“Your presence here makes all the difference”
The Penn Township area began to flourish in the latter half of the nineteenth century. In 1891, a number of Catholic families approached the Bishop of Pittsburgh with their first request for Mass. The Bishop arranged for a priest to visit the area periodically to offer Mass and administer the sacraments.
In 1903 acquisition of a large frame building from a local Protestant congregation made possible the first permanent Catholic Church in the township. The congregation was established as a "Mission" and administered by the priest of the Blessed Virgin in Export. The community, whose livelihood depended upon mining coal from the earth, named their church in the honor of Saint Barbara, Patroness of miners.
In these early years, children received their religious instruction from their parents in their homes. Special classes were held at the parish for children preparing to receive their First Holy Communion and Confirmation. The parish was the center of social life in the area. Weddings and Baptisms were joyous events celebrated by nearly everyone in the community.
Disaster struck the parish early on the morning of December 8, 1937, when the church caught fire and burned to the ground. For the next three years, the people of the parish worked together to build a new church, using the German Hall (present site of the Claridge Volunteer Fire Department) for Sunday Mass until their church was completed.
In 1959, Bishop Hugh L. Lamb appointed Father John Garred as Administrator of Saint Barbara and within a few months, its first full-time pastor. Sisters from nearby Seton Hill College were called upon to conduct religious education classes for the children of the parish. Classes were held between Masses on Sunday mornings. As the number of parishioners grew, religious instruction of a larger number of children on Sunday morning was no longer feasible.
In the early 1960's, the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) Schools of Religion were organized to provide religious education for the young people of the parish. Men and women of the parish were trained as catechists. Classes for grade school students were held Saturday mornings from 9:00 until noon, utilizing the facilities of the Slovenian National Lodge and the Claridge Volunteer Fire Department.
As the size of the parish continued to increase, the small church building in Claridge was no longer adequate to provide for the needs of over 600 families. In 1961, a plot of land near the geographical center of the parish was purchased. By the end of 1963, a rectory, a new larger church, catechetical center, and parish hall had all been completed. The present church was dedicated on December 8, 1963. Father Garred remained as pastor until 1968. Since then, the following priests have been assigned as pastor of the parish:
|Father John Stofcik||1968-1971|
|Father Joseph Tamilowski||1971-1977|
|Father James Petonic||1977-1981|
|Father John Regoli||1981-1986|
|Father Emil Payer||1986-1989|
|Father John Cindric||1989-1994|
|Msgr. V. Paul Fitzmaurice||1994-2008|
|Very Rev Kenneth G. Zaccagnini||2008-Present|
From 1959 to 1974 one priest was able to meet the needs of the people of the parish. By 1974, the parish had grown to over 730 families. Father Tamilowski saw the need to hire a full-time Director of Religious Education. It was then that Mr. Ken Meyer was hired.
By 1975, it was no longer possible for one priest to meet the needs of over 820 families. Bishop Connare appointed Father Michael Matusak the first Parochial Vicar of the parish that year.
Today, Penn Township is a rapidly growing community. The tiny parish established in Claridge early in the 20th century has grown to over 2,400 families. Once again the parish facilities seemed inadequate to accommodate the needs of the parishioners. The people of the parish joined together again to undertake the most recent expansion. After holding mass in temporary facilities for eight months, the parish community moved into its more spacious home in December of 2001.