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Hungarian embassy’s influence saves piece of Beacon Street church
The cornerstone of a now-demolished McKeesport church has made its way to a new home in Cleveland, Ohio.
After months of persistence, Cleveland resident and historian Nicholas Boros secured the cornerstone of the former St. Stephen’s Roman Catholic Church on Beacon Street and moved it to his own church, St. Elizabeth of Hungary.
“It was all very last minute,” said Boros, who had assumed his efforts to preserve the cornerstone had been unsuccessful. “I didn’t know I was getting it until three days before leaving for Cleveland.”
St. Stephen’s closed in 2002 following the death of its longtime pastor, the Rev. Stephen Kato.
The church was purchased — along with hundreds of other churches — by Italian millionaire Raffaello Follieri in 2007, but the sale turned out to be fraudulent and Follieri was sent to federal prison in the U.S.
Following years of abandonment, city council voted in June to approve the church’s demolition with a grant from the Allegheny County Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund.
Boros began working to save the cornerstone back in July after reading an article in Tube City Almanac.
When demolition began in August, Boros thought he had exhausted all his options.
“I initially never heard from anyone, and found out (on Facebook) the demolition was happening,” Boros said. “I had reached out to the demolition company but they never called me back. Eventually, I messaged the owner of the church and he said they would wait and see what happens. They were not interested in moving the stone prior to demolition.”
“In a last ditch effort, I contacted the demolition company again a day or so after the demolition was complete,” he said. “I was hoping they might be interested in selling us the cornerstone but I still had very little hope.”
Finally a breakthrough came in the form of a letter from the Hungarian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
A friend of Boros named Zsolt Molnar, who represents Bocskai Radio, a Hungarian media outlet in Cleveland, had visited the site of the demolished church with Boros.
They conducted an interview regarding the church and took drone footage of the property. Boros credits Molnar with passing the interview along to the embassy and using its influence to help the Clevelanders retrieve the cornerstone.
“The embassy sent the letter on the 14th of August on our behalf stating our intentions and their desire to have the cornerstone sent to Cleveland,” Boros said. “Three days later, we went down with a truck and trailer, and the demolition company helped us lift the cornerstone onto the trailer and tie it down. We even received a few bricks from the demolished church to go along with it, and we used those to build a foundation for the stone to stand on.”
Boros was pleasantly surprised to find that the cornerstone made it through the demolition with minimal damage.
“I’m shocked that it survived the demolition in such good condition,” he said. “The “00” from the year 1900 got completely destroyed, but everything else was pretty much perfect. There was a cavity inside for a time capsule but there was nothing in it. I did speak with a former churchgoer who had heard the material inside was possibly destroyed by water damage.”
The stone’s arrival in Cleveland could not have come at a better time, as its transportation to the city coincided with a local celebration Aug. 20 of the Hungarian holiday of St. Stephen’s Day.
“It worked out nicely, having it for the holiday,” Boros said. “We had a nice social distancing ceremony at St. Elizabeth’s to dedicate the cornerstone to its new home. I gave a talk about how I got involved in the effort.”
More than 50 people were in attendance for the ceremony, including Dr. Zita Bencsik, the consul general of Hungary from Chicago, and Joe Knapick, a former parishioner of St. Stephen’s.
Knapick expressed his approval of the cornerstone’s new home in Cleveland, within a community of Hungarian Catholics that he said will greatly appreciate the history the stone represents.
A priest from St. Elizabeth’s blessed the cornerstone and a poem was recited during the ceremony. The stone is now displayed outside of St. Elizabeth’s in the courtyard.
“It was very well received,” said Boros of the cornerstone ceremony. “We usually have a historical lecture series through the Hungarian museum. In the absence of that this year this was a great way to celebrate the holiday and its history.”
The cornerstone’s journey to Cleveland and the dedication ceremony made national news in Hungary with a five minute segment on Duna TV, one of the country’s public television networks. The story was featured on a program that showcases news from Hungarian communities around the world.
Christopher Baumann is a freelance writer from Gibsonia. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published September 09, 2020.