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The History of St. Raymond of the Mountains

Much of the early history of St. Raymond of the Mountains Parish was recorded by Msgr. Daniel A. Lawless, the Director of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine for the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The Confraternity, based in Pittsburgh, established the parish to serve the new mining town of Melcroft. The first Mass was offered, Sunday, September 26, 1919, in a barracks building. Records indicate there were 65 people present.

In December of that year, the Melcroft Coal Company placed at the disposal of the Catholic people, a long tarpaper-covered structure formerly used as an office building. This was the first church of St. Raymond’s Parish. The building was first used as a church on Christmas of that year when three Masses were celebrated. The First Communion Class occurred on the second Sunday of May in 1921 when 12 children received the Eucharist.

Recognizing that the people needed a church of their own, the Melcroft Coal Company donated land, and construction of a prefabricated building was started in the fall of 1923. The new church was dedicated, on November 19, 1923.

In September of the following year, the first permanent pastor, Father Joseph T. Bednarek, was appointed. Father Bednarek initially boarded with one of the families in Melcroft until a parish house was completed in April 1925.

By the late 1920’s Melcroft was no longer a prosperous community, and the parish reverted to the status of a mission in January of 1929.

Father Edward A. Heinrich served as the spiritual advisor of the parish until 1924. Father Bednarek served from October 5, 1924, until December 1925 when Father W. K. Cipcic replaced him. Father Cipcic stayed only one year and was replaced by Father William J. Wozniak who remained until January 1929, and Father Heinrich returned as the weekend pastor.

From 1929 until 1944, Father Heinrich and lay members of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine traveled 160 miles every weekend from Pittsburgh to Melcroft to offer Mass and provide religious instructions. During this period, two members of the parish entered the religious life. Frank Stopka became Father Clement of the Discalced Carmelite Fathers, and Clara Wolk entered the Sisters of Charity as Sister Mary Clarisita. Father Clement is buried in St. Raymond’s cemetery, which was purchased in 1946. Located in Champion, PA, it overlooks the Indian Creek valley.

In July 1944, Father Charles J. Finneran became pastor and remained until May 1949 when Father William J. Maher replaced him. In March 1951, the new Diocese of Greensburg was formed, and St. Raymond’s became a temporary mission church of Transfiguration Parish in Mount Pleasant. Father Casimir Trzeciakowski served the needs of the people to the end of that year.

In January 1952, at the request of Bishop Hugh L. Lamb, the Benedictine Fathers of Saint Vincent Archabbey assumed responsibility for St. Raymond’s, and Father Frederick Strittmatter, O. S. B.,  was appointed pastor. After three years Father Arnold Weimer, O. S. B., who served until he became ill in 1963, replaced him. Father Germain Lieb, O. S. B., filled in for Father Arnold for the next six months.

Both Father Weimer and Bishop William G. Connare recognized that recreation was replacing mining and farming as the major industry of the region, and St. Raymond’s was in the very center of this vacant land. In May 1964, Father Stephen A. McCarren was appointed pastor and started construction of the parish facilities in Donegal. He served until August 1970, being replaced by Msgr. Donald J. Mondello, who remained until February of 1975. Father Denis R. Sweeney, who served until May 1979, followed him.

Father Sweeney will be remembered as the pastor who opened the parish rectory as a home to a refugee Vietnamese family. In May 1979, Father  Francis M. Ott came to St. Raymond’s, and under his quiet direction, the transformation of the basement church to the current church building was begun and completed.

In January 1992, Msgr. John L. Garred replaced Father Ott and served until July 1995. Msgr. James Gaston was the administrator of the parish for 10 months and Father Leonard McAlpin was the pastor for the next 13 months.

In July 1997, Father Edward Tajc was named pastor and was in the rectory when the tornado went across the back of the property causing considerable damage to the trees on the property in June 1998. He later discovered he had cancer and went on to retire in June 1999.

In late June 1999, Father John Harrold came to St. Raymond as his first pastorate. Some of his first achievements included computerizing the parish office, establishing the “Friends of St. Raymond,” which was meant to account for and connect the many visitors and seasonal members to the parish family and getting a parish sign back out on State Route 31.

 In 1999, Father Ott died in August and Father Tajc died in November, less than five months after retiring.

The present church building sits on an eight-acre tract of land in Donegal that was purchased in 1965. It was decided to build the parish facilities in phases.

The groundbreaking ceremony was held on Sunday, September 18, 1966, and construction was started immediately. The first phase of the building consisted of an independent rectory; and a one-story basement church structure, designed to seat 375 people. The rectory, located about 200 feet from the church, has a conference room for meetings, and a chapel where daily Mass is offered.

The L-shaped church structure was constructed of concrete block with stone facing on the front and rear ends, a flat roof, and a distinctive three-legged wooden bell tower that formed the front entrance, it was intended to build a formal church building on this foundation in later phases of construction.

In 1981 the “temporary” flat roof began to leak excessively, and termites destroyed the bell tower. At that time, the decision was made to forego plans for a formal church superstructure. During Summer of 1983, an intersecting double gabled roof was installed on the church, and a simple steeple replaced the bell tower. The new entrance was extended to include a drive-thru portico.

Then, in 1990 with the approval of Bishop Anthony G. Bosco, the parish transformed a concrete block basement with a suspended ceiling and recessed lights, into a beautiful country church of oak and stone, with a plastered ceiling, indirect lighting, and central air conditioning and heating. New translucent stained glass windows replaced all of the original windows. Whereas the original altar windows depicted six separate scenes showing the history of St. Raymond’s various church buildings, the new six windows form a combined panel that amplifies the glory of the risen Christ hanging in the middle of the altar wall. The three panels on each side radiate outward and down showing the light of the world emanating from heaven to embrace all who come to worship. The eight side windows depict the Sacraments of the Church.

In 1992, the shrine of the Blessed Mother was built in front of the church, and in 1993 church pews were installed.

In 1994, the parish celebrated the 75th anniversary of the founding of St. Raymond of the Mountains. During the Summer of 1998, the St. Raymond statue was moved to a new shrine built on the side of the church. A large engraved stone was placed near the sidewalk to the side entrance in April 2000 that welcomes people to the parish as they approach and offers a blessing as they depart.

In 2001, the Parish Building Project began to add needed facilities and improve the existing classrooms. This included additional classrooms and a Religious Education office, a new kitchen, new restrooms, a Parish Social Hall, a maintenance room, and a storage area. The project was divided into two phases.

Phase I included adding an addition to the present classroom building and remodeling the present classrooms. The addition would include two more classrooms, the new kitchen, and restrooms. In 2002, the parish received permission to do a special campaign to build Phase II of the Parish Building Project, which would include a 48 by 80 foot Social Hall with an attached serving area that could also function as a classroom and the maintenance and storage area in the basement below the hall. The dedication and blessing of the Parish Social Hall took place at the Parish Thanksgiving Celebration, on November 16, 2003.

In August 2003, the parking lot, which had been gravel for 35 years, was paved and the entrance road from School House Lane to the parking lot was widened to allow traffic in both directions. Lines were also painted on the new lot to designate parking spaces. This was Phase I of a two-phase paving project and took over 5 years to raise the funds needed to complete this phase. Phase II of the project resurfaced the previously paved roads on the property, added needed drainage in front of the church and rectory, and added the new road behind the Parish Social Hall.

In 2008, Father Anthony Ditto was assigned as pastor, and shortly thereafter, St. Raymond was partnered with St. Boniface in Chestnut Ridge.  Father Thaddeus J. Kaczmarek was named as pastor, March 8, 2012.  St. Boniface was then closed during the diocesan reorganization of parishes in 2013, and St. Raymond was named as the successor parish.

In 2016, Father Thaddeus J. Kaczmarek retired and Father Richard J. Kosisko was named Administrator of St. Raymond’s. Father Jose Ricky F. Cortez, a priest from the Philippines, was also named Parochial Vicar.

To read about our full history, click here.