It’s been a month since I reported on the impending sale of St. Nicholas Church in the North Side A Landmark Sale. The deal is not yet done, and those involved in the negotiations are remaining silent.
Judging from the little news that has trickled out about the church, signs are encouraging that the landmark building could be saved as a shrine/cultural center. Under terms of a sale agreement being considered by the Diocese of Pittsburgh, one worship service per month would be permitted in the church, which was closed in early December.
A lot of people think that too much attention has been paid to this old onion-domed building, which some say has stood in the way of progress by being an impediment to the reconstruction of Route 28. Others say that this first Croatian church in the United States should be saved, at least as a testament to our collective local history, as well as our national history. I agree with the preservationists.
I must admit that I have personal reasons for wanting St. Nicholas to be saved. I am a quarter Croatian, and I grew up going to the Croatian Fraternal Union lodge in Clairton. The C.F.U. actually was organized in what was known as Mala Jaska—the Croatian area of what is now Rt. 28 in the North Side. St. Nicholas Church was the center of that community, much of which moved up to Millvale to start a separate St. Nicholas church a century ago. That church is adorned with the famous surrealistic murals of painter Maxo Vanka.
The C.F.U. began just doors down from St. Nicholas North Side. The organization, which now has lodges around the world including in the U.S., Canada, and most recently, Croatia, was started in one of those little row houses that seem to open right onto Rt. 28. Elsie, defender of St. Nicholas Church, lived in one of those houses, just doors away from her beloved church. RIP, Elsie
I was not raised Catholic. I grew up attending a Presbyterian church. But I have ridden down and driven down Rt. 28 countless times, at many different hours of the day. Long ago I cemented that church into my notion of the Pittsburgh landscape. Removing that building would be akin to cutting a gash out of Mt. Washington. Pittsburgh simply wouldn’t be the same without this church, so I am glad that negotiations for its sale to preservationists look promising.
I was so intrigued by the place that many years ago while driving by I stopped to check it out. That was before I was a reporter, when I was pretty young. I was amazed by the beauty of the interior of the church, and I also found the hillside shrine compelling.
The sale of St. Nicholas could be a win for all Pittsburghers.