Among other things, St. Albert the Great is the patron saint of school children, so perhaps it’s no coincidence that the first Masses of Pittsburgh’s were celebrated in a school auditorium in 1956. It was Sunday, June 17, of that year that the Rev. Joseph M. Hannon oversaw the service at McGibney School in .
Saint Albert’s Parish has grown significantly since those first Masses in the local school where approximately 700 people attended service.
In 1958, Saint Albert’s opened the doors on a school of its own, and services moved from McGibney to the first floor of the parish’s new building. Students at the time were taught by the Dominican Sisters, who needed to be joined by more of their own as the enrollment quickly increased.
Linda Wolf started as a student at Saint Albert’s in 1960 when the school’s students split from St. Wendelin School, where they had attended up until that point.
The Rev. Joseph Grosko served as Saint Albert’s associate pastor at the time, and Wolf recalls how well-liked he was by all of the students. There are many moments that Wolf remembers about the several years that she spent in the hallways of Saint Albert’s, but one from 1963 sticks out above the rest.
“My most vivid memory of my time at the school was when they took us all down into the church and made the announcement that (President John F.) Kennedy had been shot. We all offered prayers and were sent home, many of us in tears,” Wolf said.
Today, Saint Albert’s serves more than 1,200 families. Needless to say, Mass is no longer celebrated in an auditorium or a gymnasium.
In 1991, after nearly 35 years of waiting for an actual church to serve the parish, then-Bishop Donald Wuerl dedicated Saint Albert’s current church. Unfortunately, as the parish grew and the church was dedicated, enrollment at the school was declining.
In 1995, Saint Albert the Great School fully merged with St. Wendelin School. The school building remained the same for students of Saint Albert, but the school name changed to Bishop John B. McDowell Regional School. Even with the students of these two parishes combined, enrollment was low, and Saint Albert’s closed its doors for good at the end of the 2008-09 school year.
Still, the church remains.
In April of this year, the Rev. James Orr will celebrate seven years as the pastor at Saint Albert’s – a parish that he says is special not because of the beautiful building now housing it but because of the people who fill the pews every week.
“I am moved by the dedication and hard-working nature of people here,” Orr said. “They are committed to their faith, and they have a genuine compassion for one another and anybody who is in any kind of need.”
Orr said that he has been approached by several parishioners in the days since an earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan. The parishioners have been “demanding a collection” be taken to contribute to relief efforts.
“They need to take care of people,” Orr said. “It’s ingrained into them.”
It’s not just the parishioners that take care of others at Saint Albert the Great. Orr has demonstrated his dedication to each family who attends his church by going beyond the typical duties.
Currently, Orr is working with a Deaf parishioner to increase his knowledge of sign language so that he can sign to a married couple during Mass.
When asked why it was so important to him to go above and beyond for two people out of the many in his parish, Orr expressed that, to him, it is not anything more than his responsibility to meet the needs of everyone in his parish.
It is perhaps this sense of dedication and community that attracts people to embrace Saint Albert’s mission statement, which, according to its website, is “to deepen our faith and become more unified in the Body of Christ.”
This sense of community at Saint Albert’s is evident at a weekly fish fry taking place there during the current Lenten season.
A long but fast-moving line and rows of tables filled with families clearly illustrate the diverse population that makes up the parish.
This year, Saint Albert’s fish fry will run from 3 to 7 p.m. every Friday through April 22. The fry’s menu includes fish sandwiches, crab cakes, New England clam chowder, pizza, haluski and several other choices.
A special treat to be served at the March 25 fish fry this year is Italian sausage. While sausage may go against the typical “no meat on Fridays during Lent” staple, Orr explained that this exception is due to the rare occurrence of the Feast of the Annunciation falling on that day. The belief is that it is not right to repent on such an important feast in the Catholic faith.
The fish fry is held at the former Saint Albert’s School building, which now serves as a rectory office and meeting hall, and plays host to the parish’s Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) program.
Diners can eat-in or call ahead for take out at 412-440-0221.
The parish is located on Schieck Street just off of Churchview Avenue in North Baldwin.
Disclaimer: Linda Wolf is the author’s mother.