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New Kensington church’s 125th anniversary culminates with Mass celebrated by Bishop Malesic

November 20, 2018

The altars at St. Mary of Czestochowa Church in New Kensington are mesmerizing.

Each detail of the altars’ statues is so intricate you can see the whites of the eyeballs and the fingernails on the hands. The statues on the three altars almost appear to come alive.

They are worth seeing as part of the parish’s 125th anniversary this year, which includes a celebration closing Mass at 3 p.m. Nov. 4 with Diocese of Greensburg Bishop Edward Malesic presiding, followed by a formal dinner at Veltre’s Wedding & Event Centre in Plum.

In conjunction with this milestone, guests can take a walk through a museum in the parish house and see a replica of the main altar, as well as view photographs, read stories and peruse artifacts that have been part of the church’s long history.

“Creating this museum was definitely a team effort,” says Pastor John S. Szczesny. “I am honored to be the pastor of my home parish, St. Mary of Czestochowa, New Kensington, as it celebrates 125 years.Coming to America and establishing a parish to practice their faith in their native tongue was a high priority (for Polish people) and has seen fruition now for 125 years.”

“This day will be special because it will be the first time the Bishop has celebrated Mass here,” George Pecoraro Jr., organist and director of liturgy, says. “It will be a chance for our parishioners to meet him in person and for him to celebrate such a significant milestone here at St. Mary’s.”

The replica altar

The replica altar, currently on display in the parish house museum, was hand-carved by the late Vincent “Wicenty” Askiniewicz. His grandsons Eugene and Paul Askiniewicz recall seeing the altar at the New Kensington home of their grandparents.

They lent this family treasure to the church for the anniversary celebration.

Eugene Askiniewicz of Plum spent weeks cleaning it with Murphy’s Oil Soap and toothbrushes for the hard-to-reach spots.

It will be available for viewing along with the other museum items after the 7:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Sunday Masses through Christmas.

Paul Askiniewicz of Lower Burrell says he spent many years saying night-time prayers in front of the altar that was displayed in the living room of his grandparents’ house.

“He made it based on his faith, all by hand,” says Eugene Askiniewicz. “His workmanship is amazing. This is such a nice way to honor our grandfather and to have his work recognized.”

History

In 1892, a small group of Polish immigrant families desiring to worship God in their own language approached Father Ladislaus Miskiewicz, pastor of St. Adalbert Church in Pittsburgh’s South Side, begging him to intercede with Bishop Richard Phelan of the Diocese of Pittsburgh on their behalf. It was through Father Miskiewicz’s guidance that the Society of Our Lady of Czestochowa was formed.

In 1893, men of the society sought help from the Burrell Improvement Co., and two lots located on Kenneth Avenue were donated. A small frame church was constructed, facing the alley in order to face eastward, and St. Adalbert’s clergy continued to minister to the needs of the newly formed parish.

In November of 1893, the Diocese of Pittsburgh assigned the first resident pastor, Father Henry Cichocki. The first annual report noted 63 families, 259 parishioners, 29 baptisms, eight marriages, three deaths and 30 children receiving faith instruction.

Construction of the present church building began in 1911 under the pastorship of Father Francis Pikulski and was completed in 1912 under the pastorship of Father Francis Poszukanis.

The school was originally staffed by lay teachers, but in 1913 Father Poszukanis petitioned the Felician Sisters of Coraopolis for help in staffing the school. A convent was built and a year later, the sisters had full charge of the school.

In 1927, the parish acquired land for the present cemetery under the leadership of Father Anthony Baron.

In 1993, the organ -- which has 1,664 pipes that are tuned four times a year -- was expanded; a new sound system was purchased; and the interior was renovated with new carpeting, pew padding and paint. The exterior brick work of the entire campus also was repointed.

Some of the original pews are located in the choir loft, where Pecoraro will play for the Mass with the Bishop.

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