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Glassport landmark St. Cecilia to be demolished

Michael DiVittorio
| Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011

Glassport resident Angelo Norelli came to the United States from Italy in December 1954 and started grade school at St. Cecilia's Church in January 1955. He graduated from eighth grade in 1963, the same year the church was damaged by a tornado, and a year after it was nearly destroyed by fire.

"They were just wonderful at that school, the nuns," Norelli said. "It was like a great big family. You went through the school from first grade through eighth grade in the same class. It was a great place to grow up and a great place to go to school. I have nothing but good memories of that place. If your name ended in a vowel you went to St. Cecilia's. If your name ended in a 'ski' you went (to Holy Cross)."

The long-standing Catholic church and school has been closed for more than a decade, and will be demolished in the near future.

The borough acquired a $215,000 Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund grant to bring the structure along Ohio Avenue to the ground.

Borough manager John DeSue said he was at a meeting in Pittsburgh Wednesday when the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County granted the request for funding.

"We were turned down in the past. We continued forward with it," DeSue said. "There was a lot of work that went into the presentation (to RAAC). They don't just give you $215,000. I am so ecstatic about this right now. It's going to make a lot of people happy. (Demolishing a church) isn't something a small community can afford to do."

DeSue said Councilwoman Nancy Crncic acquired several signatures on a petition in support of removing the church, and there were pictures of the facility's past and present conditions included in Wednesday's presentation.

Norelli said he learned how to speak English at St. Cecilia, and seeing it demolished will be very emotional.

"It breaks my heart," Norelli said. "What broke my heart was driving past that thing and seeing what they let it become. It was such a beautiful church. I hate to see it torn down, but I'm glad to see it go because it's such an eyesore now."

Resident Dave Kowalski attended St. Cecilia school in the 1960s.

"I went to school there, got married there, the whole bit," he said. "We were taught by nuns. Our playground was Ninth Street and Ohio Avenue, which they blocked off for recess. We had the church next to us. It was totally different from a public school. It was more of a family atmosphere than just a regular public school."

The church has been subject to vandalism and general deterioration throughout the years.

According to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh's website,, it was founded in 1901.

Before the parish was established, local Catholics traveled to St. Peter in McKeesport to attend Mass. The children of those Catholics attended Sunday school in local commercial buildings, including a vacant jail. On March 11, 1901, a committee appointed by a pastor at St. Peter purchased land for a church in Glassport. Work began in May of that year.

In 1906, land was donated for a new, larger church. On May 29, 1910, the cornerstone for a combined church/school building was laid. On March 26, 1911, the first Mass was celebrated in the church and the completed building was dedicated on Nov. 5, 1911. The old church was converted into a parish hall, and the original church building was later torn down in 1925 to make room for an addition to the school.

On Feb. 2, 1962, the church was badly damaged by a fire set by vandals. While it was being repaired, St. Cecilia shared Holy Cross school and church facilities. The church reopened in December 1962. The church was again damaged when vandals set fire to it twice in the following two years, but not badly enough to interrupt use of the building. The church was remodeled in the mid-1970s.

According to the website, by the early 1990s it became obvious that Glassport could no longer support two independent parishes. In 1994, St. Cecilia merged with Holy Cross parish to form the new Queen of the Rosary parish. As part of the merger, St. Cecilia Church was closed and sold shortly after.

The Rev. Casimir Kedzierski, pastor of Queen of the Rosary, said his parishioners signed the petition that was presented to the county, and he is grateful for the authority's decision. "That was (an) emotional moment. ... Every person, when they were passing by looking at the church that was abandoned, (thought it was) useless (and) were waiting for the end of an era," Kedzierski said.

"We're glad that they chose us to demolish the church because it was a hazard. Many bad things were going (on). The church was empty and there's nothing there." Kedzierski said the church was sold to four local buyers, but they are all deceased and the borough now owns the property.

"They had beautiful dreams, but they were not successful," Kedzierski said of the former owners.

He also noted the parish at 530 Michigan Ave. does not have any interest in re-acquiring the land after the church is demolished.

"I'm all for (demolition) right now, being in the condition that it is in," Kowalski said. "It would have been nice if they could have maintained it and been profitable.

"But every window's busted out. The inside's totally destroyed. Trees are growing everywhere with weeds. I feel sorry for the people who have to live across the street from it, to tell you the truth." The borough has been working for more than nine years to find a way to address the dilapidated structure. Efforts began when current Councilman Terry DiMarco was mayor.

"You wouldn't believe how happy I am," DiMarco said. "It was just a big mess. A long time ago, when I started working on that, I was actually trying to get people to buy the building instead of ripping it down. It was still in pretty good shape."

DiMarco said there was an interested buyer at one point, but a deal never emerged due to complications in exonerating delinquent real estate taxes.

He also tried applying for demolition funding through Community Development Block Grant funds.

"I tried a lot of places throughout the years," DiMarco said. "We just couldn't get grant money for it. It was just too big of a project. I tried everywhere, believe me."

DiMarco lauded DeSue, Crncic and state Sen. James Brewster, D-McKeesport, and others for their assistance over the years in addressing St. Cecilia.

DiMarco said the next step in the demolition process is to have engineer George Pitcher of EADS Group map out a scope of work, and the project may be put out for bid in the next 3-4 weeks.

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