Recently I was able to make a trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to spend the day touring some beautiful churches. Not only were they rich in beauty but they were rich in history as well. My companion for the trip was a very close deacon friend of mine and our tour guide for the day was none other than Mike Aquilina. Mike’s commentary along the tour gave us a real understanding of the struggles Catholics faced in the early days of the United States and were the backdrop to some awesome sights.
The first was at St. Stanislaus Kotska, which holds an intriguing story. It was September 20, 1969, a normal Saturday like any other. The cleaning lady was attending to her normal cleaning detail at St. Stan’s. She turned as she heard someone entering the church through the front door. A man in clerical garb accompanied by an entourage walked forward and announced “My home” in clear Polish. The clergymen proceeded to the front of the church and knelt in prayer at a kneeler.
This man was none other than Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope. You can pray at that very kneeler at St. Stan’s. They have it set up as a usable relic of Pope John Paul II. It was quite a feeling to be able to do just that on this journey and I encourage you to visit this beautiful church so you can do the same.
The second stop of our pilgrimage to Pittsburgh was at Old St. Patrick’s. Mike told us of the story of Father James Cox. Father Cox was an interesting man to say the least. I will save his story for a future column.
While here we took part in another holy and humbling experience. Directly inside the front doors of the church sets a replica of the Holy Stairs. The original set now resides in Rome and are the steps Christ ascended on his way to face Pilate. You are invited to ascend theses steps as well…in prayer…on your knees. There are 28 total steps that you take one by one on your knees. Truly a humbling experience focusing around some wonderful little prayers at each step.
Our final stop for the day was Saint Anthony’s Chapel also known as the Bone House. It received this nickname from the fact that it holds the largest collection of relics outside of Rome. Some 5,000 relics are housed in this breathtaking chapel. We saw a piece of the True Cross, skulls of some of the early Christian martyrs, and even a tooth of St. Anthony of Padua.
The collection was brought together by Father Suitbert Godfrey Mollinger who became the first parish priest there in 1868. A native of Belgium, he took an interest in these priceless relics and actually saved many of them from being lost forever.
This was a memorable day for me with two great friends. More importantly it showed me once again the richness and beauty of our Catholic faith.
These three churches in Pittsburgh and the stories they hold open the pages to a time when being Catholic was not looked upon very highly. As Mike told us the story of the struggles of the immigrants that settled in Pittsburgh and how they were verbally abused for being Catholic, an amazing feeling struck me.
Here stood a popular Catholic author, a deacon of the church, and a guy voicing his faith in new media. Three faithful Catholics in the year 2014 freely standing in the exact same spot where 150 years prior others faced ridicule for doing the same. Look how far we have come.
Isn’t our faith a beautiful thing?
Copyright 2014, Pete Socks