Organs and stained glass windows are synonymous with Connellsville's Catholic churches
Connellsville's Catholic churches were founded by different nationalities but they share two distinctive features: beautiful Bible-themed stained glass windows and beautiful pipe organ music.
The three parishes have 350-plus years of history among them. Immaculate Conception dates back about 140 years, followed by St. John the Evangelist Church's 120-year heritage and St. Rita's, which will celebrate its centennial in 2015.
The splendor of the churches' outside architecture pales in comparison to their insides. The immigrant parishioners — most of them poor — sacrificed time and their scant cash to make them masterpieces.
All three have magnificent windows.
IC's are glass reproductions of a series of Renaissance painting. Most illustrate the lives of Jesus Christ and his mother, Mary (the church is named after the Blessed Virgin). Scenes are arranged chronologically, from Mary's annunciation to beyond Jesus's resurrection.
IC windows came from Munich, Germany
Produced by Franz Mayer Studio in Munich, Germany, the windows were installed during the Great Depression (around 1930), when economic times were tough. Yet, IC's congregation rallied to the cause, which was part of a major church renovation orchestrated by church pastor, the Rev. Henry Geibel.
The original beauty of the main windows was restored during the 1980s. An effort is now under way by IC church organizations to raise money to restore the building's other windows. Originally, the windows cost less than $40,000; today they are worth well over $1 million.
St. John the Evangelist's windows are also elaborate. The largest ones are on the church's left and right sides. One depicts the Holy Family at work, featuring a youthful Jesus; the other, the death of St. Joseph.
Like IC Church, St. John's windows were restored during the 1980s; a project initiated by the Rev. Leonard Stoviak. In a later project, the church's interior was majorly updated by parishioners under the guidance of the Rev. Michael Curci.
St. Rita's Tiffany glass windows were produced in New York City and, like IC and St. John's, show scenes from the Bible. In true Italian fashion, St. Rita's is also adorned with colorful frescoes above its windows and on its ceiling. The paintings feature Jesus' Apostles and other saints and angels.
The church restored its windows and frescoes around the same time as IC and St. John's, when the Rev. Michael Bucci was pastor. Bucci, who retired in the early 1990s, is now 93 years old and living in South Connellsville.
Music lovers:Listen up!
Music lovers — and especially musicians — should enjoy learning about the churches' pipe organs.
IC's Tellers-Kent organ, which has more than 1,600 pipes, dates back to 1920. It was christened that year with a Gregorian music concert played by Casper Hoch, organist of Pittsburgh's Carnegie Hall.
Many local residents will remember the late Mary Lee Taylor, who played the massive organ for many years. Taylor passed away in 2004; currently, Bob Broderick of Bullskin serves as IC's organist.
Chris Mickey of Connellsville is head organist for Connellsville's other two Catholic churches.
St. Rita's instrument was custom-built in the 1970s, when the Rev. Nicholas Mitolo was pastor. The Ceannarsa organ contains some pipes from the church's original pump organ that played hymns from 1915 to 1920 — plus bells that were donated by the Independent Italian Club.
St. John's H.P. Moller pipe organ replaced the church's original instrument in 1957.
Mickey has played organs for Connellsville's Catholic churches for 12 years. He became St. Rita's main organist after the 2004 death of longtime musician / singer Rosella Talucci.
Four years ago, he assumed the same role at St. John the Evangelist, following the retirement of organists Eugene Carbonaro (who also played part-time for St. Rita's) and Kay Fair, who is now in her 90s.
Laura Szepesi is a freelance writer.