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Celebrating 175 years, St. Mary of the Assumption in Hampton

Tony LaRussa
| Thursday, May 28, 2009, 12:00 p.m.

For many German and Irish immigrants in the early 1800s, settling in the farming area north of Pittsburgh known as Pine Creek meant separating themselves from a place to practice their faith.

"Many people don't realize that in those days, traveling into Pittsburgh was a day-long journey," said Jim Finn, the pastoral associate at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church in Hampton. "The people who lived here were lucky if a priest could make it up here once a month to celebrate Mass."

This year, members of St. Mary's are remembering the religious hardships their ancestors faced as the parish marks the 175th anniversary of its founding. It is the fourth-oldest parish in the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese, according to church records.

Finn believes the anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on the importance faith played in the lives of the church's founders.

"The legacy of the parish means so much to us," said Finn, 65, who has been a member of the congregation for 40 years. "Programs and buildings come and go, but the strong faith and foresight those early settlers had survives and continues on.

"It's an awesome feeling to be part of a place where saints and sinners have walked."

Church records show that among the missionary priests who traveled to St. Mary's was the Rev. John Neumann, a member of the Redemptionist order who was canonized a saint in 1977 by Pope Paul VI.

Records indicate that another priest who served the church was the Rev. Francis Xavier Seelos, who was beatified in 2000 by Pope John Paul II. Beatification is one of the steps toward sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church. Baltimore Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien last week opened an inquiry into miracles attributed to Seelos, which could bolster his case for sainthood.

With encouragement from the visiting priests, local Catholics began building a log cabin in 1834 and completed a structure within a year that was large enough for 50 people.

The next year, St. Mary's was officially made a mission church attached to St. Patrick's in the Strip District. St. Mary's was officially named a parish in 1847, and a resident pastor was assigned to the church.

By 1867, the congregation had outgrown the log building. It was razed, and a new church -- constructed by parishioners using homemade bricks -- was built on the same location. It held 150 people.

The current church, which was dedicated in 1964, was built as people moved out of Pittsburgh and into the suburbs.

A number of events are planned to commemorate the 175th anniversary, including a trip in July to Lancaster and Philadelphia, where the group will attend Mass at the church where St. John Neumann is buried.

A multi-language concert is scheduled this weekend following the 11 a.m. Mass, and a historical musical is planned for the fall.

"We can be ever so grateful for the lively faith that is so much the history of St. Mary Assumption Parish as it is today, and it has been for 175 years," said Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik.

Additional Information:

Join the celebration

What : Choral concert in celebration of the 175th anniversary of St. Mary of the Assumption Church

When : 1 p.m. Sunday

Where : 2510 Middle Road, Hampton

Details : To reflect the church's traditions, music will be performed in German, English, Latin and Gaelic.

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