emotional series of events that has spawned division within the Monongahela Catholic community.
In August 2011, the diocese — citing dwindling attendance at the church – announced it would merge St. Anthony and Transfiguration into one parish. It was named St. Damien of Molokai in honor of a priest who served lepers in Hawaii.
Initially, all Masses were celebrated at the Transfiguration site.
Following a series of meetings between the bishop and the group, Zubik approved a weekly Saturday afternoon Mass at St. Anthony.
On Sept. 23, Zubik conducted a town meeting in Monongahela because of concern over disunity among the city's Catholics.
Zubik directed parishioners to respond to why they want a parish in Monongahela. He received more than 400 responses.
On March 24, Zubik said the Transfiguration site, which has been renamed St. Damien of Molokai Church, is in better condition, has better heating, air conditioning and sound systems, and is home to Madonna Catholic Regional School.
On Sunday, diocese spokesman the Rev. Ron Lengwin said the former Transfiguration site was also more accessible. Finances played a part, he said, but was “not the only factor.”
Zubik said the Transfiguration building “is located in the center of the city, a visible sign of the presence of the Catholic Church, and is convenient for the elderly people.”
The special ritual at the end of the final Mass at St. Anthony Saturday included closing rite prayers throughout the church, including the baptismal font, Stations of the Cross, stained glass windows, choir loft and statue of St. Anthony.
Final prayers were offered at the altar, where Terza and Deacon Al Poroda removed the altar linens. The crucifix was removed and carried out of the church during a procession that initiated the final closure.
At a later date, the items removed from the St. Anthony church will be incorporated in St. Damien of Molokai. As St. Anthony parishioners left their church for the final time, many cried and hugged.
Dominic Antonelli said he grew up in St. Anthony. As a school boy, Antonelli would wake at 4 a.m., have pancake breakfast at Peters Restaurant on Second Street and the serve as an altar boy at 6 a.m. Mass. Now that church has become the latest to be closed by the diocese for fiscal reasons.
“It's the way of the world — closing churches,” Antonelli said. “Everything's different now. People just don't believe in what they used to believe in.”
Chris Buckely is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-684-2642.
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