The Former St. Procopius Parish
Partnered: June 22, 1994, with former St. Thomas Parish, Footedale
Merged: June 25, 2013, to form St. Francis of Assisi Parish
In 1877, New Salem was named after the famous town of Salem, Mass. New Salem, a small community off a secondary road from Uniontown, sits upon a small hill. There are several small surrounding communities including Buffington, Newboro, Fairbank, Footedale and Republic.
By the turn of the century, many Slovaks were settling in the area of New Salem. There was a strong bond between the ethnic immigrants. Most immigrants preferred to settle with people that had the same ethnic background.
Slovaks, Italians and Polish immigrants who spoke the same language and had similar customs tended to live together.
The closest Roman Catholic Church for the people to worship was in Uniontown. This was a very long walk for the people of New Salem and its surrounding communities. Realizing the need for a Roman Catholic Church, the Diocese of Pittsburgh gave permission for a church to be built in the area of New Salem.
The town of Footedale was chosen because it was thought to have been a central area for all of the Catholics in the area.
This church, St. Thomas, a Polish church, served as a church for all the ethnic backgrounds in the area.
Fighting between the different nationalities arose within St. Thomas. The different ethnic groups wanted the practices of the church to be in accordance with their traditional customs.
Turmoil amongst the parishioners was becoming an increasing problem. Many Slovaks stayed away from the church because the disputes among the different ethnic groups had become so bad.
The Slovaks wanted to preserve their heritage by establishing their own church. They wanted to organize a Slovak church in New Salem.
Andrew Gallick, a young Slovak who moved from the Village of Oliver (near Uniontown) to New Salem to set up a store, would lend his efforts to helping the Slovaks reach their goals of having their own church.
Gallick was friends with Father Erwin Gelhoff. Father Gelhoff, who was from New Haven (near Connellsville), urged Gallick to work towards establishing a Slovak church in the community. Soon thereafter, Gallick petitioned the bishop for a Slovak church.
Not surprisingly, the bishop refused the request on the grounds that St. Thomas parish was a new brick church that was built as a place of worship for all Catholics regardless of ethnicity. The bishop’s word was final, so the hope of getting a new Slovak church looked dim for the residents of New Salem.
Then Gallick came up with a new idea that he thought might just work. Every Catholic is required to fulfill their Easter duty, which meant a person had to go to partake in the sacraments of reconciliation and holy Eucharist during the Easter season.
Gallick knew of many members of the Slovak community that came from a part of the county Kosice and spoke in an Abaujsky and Hungarian dialect. If the Polish priest at St. Thomas, Father Lembick, could not understand the confessions of these people then they would not be able to fulfill their Easter duty by not having their confessions heard.
Gallick went to Father Lembick and asked him if he was able to speak Hungarian. Father Lembick could not and agreed with Gallick that a Slovak parish was needed to solve that problem.
A petition with signatures for a Slovak church was circulated throughout the community and sent to the bishop. The petition to organize a Slovak church in New Salem was granted.
When the Slovaks heard the good news they organized various committees to take care of the numerous aspects of the huge project at hand. One committee was responsible for finding a spot to build the church.
The committee considered many possibilities before choosing a piece of land on the top of a hill in the center of town. Five acres of land were purchased from a man named Charles Hempstead, the founder of the First National Bank in New Salem.
Another committee was appointed to meet the bishop and ask about a priest. Father Charles Janda, a newly ordained priest, was assigned to the parish.
Father Janda arrived in New Salem on a Sunday afternoon in July 1904. When he arrived, a problem arose that no one had even considered – where was Father Janda going to stay while the church and parish house was being built?
Father Janda walked to the H.C. Frick Coal Company in Buffington to see the superintendent, James Hart. Hart then made arrangements for Father Janda. He boarded with the Dorsey family who took in single working men in Buffington.
Father Janda was starting anew in Fayette County much in the same way as hundreds of coal and coke immigrants did.
James Hart was a big help in the building of the new church. Hart emptied an eight-room company owned house and invited Father Janda to use it. The priest lived on one side of the duplex and the other side was used as a temporary church where Mass could be held.
The first Mass was said in Buffington in House #142, September 5, 1905. Eventually, services were being celebrated in the villages of Orient, Brier Hill and Republic. All were held at company houses until the church in New Salem was completed.
One day while the church was still under construction, a strange priest walked up to Father Janda and said that the bishop had sent him to take over the congregation. Father Janda, without questioning the man, packed his belongings in his suitcase and headed for the train depot.
Gallick, who happened to pass the depot, saw Father Janda on the train platform ready to leave. Father Janda explained what had happened to Gallick. Gallick took Father Janda’s suitcase and told him to get into the wagon. The two rushed up the hill towards the parish house.
They found the other man still sitting there. Gallick was very angry and demanded to see the proper credentials from the bishop or his authorization papers. The strange man replied that he was just trying to “play a trick on Father Janda.” Then sensing the tense mood, the stranger picked up his small bag and left in a hurry.
As the church began rising higher and higher, the founders had yet another decision to make. What name should they choose for their church? Father Janda suggested the name of a Bohemian patron saint. The parishioners liked the idea of naming the church after St. Procopius.