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St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Parish

668 Clearfield Rd
Fenelton, PA
16034

724-287-7590
Fax: 724-287-3550


Mass Times:

Sundays:
8:45
AM

Saturdays:
4:00 PM

Monday:
7:30 AM

Thursday:
7:30 AM


Parish History
Written by:  L.E. Bauldoff
Used and Published with his permission.


A History of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church of Coylesville

 

When the first settlers arrived in Clearfield Township, Butler County about 1798, there were no Catholic Churches in Butler, Armstrong or Indiana Counties. However the zeal of the priests who traveled the state, together with the faith of the people, was manifested in the fact that within 50 years, ten parishes were established and churches built as follows:

Saint Patrick’s Sugar Creek 1806

Saint Peter’s Butler 1821

Saint Mary’s Freeport 1827

Saint Patrick’s Cameron Bottom 1827

Saint Mary’s Herman 1841

Saint Alphonsus’ Murrinsville 1842

St. Joseph’s North Oakland 1847

St. Wendelin’s Carbon Center 1847

Saint Mary’s Kittanning 1853

Saint John’s Coylesville 1853**

Prior to the founding of Saint John’s Church the people of the community attended Saint Patrick’s Church at Sugar Creek; but about once a month Fr. Joseph Cody, pastor at Sugar Creek, would offer Mass in the homes of local residents. Records have been established that Mass was offered in the homes of local residents—Manus Dugan, John Sheridan, William McGee, Dennis Duff, Patrick McBride, ‘Squire Gallagher and two or more of the O’Donnell’s and Denny’s. The old dwelling of John Green of Coylesville was a favorite place with visiting priests and often a temporary altar would be erected there, with a room closed off for confessions. Many homes in the area still use as a piece of furniture the portable altar used by the circuit rider priest. This was an item of furniture that could be opened and used as an altar and also used as clothing storage by the family at other times. This tells us that there was a “parish” of catholic souls in the area. 

The “parish” composed of Irish and German immigrants and formed in part from Sugar Creek, Freeport and Butler, was organized by Father John Larkin, pastor at Freeport. A controversy arose as to the selection of a site for the proposed church building. At that time a group of German immigrants donated a four acre plot of land to the Right Reverend Francis Patrick Kenrick, Bishop of Pennsylvania, to be held in trust for the German Catholic Community of Clearfield Township, Butler County. The donors of the land were Jacob and Francis Eichenlaub, Joseph Schell, Joseph Bebold and Harmon Smith. The transaction is located in Butler County records, Book M, Page 345, dated February 17, 1841. These men also owned adjacent properties to the four acres, each giving up a portion of his land for a church site. This deed is recorded in the Butler County Court House dated March 1, 1841, showing a sum of$1.00 each paid by the party of the second part to the parties of the first part.

On this plot of land located along what is now Clearfield Road, the church and the cemetery were laid out. Twelve years later, in 1853 Father Larkin began the building of the church building and on August 15, 1853 he laid the cornerstone. The bricks for the building were made on an adjoining farm. Members of the parish brought the bricks to the building site by horse-drawn wagon, carts or sleds. Stone for the basement wall was quarried locally in the area and brought to the site by the same type of vehicle. Timbers used in the construction were obtained from surrounding properties and hand-hewn.

In 1855 St. John Parish received its first resident pastor, Father Richard C. Christy. At age 26 Father Christy was described as a young clergyman of above medium height, being rather heavy. He had a very sociable disposition and was an eloquent preacher. With these characteristics in his favor, Father Christy won the hearts of his parishioners.

In 1856 an additional twenty-six acres of land were obtained and deeded to the Right Reverend Michael O’Connor, Bishop of Pittsburgh. The land was donated by Daniel O’Donnell, John Gallagher, Ann Gallagher, John McLaughlin, Mary McLaughlin and John and Catherine McBride. This transaction is located in Deed Book 55, Page 223, dated February 25, 1856. Neighboring property owners were Michael Haggerty, John McBride, Michael McLafferty and John Gallagher. Of the twenty-six acres, eight acres and ninety-six perches were conveyed by Daniel and Mary O’Donnell and five acres by John and Ann Gallagher. The deed recorded February 25, 1856.

This was a very busy period for the Parish. In today’s vernacular, Father Christy was a “mover and shaker”. Under his direction, the new plot of ground became the site of the original rectory. It was a brick mansion type building with center hall and verandas on the first and second floors. Facing the country road (now known as Clearfield Rd) the structure was an impressive building. About the same time, a frame building was erected on the lower northeast section of the property. The building (approximately fifty by thirty feet) was erected as a Young Men’s Institute. After 1864 despite financial difficulties, the building was used as a Community School for several years. Prominent teachers remembered are Professor John McLaughlin and Miss Theresa Dugan (who later married Daniel McMackin). The frame building has continued in use as a Parish Hall to the present time. The only change from the original construction is a kitchen added to the rear. The Hall resembles a church and is thought by many people outside of the community to be the original Saint John’s Church.

There is a metal Historic Marker provided by the state honoring Fr. Christy. The marker was installed by members of the parish and is located at the entrance to the church grounds. Father Christy was one the most respected chaplains during the War Between the States.

Fr. Christy volunteered as Chaplin with the 78thPennsylvania Infantry formed in Armstrong County. Most of the volunteers were of the Protestant faith and grumbled about having a Priest as Chaplin; however history has shows he won the respect and hearts of the Regiment.

In a book titled “Dear Teres”  a collection of letters written to Teresa Elizabeth Dugan by her brother Dennis Dugan and nephew, Andrew Joseph Duff there are numerous mentions of Fr. Christy. They were members of his parish; Teresa was a teacher in the school he established. The letters mention the faith and heroism of the Catholic priest. After any battle  he would be seen on the battlefield tending to the wounded and administering to the dieing. Regardless of their religion, or Army.  Fr. Christy was also known to forage in the areas where battles were fought  begging for food and blankets for the wounded.  Fr. Christy was sent home on four occasions to recover from an illness he had developed while on military duty. Each time he returned to his duties. After he was discharged  from the military he was transferred to the church where he was raised, but died a few years later believed caused by the “sickness” he incurred while on military duty.

The above mentioned marker was the result of research by Mr. Bill May of Butler, PA and the Civil War Roundtable of Butler County. Mr. May wanted the marker installed as his Great-Grandfather also served in the 78th Regiment and was personally acquainted with Fr. Christy.  He and the Civil War Roundtable each bore half of the $2500.00 cost of the marker.

In 1877 under the pastorate of Father Patrick Brown, the parish leaders felt that St. John’s Church, though functional, was not an impressive structure. It was decided to add a tower to the building and it was built to a height of 156 feet to the tip at a cost of $4,000. Again the woody growth of the surrounding area supplied timbers for the tower construction. After the tower was added, however, many parishioners felt that the church did not have a good “sky-line” since the roof was so low.

When Father David Shanahan was assigned to the St. John’s parish in 1894, plans were being made to further remodel the building. Under Father Shanahan’s direction a new roof was built with a greater slope that greatly improved the appearance of the building. Father Shanahan also installed the present altars. The high altar at the time it was built had three Gothic towers or spires that were removed when the church was redecorated in 1944. There is no surviving record of the date of installation of the stained glass windows. It is now assumed that the windows were added at the time as the new roof; the additional height made the wall height ideal for the present windows. The windows were in need of repair due to “weathering” and also re-leading of the glass, which was in poor condition.

Father Jeremiah O' Callahan followed Father Shanahan as pastor of St. John's and remained here for 35 years. (1897-1932) Only one Mass was offered during this period at 10:00 AM every Sunday morning. Father O' Callahan initially began making his rounds to parishioners by horse and carriage, but in the mid 1920's, he switched to an automobile and was the first pastor to do so. Father became ill during his advancing years and passed away December 8, 1932. His grave is located at the rear of the church he served for so many years.

In 1918, a large number of immigrant laborers were living in the West Winfield area and perished during the influenza epidemic. They died without church organization or family affiliations that would insure a proper burial. The County, State and Federal government agencies would not bury the victims. They were truly lost souls! The West Winfield businesses or companies banded together to bury the deceased. The property designated was owned by the West Winfield Cement Company. Mass graves were dug and up to 20 bodies were buried in one grave site.

Father O' Callahan was troubled that the victims were dumped in the grave sites without a burial service. He then performed the Catholic Burial rites, with church members: Mr. McCrea, Joseph Bauldoff with his grandson Harry Snyder as the only mourners present. He requested them to erect a cross to mark the cemetery. For 84 years, the only marker of the site was a wooden cross made of railroad ties. The area is now marked as a Tourism site with a cement and granite base with a silver cross embedded in the cement. A road side marker indicates the area as a Butler County Historical Site.

On the official marker, Father O' Callahan is credited with caring enough to pray for the victims and to cause erection of the original wooden cross that remained for many years marking the site.

In August 1940, Father Francis Rattenberger was assigned as pastor of this country parish and remained here10 years. In November 1944 the original Rectory was completely destroyed by fire and all the records of the church were destroyed. The loss to the building was estimated at the time at fifteen thousand dollars. The lost records were irreplaceable.

The new Rectory is a story-and-half cottage type residence constructed of brick and fire- resistive material. It contains six rooms and bath, and is a very comfortable residence. Father Rattenberger also built (as a memorial to his mother) a beautiful replica of the Grotto at Lourdes which includes a granite statue of the Sacred Heart located at the entrance to the church grounds. At this time the Church was improved with trusses and beams to support the roof. The interior was painted and decorated in a very attractive manner with several new statues installed.

 In January of 1983 Father John Palko assumed the reins of St. John’s. One of his first undertakings was to complete a census of St. John’s that progressed through the following year. The final summary was published showing a total of 368 families and an individual count of 1085 souls. The parish also elected the first parish council to consist of twelve members; previous councils had three to five members. 

Under Fr. Palko’s pastorate, the stained glass windows in the church were taken down, repaired, and restored. The cost of $1200.00 per window was paid by families of descendants of the original donors of the windows. The original donor names can be seen on the windows along with the name of their descendants who restored the windows. 

As the number of souls who claimed St. John’s as their spiritual home grew, the number of children also climbed. The CCD grade students were taught in several locations about the immediate area, the church, the hall, and rectory. After several council meetings it was decided to use the property next to the garage as a site for a new CCD building. In early 1990, a new structure named Our Lady’s CCD Center was ready for classes.  This structure was built free and clear of debt, by money St. Johns had on deposit with the diocese. On Sunday August 29, 1993 the CCD Center was blessed at a Mass at 12 Noon.  This date celebrated the 140th Anniversary of St. John’s and the 150th of the Pittsburgh Diocese. 

Father Raymond Boccardi was appointed administrator for Saint John’s Parish in February of1994. He had formerly been pastor of St. Andrew’s Church of Butler, PA, a church that was formed and grew under his leadership. Through his own resources, Father Boccardi installed the Fontanini statues used at Christmas. They are unique and rarely found in other Catholic Churches in the United States. St. John’s parishioners are proud of this statuary.

On August 5, 1999 Father Louis Pascazi was appointed Administrator for St. John’s Parish.“Father Lou” came to St. John’s at a troubled time when there was an acute shortage of priests. One of his first actions was to reform the Pastoral Council with elections. Fr. Lou felt (with the shortage of priests), that St. John Parish might have to share a priest with one or more other area churches. The Pastoral and Finance Councils with sub-committees would then be more able to assist a part time pastor administer and handle parish duties in his absence. 

About the time Fr .Lou came to St. John’s, it was found that the church tower was again in need of repairs. Strong winds had buffeted the tower causing it and the original timbers to shift on the foundation. Discussions of “tear down the tower or repair it” dominated the council meetings. A local contractor and member of council, John Green, along with several helpers, was able to stabilize the twisting timbers until an engineer was able to provide plans of needed repairs. Several bids for repairs were over $200,000. The irony was that the cost to repair the tower was just a few dollars more to tear it down. New bids were obtained to repair the tower, a new roof for the church and tear down two unused chimneys at the rear of the church building. The Pittsburgh Diocese underwrote the project and a fundraising campaign was organized with the cost subscribed by members of the church. 

Early in 2006, Fr. Lou Pascazi noticed a growth in his left lower jaw. Treatments for the condition failed and the final diagnosis was a cancerous tumor with recommendations of removal by surgery. Fr. Lou underwent surgery in May 0f 2006. After the surgery Fr. Lou’s healing process began only to discover more tumors and the need of more treatment.

Fr. Robert Meyer was sent to us as a replacement while Fr. Lou was recovering from his surgery and treatments. The treatments continued longer than any one had anticipated and Fr. “Bob” was transferred on to a previous assignment, leaving us in July 2006.

Fr. “Bob” was replaced by Fr. Kenneth Kezmarsky as Administrator Pro Term during Fr. Lou’s convalescence. The appointment date was July 3, 2006. Fr. Ken came to St. Johns from a former charge as Chaplain to the Catholic Patients and staff at West Penn Allegheny Health System/Canonsburg General Hospital and designated Nursing Homes in the Canonsburg Area. On October 10, 2007 an administrative action by Bishop Zubik changed Fr, Ken’s position from Administrator to Pastor with a 6year term. The change was greeted with a happy response by the attendees at all masses. Later the Bishop personally installed Fr. Ken in his “new” position; the ceremony took place at St. Johns. 

NOTE:  The information from this writing was gleaned from written histories of St. John’s Church by Fr Francis Rattenberger, Fr. Charles Riley, Fr. Patrick McCarthy, an extensive book, Throughout the Years at St. John’s-Coylesville, By Fr. John Palko, and Fr. Raymond Boccardi.  Also information from the R. C. Brown History of Butler County.  Published in 1895. A History of Butler County by Waterman & Watkins& Co, published 1893Also, the personal recollections of the author and church members. It was not written as a long history or chronicle of each small event at St. John’s, but to bring out some of the highlights in our church history.

Designed & Maintained by:  Diana Foehringer

Last Updated:    July 14, 2015