Fr. Pikutis Establishes Parish

Father Pikutis Establishes Parish

 

On July 10, 1930, Bishop Boyle sent Father Francis Pikutis to serve in Coverdale, and when St. Valentine’s was formally established as a separate parish on September 10, 1931, he became its first pastor. Father Pikutis was born January 19, 1884 in the small village of Burbiskiai, Lithuania. His parents emigrated to America, settling in Homestead, Pennsylvania, and he came to join them therein 1900. He worked in the Homestead steel mills until 1904, when he began his preparation for the priesthood at St. Vincent Prep School in Latrobe. He was ordained on June 14, 1915, and said his first Mass at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Homestead.

The first appointment for Father Pikutis was as an assistant at St. Bernard’s Church in Indiana. In 1916, he became pastor of St. Francis Church in Rossiter, and stayed there until assigned to St. Valentine’s. One of his first tasks at St. Valentine’s was building a rectory, and a red brick house on the site of the present church was completed in 1931 – at a cost of $6,850. The nation had just entered the period of economic distress known as the Great Depression, and local miners had been further hurt by a long strike; but the people of St. Valentine’s were dedicated to their new parish and willingly sacrificed for it.

Even before the formal establishment of the parish, Father Pikutis performed the first baptism – for John Percy Seddon on August 16, 1931. The first marriages came on November 25 with the union of two couples – Frank Coates with Mary Foradadi and Frank George with Teresa Vagni. Lawn fetes became popular annual affairs in the early years of the parish. The first ones were held near the company store on South Park Road. Parishioners sold baked goods and other homemade items, and relied on their mother church, St. Anne’s for much of the equipment they needed to borrow for these affairs.

In the beginning, the parish boundaries were more extensive than at present. As the community of Bethel Park developed, parts of St. Valentine’s Parish were incorporated in the new parishes of St. Thomas More, St. Louise de Marillac and St. Germaine. The original Coverdale area remains the heart of the parish. In 1932, Father Pikutis asked the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God, who were based in Whitehall and, like himself and many parishioners, had Lithuanian roots, to conduct catechism classes for the children of St. Valentine’s Parish. They agreed to do this, and the first teachers were Sisters Mary Gabrielle, Laura, Innocenta and Cecelia, who were transported back and forth by members of the parish. The classes were held in the rectory basement, a nearby home, a storeroom and the community fire hall. Shortly after the classes began, Mother M. Aloysia took charge of the Young Ladies Sodality, and it flourished under her guidance.

The housekeeper for Father Pikutis was Mary Zinc, a woman of musical ability. She served as organist for the church, playing a reed pump organ, and trained a male choir. About a half dozen men sang in the choir, and two of them – Joseph Miller and James Smith – are still members of the parish.