Saint Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church

Saint Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church

The History and Demolition of Saint Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church

In the Troy Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, there once stood a significant Roman Catholic church called Saint Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church. This church held great historical and cultural significance as it was the first Croatian Catholic parish in the United States. Established in 1894, the church served as a spiritual center for the growing Croatian community in the North Shore area of Pittsburgh. However, in 2013, the church faced an unfortunate fate as it was demolished. This article delves into the history of Saint Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church and explores the reasons behind its closure and subsequent demolition.

Founding of Saint Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church

The foundation of Saint Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church can be traced back to 1894 when the Croatian Catholic parish of St. Nicholas was established in Allegheny City, which is now part of Pittsburgh’s North Shore. As the number of Croatian residents increased in the North Shore area, the congregation of St. Nicholas split in 1900 and formed a second parish, also named St. Nicholas, in Troy Hill. This new parish was known as St. Nicholas Northside, and it became an offshoot of the original Croatian Catholic Parish in the United States.

To design the new church structure in Troy Hill, the congregation enlisted the services of Frederick C. Sauer, who was also the designer of the Allegheny St. Nicholas church. Construction of the church began in 1900 and was completed in 1904. However, a fire in 1921 led to the replacement of the Allegheny St. Nicholas church with a new one in 1922, also designed by Sauer. This led to some confusion concerning which of the two churches was the first congregation, causing tensions between the parishes.

Saint Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church

Closure and Demolition of Saint Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church

Over time, the Troy Hill St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church faced numerous challenges, leading to its closure and eventual demolition. In 2001, the structure was added to the List of City of Pittsburgh historic designations, which sparked concerns among the congregation. They feared that the designation would restrict future uses and alterations to the building, prompting protests against the decision.

In 2004, a structural inspection revealed that the Troy Hill building was unfit for use. The pastoral council held a meeting and recommended the closure of the church, with the member from the North Side refusing to vote. An attempt to unite the two St. Nicholas congregations in November 2004 failed due to ongoing tensions. As a result, the Troy Hill sanctuary was left vacant, and former members of the church began attending other parishes.

Several potential buyers expressed interest in purchasing the church from the Diocese of Pittsburgh, but no agreement was reached. The diocese cited the high annual maintenance cost of $360,000 and concerns over the building’s structural integrity as reasons for seeking its demolition. However, the city’s Historic Review Commission denied the diocese’s request, as an offer had been made to convert the sanctuary into a museum.

Both the congregation and diocese appealed to the Common Pleas Court, and their efforts were successful in the summer of 2012. As a result, preparations began in October 2012 to remove windows and certain artifacts from the church. Finally, in January 2013, the structure was razed, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation recognized it as one of the ten historic sites lost that year.

Factors Influencing Demolition

Even if a buyer had been found to preserve the building, it is likely that it would still have been demolished due to other factors at play. Concurrent with the debate over the church’s fate were plans by PennDOT to widen Pennsylvania Route 28 and eliminate at-grade crossings from Millvale to the North Shore. This would transform the road into a complete freeway from the city to Kittanning.

PennDOT ultimately purchased the property from the diocese through eminent domain after the demolition. The remaining land after the road widening was transformed into a small park with a promenade and a retaining wall featuring several murals depicting the city’s history, including the church itself.

The story of Saint Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church is one of historical significance and unfortunate demise. As the first Croatian Catholic parish in the United States, the church held a special place in the hearts of the Croatian community in Pittsburgh. However, due to various challenges, including structural issues and ongoing tensions between the congregations, the church was ultimately demolished in 2013. While its physical presence may be gone, the legacy of Saint Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church lives on in the memories of those who were part of its vibrant community.

Scroll to Top