How St. Valentine's Began

How Saint Valentine’s Began

 

In the summer of 1923 Father Gerold, Pastor of St. Ann’s Church in Castle Shannon, began giving catechism instructions to children of Catholic parents in the little mining community of Coverdale. A few months later, Father Gerold obtained permission from Bishop Hugh C. Boyle to celebrate Holy Mass for approximately 70 Catholic families employed at Mine No. 8 of the Pittsburgh Terminal Coal. Co. That Mass, in a company-owned home which still stands today on South Park Road near Church Road, was the beginning of St. Valentine’s Parish.

It was not until two years later that Father Gerold could buy a plot of ground at the corner of West Library Avenue and Ohio Street as the site for a church. Borrowing $2500, Father Georld purchased a small frame building that had been the original St. Bernard’s Church in Mt. Lebanon. Only 24 feet wide and 100 feet long, the little structure was dismantled and moved to Bethel. Half of it was erected to serve as the church; the other half was set up as a hall. Placed under the patronage of St. Valentine, the frame church with a seating capacity of 150 was assigned as a mission to St. Ann’s Church. It was formally blessed and Holy Mass was first celebrated there in the spring of 1926. St. Valentine was an early Bishop of the Church. He became a martyr on February 14, 270, the day of his death still commemorated as St. Valentine’s Day.

Father Gerold died September 21, 1929, and Father Aloysius Angel succeeded him at St. Ann’s, remaining in charge of St. Valentine’s Mission Church until July of 1931. At that time, the rapidly increasing population of the area led Bishop Boyle to establish St. Valentine’s as a separate parish. Father Joseph Pikutis was the first Pastor, serving for six years until the appointment of Father John J. Janok in 1937. During Father Pikutis’ pastorate, St. Valentine’s Parish underwent difficult times -- depression gripped the nation, the local mine was on strike, the number of families in the parish dwindled to 100, church income was extremely low, and the debt incurred by construction of the Rectory rose. But the Parish survived and, when Father Janok became pastor, was well on its way to recovery. From the very first, Father Janok’s dream was a Catholic school. The dream intensified as the parish population increased.

Then on Sunday, July 19, 1942, catastrophe struck! Fire broke out during Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament following High Mass. Both exits to the Sanctuary were blocked by flames. The only way out was the center aisle and a steep stairway. Despite the unavoidable panic, no one was fatally hurt. A score, however, had to be given first aid treatment.

The little church was in ruins, and the adjoining parish hall so badly damaged it had to be razed. With courage and optimism, Father Janok and his parishioners joined in the construction of a new church, the present St. Valentine’s. War-time restrictions on building materials curtailed erection of the type and size of church everyone desired. By April 15, 1943, the structure was completed and Holy Mass was offered on that Easter Sunday for the first time. The congregation numbering about 300 families – had attended Holy Mass in the Bethel Park Fire Hall while the church was under construction. By the end of 1943, the $25,000 it cost to build and furnish the church was paid off and the dreams of a school began anew.

The parish grew and as it did the need for a Catholic School increased. Some 500 children of grade school age were enrolled for weekly catechism instructions by the Sisters of St. Francis Academy. There was little room for the classes. Pressed into service were vacant storerooms, the nearby fire hall and even the Rectory basement and garage. It was a situation that could not continue for very long. Therefore, with the cooperation of parishioners, plans for the erection of St. Valentine’s School were drawn by the architectural firm of Andrew Pyzdrowski & Son, Pittsburgh. Approved by Bishop John F. Dearden, construction started immediately after the cornerstone was laid in June, 1952.

The dream came true. Our school -- your school -- is a reality. Every parishioner can be justly proud that the children of St. Valentine’s are receiving the benefits of a Catholic education. St. Valentine’s has come through fire, depression, war, and hard times. From those early days, when only 70 families made up the parish until the beginning of 1962 when our records showed 1200 families, St. Valentine’s has done well due to the religious zeal and financial support of its members.

Much remains to be done. St. Valentine’s will need a convent for the Sisters. A new and larger church will be required for the expanding parish. The new school proved that dreams can come true. The future will prove, God willing, that other parish improvement projects can also come true.