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Our Combined History

On August 20, 2007, Fr. Peter Augustine Pierjok, O.S.B., was named pastor / administrator of our Partner Parishes. He quickly ushered in an era of new spiritual vitality and strong fiscal responsibility. During his 9 year & 11 months of shepherding our two parishes: we added year-round adult/young adult faith/bible study; our liturgies have a renewed Christ-focused reverence; our school buildings have been leased-out to NHS of Pennsylvania; our $400,000 debt at St. Cecilia and $341,000 debt at Sacred Heart were paid off within 3 ½ & 4 years respectively from the date Father arrived; also at Sacred Heart a ½ acre of additional property was bought; the old garage, Dziak house, & convent buildings were demolished; the church roof was insulated and resurfaced, the masonry on the exterior of the church and school buildings were repointed and waterproofed, the roof was replaced on the school building, the interior of the school building was extensively renovated; and a $274,000 reserve fund has been established. At St. Cecilia, the exterior of the church & the former convent building were repointed and waterproofed; a $200,000 insulated standing seam metal church roof was installed; then the church interior was renovated (plaster repaired & repainted); next the former convent was totally gutted & dramatically converted into our new combined parish offices (replacing and expanding both electrical & plumbing systems, adding new I.T. computer/phone systems plus hardwired emergency lighting, smoke & carbon monoxide detectors, and a surveillance security system; there was extensive interior remodeling with new hardwood flooring though out the entire 1st & 2nd floors and ceramic plank flooring in the waiting room, bathrooms, & kitchen; there is full handicap accessibility throughout the 1st floor from a grade-level walkway with handrails leading from the parking lot); in addition a $310,000 reserve fund has been established.

We welcomed our new pastor, Fr. James F. Podlesny, O.S.B., on July 17, 2017.

The Early Years of Sacred Heart
In the years before Latrobe was established, at the site where the Forbes Road Trail came down the ridge, the pioneer settlement of Youngstown, Pennsylvania, was budding into a bustling community. When the Benedictines arrived from Bavaria to found Saint Vincent in 1845, they described their location at Sportsman’s Hall as “near Youngstown.” Early in the 1860s, immigrants from Slovakia, Italy, Ireland, Spain and England settled around Youngstown. These early settlers worked in the neighboring coal mines and factories of southwestern Pennsylvania. Saint Vincent Abbey welcomed them for Holy Mass, sacraments and other spiritual needs, but traveling, particularly in the winter, posed a problem. Under these circumstances, a mission church led by a Benedictine Priest was thought to be the best solution.

On June 26, 1875, Archabbot Boniface Wimmer, O.S.B., held a meeting with Fr. Mauritius Kaeder, O.S.B., presiding pastor of Saint Vincent Mother Church and the citizens of Youngstown in the home of Philip McAtee, the local Justice of the Peace, to discuss the church and school problems of the area. It was decided that a church and school would be built on the tract of land in Youngstown willed to Saint Vincent Archabbey by Moses Gillespie. The plans for both were formulated by the building committee during its first meeting on July 15, 1875. The group resolved to erect a brick building (30 by 40 feet), and the cost of which was not to exceed $2,000. The contractors finished their work on December 4, 1875.

The Rt. Rev. Abbott Boniface Wimmer, O.S.B., of Saint Vincent Abbey dedicated the building to the service of God under the patronage of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on December 26, 1875.

Subscriptions for a school, separate from Sacred Heart Church, were announced on April 22, 1917. The two-story, two-room building was constructed at a cost of $2,000. The school opened for classes on October 8, 1917, with 34 children registered from 23 families.

For the next 28 years, laypeople constituted the school’s teaching staff. The students were divided in two rooms: grades 1-4 and 5-8. In 1945, Fr. Adrian Krakowski, O.S.B., contacted the Felician Sisters of Coraopolis, and two sisters residing at Saint John’s Convent commuted to Youngstown by trolley to teach. When Sacred Heart School opened in September of 1945, its enrollment grew to 76, the largest in its history.

When enrollment expanded to 109 students, two more sisters were added to the staff on August 26, 1947, and a new convent was also completed at that time. The school’s two large rooms were divided again, which resulted in four rooms with two grades per room.

When Fr. Flavian Yelinko, O.S.B., was assigned to the parish on September 6, 1951, he focused on building a new, larger school, and in 1956, the most modern school building in the area opened. At that time, there were 167 students enrolled.

Sacred Heart School continued to serve the Youngstown area with an exceptional elementary education program under the direction of the Diocese of Greensburg, the Felician Sisters and the laypeople who served as teachers…but falling enrollments and rising staff expenditures in recent years forced its closing at the end of the 2006-2007 school year.

Today, our Catholic school children attend one of our regional Catholic school, Christ the Divine Teacher School, in Latrobe or Aquinas Academy in Greensburg.

The Tewes name is a prominent one in the history of Sacred Heart Church. The church bell was donated by Frank and Elizabeth Tewes in 1920, and the couple’s son, Francis, rang it for the first time. It is one of a few mementos kept from the 1875 church. The bell remains in use to this day, mounted in the bell tower above the entrance of the present church.

Over the years, the local Christian community continued to grow rapidly. New housing developments and industrial growth brought more families to the Roman Catholic community of Sacred Heart. As a result, the pioneers’ small, brick church situated in the center of Main Street, Youngstown, was unsuitable to meet the needs of its members. The dream of a new church finally became a reality through the diligent efforts of Fr. Matthew Benko, O.S.B., and the parish council. On April 22, 1973, Easter Sunday Mass was the last to be celebrated in the old church. Demolition of the old church began on May 1, 1973, and Masses were held in the school cafeteria until the new church was completed.

On January 19, 1974, the dream was fulfilled when the first Mass was celebrated in the new church by Fr. Matthew Benko, O.S.B.

In addition to the Benedictines who served during the times of the various milestones mentioned above (while Sacred Heart was still a “mission parish under the authority of the pastor of St. Vincent Basilica Parish”) others who served at Sacred Heart were: Fr. Aiden Pfeister, O.S.B.; Fr. Boniface Buerkle, O.S.B.; Fr. John Haag, O.S.B.; and Fr. Aelred Beck, O.S.B.

On March 10, 2001, Sacred Heart was established by the Diocese of Greensburg as a freestanding parish with Fr. Chad Ficorilli, O.S.B. as pastor [with Fr. Ralph Tajak, O.S.B. a parochial vicar]; then, Fr Aaron Buzzelli, O.S.B. [with Fr. Bill Beaver, O.S.B. as senior priest in residence]; then, Fr. Peter Augustine Pierjok, O.S.B. as pastor; AND effective July 17, 2017 Fr. James F. Podlesney, O.S.B. was named pastor.

The Rosary Altar Society was first organized in Sacred Heart Parish on May 27, 1934 by Fr. Florian Bergmann, O.S.B. At that time, it was named the Confraternity of Christian Mothers. It became the official Confraternity of the Holy Rosary on September 8, 1946. In recent years, its membership has grown with the inclusion of women from Saint Cecilia’s, our partner parish. Meetings are held on the second Thursday of the month, with special Rosary Devotions in May and at various times throughout the year. For more information about this parish organization, see the PARISH ORGANIZATIONS page on our Parish Website.

The following are some of the many vocations coming from Sacred Heart parish families:
  • Fr. Regis Barrett, O.S.B. [1881-1943]
  • Fr. Raymond Layton, O.S.B. [1893-1776]
  • Sister Mary Edward Barrett, Sister of Mercy [1898-?]
  • Sister Rose de Lima (Amer), O.S.B. [1888-?]
  • Fr. Gregory McAtee, O.S.B. [1893-1977]
  • Sister M. Genevieve (Bartolini), Missionary of the Sacred Heart [?-1964]
  • Sister Emily (Tewes), Sister of Mercy
  • Sister Blanche (Tewes), O.F.M.
  • Br. Felix Shinsky, O.F.M. Capuchin [1941- ]
  • Sister Lorraine Marie (Ferlin), V.S.C. [1942-?]
  • Sister Rosemary (Kelly), Felician Sister [1949- ]
  • Fr. Ryan Ravis, ordained a Priest, June 2016
The Early Years of Saint Cecilia

The coal industry in Westmoreland County grew rapidly in the late 1800s, as the Pittsburgh-Connellsville coal basin seemed to hold great promise for producing high-grade coke. Land was acquired by the “Connellsville-Hostetter Coke Company,” of which the chief owners were Messrs. George J. Whitney, John Lippincott, and Herbert Hostetter. Coke plants were named Whitney, Lippincott (later changed to Hostetter), and Baggaley, and the nearby communities of workers’ homes took the same names. The coke plants were later bought by W.C Frick, then by the Jamison Coal and Coke Company. In 1889 the “Whitney Branch” of the Pennsylvania Railroad was built from Latrobe along the Twelve Mile Run, and local mining and coking operations began in 1890. These operations attracted immigrants, mainly from the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy and of Slovak nationality and Catholic faith. Many attended Mass at Saint Vincent Archabbey, and a few at Calumet (at what was formally Saint Stanislaus Church). But both churches were too far to walk to, so plant superintendents chose a committee to work toward their own church. They approached the Benedictine Archabbot of Saint Vincent, Rt. Rev. Andrew Hintenach, O.S.B., who readily selected Fr. Edward Andelfinger, O.S.B., to advise them. Meeting with a group of laymen at Whitney, they decided a new church should be built on the slope of the hill north of Whitney and away from the smoke of the coke plants. One acre of land was purchased from Mr. William Anderson for this purpose, at a cost of $150. An additional half-acre east of the church was purchased in 1908.

Ground was broken informally in 1891 when miners came up from their day’s labor to dig the foundation until night fell. Great efforts to raise funds resulted in the church being ready for dedication that same year. On Sunday, November 22, 1891, Rt. Rev. Andrew Hintenach dedicated the parish under the patronage of Saint Cecilia, a third-century martyr at Rome. Her feast day continues to be celebrated by the Church on every November 22.

Newly-ordained Fr. Theophilus was appointed pastor. He commuted from Saint Vincent where he taught chemistry, physics, and astronomy at the College. Then a dispute arose between management and workers about wages and union labor. A strike followed, and the Company closed the mines. After several months, families began moving away, and the pastor fell out of favor with the Company, an estrangement that lasted well beyond his tenure as pastor. He was recalled to Saint Vincent, took leave (officially sanctioned) a few months later to care for his parents in Cleveland, and never returned.

His successor was Fr. Cyril Rettger, O.S.B., a man of unbounded charity well-suited to healing the wounds left by the now-settled strike. Since he did not speak Slovak, he received help once a month from Fr. Xavier Traxler, O.S.B., and from Fr. Wenceslaus Sholar, O.S.B., a priest in training. Fr. Cyril was pastor 1894-97.

Fr. Joseph Keller, O.S.B., the next pastor, had been a zealous missionary in the south, then held several administrative offices at Saint Vincent. Under his pastorate, the congregation grew to 200 families, with almost that many children of school age. Although he hired lay-teachers to help him teach the children, they realized a separate school was needed. One was built in 1898. A second building, on Shirey Hill above Hostetter, was built soon after to accommodate students in grades 1–3. It was called Saint Benedict School. Fr. Keller was recalled to the Archabbey in 1900 to become Sub-prior.

Newly-ordained Fr. Wenceslaus Sholar, O.S.B., succeeded him. He was well-received, having been catechist at Saint Cecilia for five years. He obtained the services of two Mercy nuns from nearby Saint Xavier’s Academy to instruct the children, and their education improved. The nuns remained for 15 years, commuting each day by horse and buggy. In those days, First Communion and Confirmation were received on the same day, Communion in the morning and Confirmation in the afternoon. The children would be about twelve years old. Under Fr. Wenceslaus, a sacristy and janitor’s room were added to the church. Then he was called away to Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, where a Slavic-speaking priest was needed. He was succeeded in 1907 by Fr. Ernest Gensheimer, O.S.B., with Fr. Sigismund Szydlowski, O.S.B., assisting for a year then following Fr. Wenceslaus to Vandergrift. Their successors were Fr. Edgar Zuercher, O.S.B., and Fr. Method Shestik, O.S.B., Fr. Edgar’s zeal was notable in that, at an advanced age, he learned Slovak well enough to hear confessions in that tongue. He also purchased the half-acre that was to be the site of the new rectory.

Fr. Xavier Traxler, O.S.B., succeeded them in 1909, and by May 1910, moved into the new priest’s residence which he planned and built. Fluent in Slovak, he remained pastor of Saint Cecilia’s for 25 years. Fr. Xavier planted flowers and shrubs, outfitted the church with liturgical equipment, and paid off the rectory debt within four years. Then he started raising funds for a new church. He was aware that so-called “ridgers,” miniature tornadoes, often rolled off the Chestnut Ridge unexpectedly at night, and asked the architect for a design that would withstand such weather. They wisely chose a low brick building with a high-gabled roof and a sturdy steeple at the south end. The cornerstone of the new 110 x 50-foot edifice was laid on July 16, 1916 by Rt. Rev. Leander Schnerr, O.S.B., Archabbot of Saint Vincent.

A new bell to call people to prayer was installed on October 15. The church itself was completed at a cost of $20,363 and dedicated on November 26, 1916. Two sermons were preached: one in Slovak and one in English. A choir of Benedictine clerics from Saint Vincent sang for the ceremony. Sanctuary essentials and new stained glass windows were donated by parishioners, local societies, parish organizations, and friends. The construction debt was paid off in a mere four years, indicating the great pride the congregation took in their new church.

The pastor went on to secure the services of the Sisters of Saints Cyril and Methodius of Danville, Pennsylvania, for the school, promising to build them a convent. Messrs. Anderson and Sons of Latrobe, who designed and built the church, won the convent contract with a bid of $20,201. Many entertainments and raffles were held to raise funds to furnish it. It was dedicated by Rt. Rev. Leander Schnerr, O.S.B., on September 17, 1922. The parish now had a new church, a school staffed by nuns, a priest’s residence, a convent, and a small social hall made from parts of the old wood church, which had been moved, inch by inch, across the property.

The convent debt would have been paid off promptly were it not for local economic conditions and the Great Depression. Gradually, the two coke plants stopped operations, and even the coal supply was discontinued. Many had to travel to find work, others moved away, and the rest struggled to get by. Church support fell.

On June 24, 1934, the parishioners tried to cheer the pastor by celebrating his Golden Jubilee as priest and Silver Jubilee as pastor of Saint Cecilia’s. Rt. Rev. Alfred Koch, O.S.B., preached the English sermon and Fr. Nepomucene Hruza, O.S.B., preached in Slovak. Fr. Xavier was honored by many friends and confreres. He died only three months later, without seeing his beloved Saint Cecilia’s restored to economic health.

Fr. Xavier was succeeded by Fr. Basil Balko, O.S.B., and in 1935 by Fr. Cuthbert Gallick, O.S.B. He was as experienced on the baseball diamond as he was in Slovak and a zealous pastor of souls. The debt was paid off and a number of improvements in the church, school, and social hall were made. The Golden Jubilee of the Parish was celebrated on November 2, 1941 with Rt. Rev. Archabbot Alfred Koch, O.S.B., presiding, Very Rev. Superior Felix Fellner, O.S.B., as Arch Priest, and Ven. Fr. Louis Sedlacko, O.S.B., as Subdeacon.

Some statistics of the period: the peak membership was 2,080 souls in 1902. The highest number of children registered was 330 in 1922. The highest number of baptisms was 127 in 1914, of marriages was 25 in 1907, and of deaths was 67 in 1902.

Subsequent pastors: Fr. Raymond Balko, O.S.B., (1949-50); Fr. Brendan Smetana, O.S.B., (1950-52); Fr. Nepomucene Hruza, O.S.B., (1952-1956); and Fr. Jordan Burick, O.S.B., under whom the Diamond Jubilee of the parish was celebrated on Sunday, November 20, 1966. At that time, the parish had about 300 families.

The period before the Second Vatican Council was characterized by a cycle of very ceremonious liturgical events: Corpus Christi processions, Forty Hours Eucharistic Adoration, Sorrowful Mother novenas, Stations of the Cross, May Crowning, and others were well attended though most parishioners had to walk to church. The Holy Name Society actively sponsored dances, raffles, and grocery bingos. The Rosary-Altar Society was famous for its home-cooked dinners prepared on coal stoves in the tiny social hall kitchen. The Blessed Virgin Society sponsored spiritual events, plays, and dances.

To build the new, brick school building, Fr. Jordan had to demolish the old parish social hall. Pevarnik Brothers completed the structure in a mere seven months. The school was dedicated in July, 1961 with Prior Leopold Krul, O.S.B., presiding. To accord with the liturgical changes of Vatican II, Fr. Jordan renovated the sanctuary of the church. Coal mining, revived at the Hostetter mine during the Second World War, closed for good in October 1963.

Fr. Jordan was succeeded by Fr. Nicholas Lesko, O.S.B., in 1967, and by Fr. Lucian Malich, O.S.B., in 1969. Fr. Lucian cleared the school debt, activated the Parish Council, and organized the CCD program. Regrettably, the school was closed in 1971, after only ten years of operation. Following Fr. Lucian’s retirement in 1980, Fr. Conall Pfiester, O.S.B., was appointed pastor. His expertise in building and maintenance management was invaluable. In the early 1980s the rectory was remodeled and a new boiler and restrooms were installed in the church. He was succeeded in 1980 by Fr. Charles Weber, O.S.B. He successfully confronted many financial and physical plant problems, and prepared the parish for its 100th anniversary celebration in 1991. Later that year, the Parish Festival was revived after a hiatus of 13 years. During the 1989-1991 interim, car and money raffles, strawberry festivals, bake sales, picnics, dinners, bingos, and other fundraisers were held by the Finance Committee and other parish organizations, all to help finance the renovation of Saint Cecilia Church.

Fr. Charles was succeeded by Fr. Mark Peters, O.S.B., in 1993, by Fr. Chad Ficorilli, O.S.B., in 1998, and by Fr. Aaron Buzzelli, O.S.B., in 2003. Fr. Chad was assisted by Fr. Ralph Tajak, O.S.B., then by Fr. Jeremy Bolha, O.S.B. Fr. Aaron was assisted by Senior Priest Fr. William Beaver, O.S.B. Fr. Chad was the first to become pastor at Sacred Heart Church, Youngstown, while administering Saint Cecilia Parish. Under Fr. Chad, the parish took out a $250,000 loan to install a new HVAC (heating-cooling system) in the church, and the school, which had been vacant, was leased to Adelphoi Village, a social agency specializing in the education and care of court-referred teenagers. These tenants departed in 2005, and late that year the upper floor was occupied by Bright Beginnings Day Care (a privately-owned family business) that remained there until November 3, 2007.

On August 20, 2007 Fr. Peter Augustine Pierjok, O.S.B. was assigned as pastor & administrator of our two parishes (see the “Our Combined History” section above for information on his pastorate). Effective July 17, 2017 Fr. Peter Augustine was offered by his religious community to an assignment in another diocese, and Fr. James F. Podlesney, O.S.B. was named our new pastor by Bishop Edward Malesic, of the Diocese of Greensburg.

Over the years, Saint Cecilia Parish has produced a number of vocations to the priesthood and/or religious life.

To Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania:

  • Rev. Eugene Kornides, O.S.B., ordained May 25, 1918
  • Rev. Marcian Kornides, O.S.B., ordained June 15, 1941
  • Rev. Louis Sedlacko, O.S.B., ordained June 11, 1944
  • Rev. Earl Henry, O.S.B., ordained June 6, 1964


To Saint Francis Monastery, Loretto, Pennsylvania:

  • Rev. Francis Moyher, T.O.R., ordained May 18, 1963


To Saint Mary Priory, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:

  • Sr. M. Innocent Washinko, O.S.B.


To Mount Mercy Convent, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:

  • Sr. M. Syra Washinko, R.S.M.
  • Sr. Agnes M. Kintz, R.S.M.
  • Sr. Annina M. Kintz, R.S.M.
  • Sr. M. Margretta Shugar, R.S.M.


To Villa Sacred Heart, Danville, Pennsylvania:

  • Sr. M. Fausta Zajak, SS.C.M.
  • Sr. M. Leona Palko, SS.C.M.
  • Sr. M. Dilecta Palko, SS.C.M.
  • Sr. M. Siena Podkalicky, SS.C.M.


To Saint Emma Convent, Greensburg, Pennsylvania:

  • Sr. M. Benedict Meslovich, O.S.B