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Catholic churches in Harmar, Blawnox merge

| Friday, June 17, 2011

In just two weeks since moving to Blawnox, the Rev. Joe Keenan has quickly learned the ways of small-town living.

"Whether I'm at the Giant Eagle or getting a pizza, people come up and greet me," said Keenan, pastor of the new St. Pio of Pietrelcina Parish.

It's a merger of St. Edward, along Walnut Street in Blawnox, and St. Francis of Assisi in Harmar.

"I'm so impressed with the sense of community."

Keenan's arrival ushers in a new era, not only in leadership, but for the two former churches that have suffered aging congregations and rising costs.

St. Edward, formed in 1938, and St. Francis of Assisi, formed in 1941, have merged to provide strength and efficiency for parishioners.

"Every church in the diocese is looking at its resources and how it can best serve the people," Keenan said.

Suggested by parishioners and approved by Bishop David Zubik, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, St. Pio of Pietrelcina opened May 25.

The parish will be served by both church buildings.

It is named for a Capuchin priest from Italy who was born in 1887. Known commonly as Padre Pio, he became famous for his stigmata.

"People are familiar with him; he is a saint of our time," Keenan said. "He is not someone from long ago."

Zubik, during his homily to bless the new parish, talked about Padre Pio as a man who had a deep desire to serve the Lord.

"He was a living sign of God's presence," Zubik said. "An invitation to holiness for everyone who would come to know about him."

The bishop praised Keenan as a shepherd of the people, saying he serves in a gentle, prayerful, loving and humorous way.

Raised in Hempfield and a graduate of Greensburg Central Catholic, Keenan has spent the past couple of years filling in where the diocese needed him.

During that time, he became familiar with the Lower Valley while serving for a month at St. Joseph Parish in O'Hara and St. Juan Diego Parish in Sharpsburg.

"I'm excited to be part of the community full time," Keenan said, from inside the impeccably manicured St. Edward Church, with its mauve pews, oversized stained-glass windows and pastel floral wreaths.

"I'm amazed that in two weeks, so many folks have welcomed me with a home-cooked meal or a swim in their pool."

For now, Keenan said he is familiarizing himself with the many outreach groups sponsored by the parish that include Meals-on-Wheels, youth groups, Women's Guild and St. Vincent de Paul Society.

And, he'll stick to a credo learned from his late uncle, a priest in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia — Be kind to the people.

"I've always taken that cue from him," Keenan said. "It works."

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