Roman Catholics immigrants from southern Germany began arriving in the early 1830’s, settling in Meadville and the “German Colony” in neighboring Vernon Twp. They were first served by missionary priests, sometimes from French-town, sometimes from Erie. They were here in sufficient numbers by the mid 1840’s to warrant a Catholic congregation in the city. Permission to establish a parish was granted by the Bishop of the Pittsburgh Diocese, and St. Agatha’s was organized in 1849-50, with 25 to 30 families. The first church, a wooden facility on the corner of Pine and Liberty Streets, was dedicated on Aug.10, 1850. The parish was served by a series of primarily German pastors, and as late as 1900, St. Agatha’s was still known as the congregation “for German Catholics,” with sermons and sacraments delivered in German.
St. Agatha’s current church was built between 1869 and 1874, at a cost of $60,000. Construction started in the spring of 1869, and went ahead very slowly, in fits and starts as funding permitted. At one point, construction
was actually halted for two years. The dedication occurred on Aug. 10, 1873, with great pomp and ceremony.
The interior of the church was very ornate, with a massive pulpit (long gone) and fancy wood carving. A variety of frescoes and sacred texts were originally on the walls and ceiling but have been lost through redecoration over the years. However, by 1885, the pastor wanted to improve the church’s interior, and ordered a new high altar from the H. Miele Studios in Muenster, Germany. Made to order, the altar finally arrived on Sept. 29, 1888, at a cost of $2,074. Full-sized statues of St. Mary and St. Joseph were also imported from Germany. At the same time, two new side altars were purchased. The Blessed Virgin’s altar, on the gospel side of the altar, also had statues of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Elizabeth of Hungary. The St. Joseph’s altar was surrounded by statues of St. Anthony of Padua and St. Adolphus. A statue of St. Agatha, 4’ 8” tall, was added in 1898.
In 1910, the original windows, installed in 1870, were replaced with “artistic and highly realistic stained glass” windows, purchased from Leo P. Frohe’s Art and Stained Glass Establishment of Buffalo, New York.
This original spire was replaced in 1894 with a 62’ unique openwork metal spire of zinc and aluminum layed over a steel frameswork, like those of some German cathedrals. This spire was later covered, and eventually removed in 1969.
St. Agatha, 2018
St. Agatha's first church building
St. Brigid's 3rd church, possibly around 1900
The history of St. Brigid’s begins with the arrival of large numbers of Irish immigrants in Meadville in the mid-1850’s.
In the spring of 1862, the group was large enough to petition the Bishop of the Diocese of Erie for the establishment of a new parish to meet the needs to the English-speaking Catholics in Meadville. Their request was granted, and they chose the name St. Brigid for the new parish. Informally known as “St. Bride’s,” the new parish was initially under the charge of Fr. Marc A. DeLaRoque at St. Hippolyte’s. The parish then briefly came under the direction of two Franciscans from Olean, NY, who arrived in Meadville to open a Catholic college. When the college failed to materialize, the parish came under the care of a series of Irish priests (including John Mark Gannon). The parish was advertized “for the English congregation,” although it included a fair number of French, Belgian and Italian parishioners.
The early congregation, probably numbering 100 to 125 families, worshipped in a series of formerly Protestant churches for several years. In 1878, after much fund-raising, construction was begun on a new church, and after three years, it was formally dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24, 1881. The new church was built to hold between 600 and 700 people. Elaborate frescoing, done by Godfrey Frohe and his son of Buffalo, New York, was the highlight of the new building. The ceiling was covered with allegorical scenes, and the nave was decorated with a life-size painting of the Savior, along with depictions of St. Peter, St. James, St. John, and Mary Magdalen. Above the side altars were paintings of St. Brigid and St. Patrick.
During succeeding renovations, the frescoing was painted over, the choir loft was added, a new altar and matching Stations of the Cross, and new stained glass windows were installed. The current windows, depicting the Joyful and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary, date from 1948-49 . At the same time, a Permastone coating was applied over the original brick exterior, and the outdoor shrine was created.
St. Brigid, 2018
St. Mary of Grace
With an increase in Italian immigration to Meadville after the turn of the 19th century came an increased interest in a new parish to serve the newcomers. In the fall of 1909, a meeting was held with the Italian community to determine whether Meadville needed or would support an Italian church, where Italian residents could hold services in their own language.
On Nov. 18, 1909, it was announced by the Diocese that Meadville was to have a new congregation, to be known as the Italian Catholic church, and that the first service was to be held the following Sunday morning in the Knights of Columbus hall on Water Street, with mass to be celebrated at 8:30 a.m. by the Rev. Salvator Papandrea, the newly appointed pastor.
A lot and building on at the corner of Pine Street and Buttonwood Alley was purchased by Bishop Fitzmaurice in trust for the church on Feb. 7, 1912, for $2000.
On Nov. 3, 1912, three years after the parish’s foundation, the new Italian church was dedicated. A small building, it stood on Pine Street, west of the Bessemer Station. It was designed to seat 260 parishioners, with 100 more seats in the choir loft (along with room for the choir and an organ). Altar clothes for the main altar and two side altars were gifts from the women of St. Agatha’s and St. Brigid’s, and the Home Missionary Society of Perpetual Help provided many of the furnishings for the new building. The church’s white walls were hung with pictures of Christ, and statues of the Holy Mother and Christ adorned the side altars. A large electric chandelier hung in the middle, and stained glass windows were on each side wall.
The new church, known as St. Mary of Grace, was dedicated at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning, Nov. 3, 1912, by Bishop Fitzmaurice of Erie, assisted by Fr. James J. Dunn of St. Brigid’s, and Fr. Franz Winter of St. Agatha’s. A sermon in Italian was given to a standing-room-only congregation. Immediately following the dedication, a weeklong mission began, including daily Rosary, and opportunities for confession in English, French, Italian and German.
This little church provided a home for the Italian Catholic community until 1957.
St. Mary's church used between 1912-1957
St. Mary of Grace, 2018