The sale of the landmark St. Nicholas Church in the North Side could be a done deal as early as next week.
Members of the Croatian American Cultural and Economic Alliance are negotiating the sale with lawyers for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, which owns the church. St. Nicholas Church was the first Croatian church in America. The building could be turned into a shrine and community center if CACEA buys the property, which includes an old rectory and adjacent parking lot. The organization would buy the building for $250,000, and then spend $2.5 million to refurbish the property.
The organization's 20 board members have pledged and contributed $250,000 toward the project already, said Dr. Marion Vujevich, executive director of CACEA. CACEA board members also plan to raise $4 million to use as an endowment for the shrine/community center, which would have a paid director.
The community center would be located in the basement of the church building. CACEA members are hoping to create a green strip of parkland from Germantown up along Rt. 28 to the church, creating a safe pedestrian access to the church building, which was closed in December by the Diocese.
Vujevich said his group envisions the church building being used as a shrine, but also as a place for after-school programs for kids and classes for senior citizens. “We would also like the place to serve as a support center for immigrants,” he said.
Before it closed, the church offered support services for recent Croatian and Bosnian immigrants, as well as worship services in Croatian.
If the church is sold to CACEA, the place would have about one worship service per month, meaning that St. Nicholas Day and Christmas might again be celebrated in the church building. After signing the sales agreement, the nonprofit cultural group would have 90 days to accept the sales agreement or to reject it and lose a down payment
“This historical place will be a boost for tourism, as well,” Vujevich said, adding that it could serve as part of a tour of St. Anthony Church on Troy Hill and the other St. Nicholas Church, in Millvale. St. Anthony is known for its world-famous reliquary, which includes a bone that is said to be from the Apostle Peter’s corpse, and a sliver of wood that is said to be from the True Cross. St. Nicholas in Millvale is known for its world-famous murals, which are all over the ceilings and walls and were painted by Croatian artist Maxo Vanka.
Vujevich said he thinks a park alongside Rt. 28 would allow people to take in a beautiful and seldom-seen view of the city. “It could be like Curto Park. Why not call it Sarah Heinz Park?” he said.
To contribute, send checks to CACEA, 100 North Wren Drive, Pittsburgh, Pa., 15243.