Diocese offers former church, 6 schools, 2 social halls, rectory, convent for sale

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To reduce an inventory of nearly 1,000 buildings, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh is assisting parishes in selling 14 properties, including the former St. Michael Church in Munhall, six schools, two social halls and a Sheraden convent.

These spaces are not being used," said Mike Arnold, chief facilities officer for the diocese. "We have a surplus of property and we recognize that these are difficult buildings to sell."

In Homestead, the former St. Mary Magdalene Church and rectory at Amity and East 10th streets recently went under agreement, Mr. Arnold said. The asking price was $159,000. The buildings are close to the Waterfront, a complex of shops, restaurants and movie theaters.

In Munhall, the former St. Michael Church at 605 East 9th Avenue is on the market for $250,000.

In the city's North Side neighborhood of Observatory Hill, an elementary school and rectory at 2072 Franklin Road were part of Incarnation of the Lord parish. The buildings, which are being sold together, are priced at $480,000 and located at 4072 Franklin Road, which runs parallel to Perrysville Avenue.

Incarnation of the Lord parish is "open and functioning and vital," said the Rev. David D. DeWitt, who serves as pastor. The school has been closed for about five years and the rectory has been empty since July 2009. Built in 1954, the school has 21,744 square feet of space, 10 classrooms, a kitchen and a large gym with a cafeteria and stage.

The two-story rectory has 4,050 square feet plus a 1,664-square-foot storage basement with a garage. There are four bedrooms, four sitting rooms that could be used as bedrooms and four full bathrooms. There's a kitchen, dining room, first-floor powder room and a patio off the dining room. The school and rectory have a security system and sit on nearly two-thirds of an acre.

A large ad for the properties appeared in a January edition of the Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper. Mr. Arnold said the ad reflects all of the parish property currently on the market. Although there have been additional school and church closings, no decision has been made on selling those properties. In some cases, parishes continue to use schools for other parish ministries.

Since 2003, nearly 150 diocesan or parish properties have been sold.

Tony Leonzio, a maintenance man at St. Mary Magdalene in Homestead, said the church interior is mostly wooden; there's a 60-foot-high ceiling with dark wooden beams, a choir loft and 5-foot-high wainscoting that lines the walls on the side aisles.

Stained-glass windows have been removed from the church, but several still adorn the rectory, which has multiple gas fireplaces with decorative wooden mantels, a circa 1950 kitchen and second-floor quarters for a housekeeper.

Also available for $39,000 is a vacant, two-bedroom house at 3936 Kennywood Blvd. in West Mifflin.

Besides buildings, the diocese is selling seven parcels of vacant land, ranging in size from 3.5 acres along Route 22 in Monroeville, priced at $125,000, to a flat, 27-acre parcel priced at $1.2 million along Babcock Boulevard in Pine. The 27-acre tract is across the road from Trotting Acres, a development of large homes.

An 18-acre parcel in Monroeville is priced at $200,000 and located on William Penn Highway, near PPG Industries and Monroeville Plaza.

A 45-acre property in Sewickley Hills Borough is on Magee Road and priced at $750,000. Interstate 79 runs parallel to the land, which is adjacent to four private homes on Parkview Lane.

The diocese covers Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Greene, Lawrence and Washington counties. There are 206 parishes serving 634,736 Catholics. In 1980, the diocesan Catholic population was 912,959.

The sale of properties reflects parish closings and consolidations that began in the 1990s. Mergers and closings were caused, in part, by a decrease in the Catholic population and a move by some of the faithful to Allegheny County's northern suburbs and Butler County. St. Mary Magdalene, for example, was combined with three other churches in Homestead and Munhall to form St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish. Parish councils set the prices on the properties, Mr. Arnold said, but the diocese is helping to market them.

"Parish land is owned by the parish, not by the diocese," said Bob Lockwood, a diocesan spokesman. When a parish closes and ceases to exist, "That parish becomes the geographical territory of another parish. That parish would become owners of the property. The land and buildings go to the successor parish."

Also for sale is Schramm Hall, a 40-year-old building at 822 Climax St. in Allentown. The asking price for the two-story structure, part of St. John Vianney Parish, is $50,000.

Chuck Mazur, business manager for the parish, said Schramm Hall's ground floor contains a banquet hall that holds 175 people. There's also a kitchen, restrooms, storage areas and a meeting room that holds 40 people. On the upper floor is a full-size basketball court with removable wooden seating for 300 people. The seating can be pushed back against the walls if needed.

The parish recently received a bid for Bishop Leonard Elementary School, which held 800 pupils at one time. Mr. Mazur hopes the transaction will close in a month.

More than 50 of the buildings throughout the diocese have been mothballed, which is a temporary solution. "The structure can last. The interiors are going to start to rot a bit," Mr. Arnold said.

Very Rev. Lawrence A. DiNardo, vicar for canonical services, said money from the sale of parish property goes to the parish. If a parish razes a building, it pays for that expense.

Money from properties sold by the Catholic Institute, which is essentially the diocesan bank, are put into the diocesan plant fund, Father DiNardo added. The diocese owns St. Paul Seminary in Crafton, Cardinal Dearden Center in Oakland and its Downtown offices on the Boulevard of the Allies, which are physically connected to St. Mary of Mercy Parish.

When buildings do not sell, they are torn down. That is what happened last fall in McKeesport, where St. Peter's and nearby Holy Trinity Church, a Slovak parish on Seventh Street, were razed. St. Peter's Church took up nearly half a square block of Market Street. St. Pius V on Boyd Street was also torn down but the rectory and school are still standing. In nearby Glassport, St. Cecelia's is scheduled to be razed this year.

For more information about diocesan properties for sale, call 412-471-8931 or email realestate@diopitt.org


Marylynne Pitz can be reached at mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648. First Published May 5, 2012 5:00 AM


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