St. Paul of the Cross Monastery Church
A Short History from 1852-1967
by Norbert Herman, C.P.
This history of the building of St. Paul of the Cross Monastery Church with renovations, additions, and decorations was written by Father Norbert Herman, C.P. [1913-1978] archivist at Pittsburgh sometime between 1967 and 1978.
In Late November, 1852, Bishop Michael O'Connor brought four Passionists from Rome to Pittsburgh where the latter intended to found a new Monastery: three priests, Fathers Anthony Calandri, Albinus Magno and Stanislaus Parczyk, and one lay-brother, Lawrence di Giacomo. The first section of the present St. Paul's Monastery, situated above the south side of Pittsburgh, was ready for occupancy on June 4, 1854. Another duplicate wing was added in 1855 and a third frontal wing in 1856. The Monastery church was built in 1858-1859. Construction began in June, 1858; the cornerstone was laid on Sunday, July 18, 1858 and the dedication took place on Nov. 13, 1859 when Bishop Josue Young of Erie, Pa., solemnly blessed the new church.
Charles Bartberger, the architect, who had just finished supervising the construction of the second St. Paul's Cathedral, Pittsburgh, 1851-1855, (this second Cathedral was built at the corner of Fifth and Grant streets, Pittsburgh, where the present Union Trust building now stands.) was assigned by Bishop O'Connor to supervise the construction of St. Paul's Monastery Church. Bartberger designed a church in the prevailing mode of the early 19th century that is, one of classic design, somewhat after the manner of churches built in England by Sir Christopher Wren. Thus the church combined Romanesque features in its general style but also included a touch of Grecian architecture in the interior pillars or columns, which are Corinthian. This Grecian effect he continued even on the outside walls of the Church, where several piers of red brick extend outward surmounted by Corinthian capitals made of cast iron.
The original church (there were two extensions made later: the first in 1882 extended the front of the church, adding some 22 feet and involving the construction of a new front wall or facade; the second in 1948-1950 which extended the sanctuary wall about the same distance) much smaller then than the present church contained five wooden altars, three in the sanctuary space and two in side chapels which were sunk into the side walls of the church. At that time, over the main altar, there hung a large painting of the dead Christ in the arms of his Mother. The paintings over the other four altars were: the Immaculate Conception, Blessed (now St.) Paul of the Cross, St. Michael the Archangel and the Holy Family. These paintings were done by an Italian artist, a layman, who lived at the Monastery, Cajetan Alessandrini. Only four fluted columns formed a square in the middle of the original church, corresponding to a series of piers projecting from the walls. Both the columns and piers sustained the wooden ceiling which was divided into regular compartments by arches springing from columns and abutting upon the piers. In the center of the main arch of the ceiling was a fresco painting of the Ascension with smaller paintings of the Four Evangelists at each corner. Four confessionals massive and made of sturdy walnut and ornamented to suit the style of the church were conveniently located on the side walls of the church. The original church was able to seat about 300 people; it never, in its history exacted what was then called ''pew rent" and its total cost for construction and furnishing in 1858 was $19,000.00. It was built over an abandoned coal mine and its foundations had to go underground some twenty or thirty feet.