Immaculate Heart of Mary in Polish Hill

immaculate heart of mary pittsburgh

Unfolding the Legacy of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Pittsburgh

Situated atop the historic Polish Hill in Pittsburgh, the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church stands as a testament to the faith and perseverance of the early Polish immigrants who settled this region. With its grand scale and opulent design, the church is an iconic example of the Polish Cathedral style, a subcategory of Renaissance Revival architecture.

The Genesis of a Monument

The story of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church begins in the late 19th century. Starting from 1885, an influx of Polish immigrants found their new home on Herron Hill in Pittsburgh. The area, eventually renamed Polish Hill, was soon teeming with immigrants and the need for a dedicated parish for the growing community was becoming apparent.

The settlers initially attended the St. Stanislaus Church located in the Strip District. However, the journey was arduous due to the necessity of crossing the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks. As the community continued to expand, a group of local citizens petitioned the bishop, seeking the establishment of their own parish. Their request was granted and in October 1896, the cornerstone for a combined church, school, and convent was laid. The building was inaugurated in August 1897, marking the birth of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church.

The Church Takes Shape

At the dawn of the 20th century, it was time for the parish to construct a permanent church. The responsibility of designing the structure fell on the shoulders of William P. Ginther, an Akron, Ohio-based architect known for his work in ecclesiastical buildings. Ginther designed an impressive structure in the Polish-Cathedral style, drawing inspiration from none other than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The cornerstone for the new church was laid on July 31, 1904, and the completed church was solemnly dedicated on December 3, 1905.

The church boasts an imposing structure, with dimensions of 200 feet long by 110 feet wide. Inside, the church can accommodate 1,800 people. The interior is adorned with eight altars, each carved from Spanish White Oak and edged in 23 karat gold. The pulpit shares the same design and material. In addition, 53 stained-glass windows from Austria illuminate the vast 43-foot tall space with divine light.

Polish Hill

The Church Today

Today, Immaculate Heart of Mary remains an active parish church in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. In 2019, it was reorganized as a personal (non-territorial) parish within the Shrines of Pittsburgh, a group of six churches with unique histories that the diocese aims to promote as pilgrimage and visitor destinations.

Over the years, the church has welcomed esteemed visitors, such as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, General Joseph Haller, a great Polish soldier during World War I, and General Theodore Bor-Komorowski, hero of the Warsaw Insurrection. Today, the church continues to embrace its Polish heritage and is known for its outstanding decorations at Easter and Christmas that attract the faithful from around the region.

The parish was also the first in the United States to pray the Divine Mercy novena, a tradition that continues to this day. In 2010, a memorial service was held to honor the victims of the Polish Air Force crash that killed the President of Poland at the time. In 2014, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Pope St. John Paul II’s former private secretary, presented a relic of the pontiff’s blood-stained cassock to the church. Today, this relic is displayed in the side altar dedicated to Divine Mercy.

The Immaculate Heart of Mary Church is more than a structure of brick and stone. It is the embodiment of the faith, determination, and spirit of the Polish immigrants who made Pittsburgh their home. As the church looks towards the future, it continues to be a beacon of faith, standing tall atop Polish Hill, a testament to the enduring legacy of its founders.

Scroll to Top