Penn Township, location of the historic Battle of Bushy Run, began to flourish in the latter half of the 19th century. Westmoreland Coal Company and the Pennsylvania Railroad located in this area, brought families who settled in the town of Claridge. The mining operations expanded with the opening of the Keystone Coal Company in 1891, and the population continued to grow. Finally, there were enough Catholic families to warrant the first request to Bishop Richard Phelan of the Diocese of Pittsburgh to provide for the spiritual needs of the people. He responded by arranging for priests to offer Mass and to administer the sacraments.
In 1903, the Catholic community purchased a large frame building from a local Protestant congregation. This structure would become the first Catholic Church in Penn Township.
Canonically, it was established as a mission of St. Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, in Export. The small community, whose livelihood depended upon mining coal from the earth, named their small mission church in the honor of St. Barbara, patron of miners, mathematicians, architects, artillerymen, and armourers.
Tragedy struck early on the morning of December 8, 1937, when fire destroyed the wooden church. The local community came to the rescue and offered the old German Hall (present site of the Claridge Volunteer Fire Department) for celebration of Mass. Meanwhile, the men of the parish set about planning and eventually working with a local contractor to build a new church. Construction of the second church came in 1940, and the first Mass was offered in December.
In July 1957, Father Aloysius Borkowski was appointed to St. Mary, and with continued growth in Penn Township, one priest providing pastoral care proved difficult. It was at the recommendation of Father Borkowski that Bishop Hugh L. Lamb, the first bishop of the Diocese of Greensburg, then appointed Father John Garred as administrator of St. Barbara in June 1959. The diocese drew boundaries that encompassed all of Penn Township with the exception of the Level Green area.
However, even before becoming a canonical parish in July 1962, it was determined that the Claridge church building could no longer serve the liturgical and educational needs of the people. The present plot of land, located near the geographic center of the parish boundaries, was purchased in summer 1961. An architect designed the parish plant to include a church that could seat 700, a social hall, a school and a convent. This ambitious plan had to be scaled back by reducing the church seating capacity and eliminating the school and convent.
Ground was broken in spring 1963, and the third church was dedicated December 8, 1963.
By 1988, it was very apparent that the parish needed more space, especially for religious formation. A Planning Committee was established to forecast near and long term needs and develop plans to meet them. The parish lacked the funds to implement a project that proposed a modest addition and the Pastoral Council beginning in 1990 through 1995 conducted various surveys and meetings to define priorities for a workable expansion plan.
Another sign that the parish had outgrown its facilities occurred in 1993. To satisfy the space needs for expanding pastoral staff, the parish converted the on-site rectory to offer space and purchased property in the community to serve as the rectory.
|Father Aloysius Borkowski||1957 to 1959|
|Msgr. John Garred||1959 to 1968|
|Father John Stofcik||1968 to 1971|
|Father Joseph Tamilowski ||1971 to 1977|
|Father James Petonic|| 1977 to 1981|
|Msgr. John Regoli ||1981 to 1986|
|Father Emil Payer||1986 to 1989|
|Father John Cindric||1989 to 1994|
|Msgr. V. Paul Fitzmaurice||1994 to 2008|
|Father Ken Zaccagnini||2008 to 2014|
|Father Michael Sikon||2014 to present|
In summer 1994, the Pastoral Council established a Facilities Assessment Committee to evaluate uses for the church, social hall and classroom spaces. This committee shared its findings in regards to parish needs, future trends and student population. One year later, "A Week in the Life of St. Barbara's," was presented to provide a forum for Msgr V. Paul Fitzmaurice, pastor, and committee members to present the results of their evaluation to parishioners. In May 1996, the Facilities Steering Committee then conducted a parish-wide survey about space limitations at all Masses and received 1,200 responses. The fact was 65 percent of the parishioners considered outgrowing the church and formation facilities as being of great concern to the community, while 95 percent considered the problem at hand to be a moderate to great concern. The remaining concerns fell to a priority of the social hall, rectory and storage space.
The research and finding conducted in the mid to late 1990s allowed the parish to move forward with facility expansion plans. From March 1996 to April 1997, the Facilities Steering Committee conducted seven focus group meetings; developed a strategic plan; and submitted a request to the diocese to perform a Facilities Feasibility Study.
In October 1997, the diocese granted permission for our community to proceed with facility expansion and by December of that year the parish had contracted with Desmone and Associates, an architectural firm to conduct the work ahead.
By December 1998 the architectural design phase of the expansion project began, and in March 2000, the "Body of Christ ... Growing in Grace ... Proceeding in Peace,' capital campaign began to raise the funds necessary to construct the fourth St. Barbara Church.
The final Mass in the third church was celebrated May 6, 2001, and ground was then broken for reconstruction.
During the next eight months, Masses were held in the social hall and in Colton Hall of the Claridge Volunteer Fire Department. Faith formation and regular church meetings continued on revised schedules.
The first Mass in the fourth church was celebrated at 5:00 p.m., December 24, 2001, Christmas Eve. Many details were yet to be resolved, but the 2,270 families of the parish were able to come home to worship for Christmas.
The parish center was completed in Spring 2002 and Bishop Anthony G. Bosco, third bishop of the diocese, rededicated the new worship space, June 2, 2002. Quick fact. Bishop Bosco had also laid the 1963 cornerstone in the third church.
Today, Penn Township continues to be a growing community still searching for Christ. The tiny parish established in Claridge in the late nineteenth century has grown to over 2,300 families with many active ministries that touch the lives of God's people far beyond its borders.
Looking ahead to 2020, the parish community, under the pastorate of Father Michael P. Sikon, will strive to live our mission to be disciples of Jesus Christ by inviting, forming and sharing our faith.