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Final Sunday Mass Sad for Corpus Christi Faithful

Building’s future uncertain, but will remain in use for now

By Jason A. Mignanelli
The Tube City Almanac
January 11, 2023
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

The parishioners who attended the final weekly Mass at Corpus Christi Church on Versailles Avenue looked on with sadness Saturday afternoon at the beautifully decorated altar, still adorned with a manger scene and Christmas trees.

The final communion hymn touched everyone deeply as the choir from above sang, “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.” As the organ fell silent, the entire church erupted with applause. Many of the parishioners continue to send letters to the bishop hoping for a miracle. 

Parishioners at Corpus Christi Church, the former St. Mary Czestochowa, are afraid that they’ll have to die or get married to ever come back into the building.

In accordance with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh’s “On Mission for the Church Alive” campaign many parishes in and around Pittsburgh have merged into regional clusters. Corpus Christi is now part of Mary, Mother of God Parish, which also includes churches in Christy Park, White Oak and East McKeesport.

The diocese recently announced that Corpus Christi and St. Robert Bellarmine church in East McKeesport will no longer have weekly worship services, but will remain available for funerals, weddings and other special events.

Weekday and Sunday Masses will be celebrated at St. Angela Merici in White Oak and St. Patrick — the former St. Perpetua — in Christy Park.

For Joan Midlo of Mckeesport, Corpus Christi is the only church that she has ever attended.

“I went to St. Mary’s Catholic School when it was here, and I’ve gone to Mass here regularly all my life. This is a sin to close this church,” Midlo said.

Parishioners are frustrated with what they have called, “all the miscommunication that has occurred.” Rumors have spread on Facebook and many long-time worshipers feel as if they’ve been left out of the decision-making process.

The Catholic diocese, like other Christian denominations in the Pittsburgh area, has been confronted with a declining number of clergy, a dwindling population and fewer people at Sunday services.

A committee was formed to evaluate all the buildings and then decide which churches would remain open, but many parishioners feel like the committee was just for show.

“I want to know who was on the committee. How were they picked? Why didn’t we hear what they found out? Why were we left in the dark about the results of this committee,” asked life-long McKeesport resident and parishioner Jay West.

The committee that was formed included at least two representatives from each of the churches in the grouping and those members were selected based on their backgrounds and their ability to contribute different areas of expertise.

One of the reasons cited for determining which churches would remain open listed the condition of the buildings.

One of the members of the committee was the president of The Ladies of Charity, Paula Pagnotta from Corpus Christi Parish. She said she was asked to join the committee because she had a background in handling health and safety measures and maintenance at other non-profits.

Pagnotta said that from her perspective, the decision to stop using Corpus Christi was “hard to explain.”

“From what I saw, Corpus Christi only needed some minor repairs to remain operational,” she said. The committee was never asked to take a vote on which buildings should be recommended for closure. 

“We were simply dismissed at the last meeting,” Pagnotta said.

The decision to stop using Corpus Christi for regular worship doesn’t seem to parishioner Joanne Dorazio.

“Everything in this building is newer and in great condition,” she said. “As a matter of fact, much of what is here was brought here from the other churches that were closed in McKeesport the last time that the diocese merged churches. This building is in great shape but as we speak, they are putting money into St. Patrick’s to keep it open instead of just keeping Corpus Christi operational. It doesn’t make sense.”

Tom Maglicco, a life-long McKeesport resident and parishioner of Corpus Christi, said he wishes the diocese had moved more carefully.

“I just feel like a smaller step would have been to maybe close one church and then give it some time and evaluate the situation in another year or two,” he said. “Going from four churches down to two this suddenly just seems crazy. The city of McKeesport still has close to 18,000 residents and then if you consider all people who attend from the surrounding areas, that’s a lot of people.”

Maglicco, who also serves as McKeesport’s city administrator, said closing the Versailles Avenue location sends the wrong message about the Catholic faith.

“My thought is that the church should be opening doors and welcoming people in. The Catholic church needs to teach people about our message and welcome them into our churches, not close our churches,” he said.

Rumors have circulated on Facebook that Corpus Christi church is being closed because clergy regard the central city McKeesport as “unsafe.”

Parishioner Michelle Gay said, “Even if he was scared what better place to keep a Catholic church then in an area that needs it.”

Rev. Terry O’Connor, pastor of Mary, Mother of God Parish, said “That’s just not true. I love McKeesport.”

O’Connor has the job of keeping the parish community intact despite the difficult changes. He said the parish needs to conserve its resources in order to remain viable.

“We are doing this so that we can pull our resources together to be compact and strong and better spread the good news of Jesus Christ,” he said. Mary, Mother of God is not the only parish in the Pittsburgh diocese that has been required to make difficult changes, O’Connor said. Virtually every parish in Western Pennsylvania has been impacted, he said.

Of the two Roman Catholic church buildings remaining within the city, O’Connor said, St. Patrick’s — the former St. Perpetua — was selected to continue in weekly use because of the condition of the facilities.

The facility has ample parking and a social hall beneath the church, as well as an adjacent classroom building, he said.

Some parishioners feel like the diocese has not adequately explained the reasons for the church mergers and consolidations. Pagnotta said she remembers when Bishop David Zubik visited Corpus Christi and said it would be the “beacon church” in McKeesport “and that it would not be closed.”

Parishioners have started a Facebook page “Corpus Christi McK Family Spirit,” and have also initiated a petition that currently has close to 200 signatures asking the diocese to reconsider the decision to stop holding weekly Mass at Corpus Christi.

“It’s really sad that someone has to die or get married to get back into their church,” Pagnotta said.

Jason A. Mignanelli is a freelance writer from Pittsburgh’s North Hills and a student at Duquesne University. He may be reached at mignanellij@duq.edu.

Originally published January 11, 2023.

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