The Former Our Lady of Perpetual Help, St. Mary Parish
Erected: 1902 as St. Columbkill Church
Name Change: November 14, 1907, became Our Lady of Perpetual Help, St. Mary Parish
Partnered: October 30, 2008, with All Saints Parish, Masontown
Merged: June 25, 2013, to form St. Francis of Assisi Parish
In The Beginning
This triangular southwestern tip of Fayette County is naturally defended on the east by the Chestnut Ridge, where no passage is possible except by national highway, Route 40; on the west by the Monongahela River, on which most of the transportation was carried in the Pioneer Days.
Here, after the military defense was established by Port Mason on Canon Hill, peace and tranquility prevailed among these God-fearing, religious and friendly settlers who had established at least two Christian settlements before the Catholic congregation was formed.
Rapid development and great progress were initiated when the railroad was laid from Pittsburgh, to Morgantown, W.Va. When coal fields were discovered in this area, inland railroad had to be laid, mines to be opened, coke ovens to be built and trees cut with which houses and towns had to be built for the workmen.
People began to come from all parts of Europe hoping to gain a livelihood, establish homes, build churches and become citizens of this new land.
The coal mines in Ronco and Gates marked the beginning here. In 1900, the Monongalia Railroad cut its winding way from Gates eastward through the hills along Brown’s Run toward the now Leckrone, reached Moser Run here and built a Junction toward Edenborn Mine.
It was at this point that our congregation was established.
The workmen during this period traveled to church by railroad to Ronco and then to Brownsville. Others went by horse to St. John the Evangelist Church, Uniontown. Father Aurelius Stehle came to say Mass for workmen in Ronco.
Real estate was so in demand that tracts of land exchanged hands several times a year.
Bishop Richard Phelan, bishop of Pittsburgh, sent Father William J. Drum here as Pastor of “Masontown District” July 16, 1902. So many Catholics here were anxious to build a church of their own that no time was lost.
The management of the coal company also recognized this need. The H.C. Frick Coal Company donated the plot of land (4.917 acres, which is now our present cemetery) December 3, 1903.
Joyfully the workmen cut trees, made suitable lumber and built the parish church. The cornerstone was laid in a few weeks in 1903.
The wooden church building was completed at the cost of $4,000. October 9, 1904, Bishop Phelan dedicated the church, which was called St. Columbkille for the German settlement in this German Township and soon known as Our Lady of Perpetual Help, St. Mary, for the Slovak population coming in from Europe. Great jubilation filled all in the area.
Soon, however, tragedy followed. Father Drum was injured by his horse as he tried to calm the animal, frightened by a moving locomotive. On August 3, 1906, he was moved to Noblestown and died three days later.
Father Damascene Francis Polivka (age 42) succeeded Father Drum August 5, 1906. He was a brilliant scholar and excelled in speaking several languages. This was very important because many parishioners had come from areas of Europe, especially from Slovakia, to obtain religious freedom.
During Father Polivka’s service, the original church was destroyed by fire December 5, 1907, the day before the feast of St. Nicholas.
On the feast of the Immaculate Conception 1907, Mass was celebrated in a long building near the ball park in Leckrone.
Several months later, H.C. Frick donated another parcel of land to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, St. Mary Church, and a wooden building was constructed near the site of the former church. Mass was celebrated in this building for several years.
In 1907, St. Mary’s also acquired a Mission Church at Gates, and Mass was held there every Sunday. Father Polivka was transferred July 11, 1908.