Bishops' mansion was home for precious antiques, paintings

Blessed with art


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By Marylynne Pitz

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

After a decade of working with Cardinal John Wright in Vatican City, Bishop Donald W. Wuerl developed an appreciation for fine art, Oriental rugs and antiques.

The Morewood Heights mansion he occupied in Oakland from 1988 through 2006 -- recently put on the market for $2.5 million by the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese -- reflected those tastes. It was filled with sacred works such as Russian icons, secular art and elegant furniture from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Some of the pieces belonged to Bishop Wuerl; others were commissioned by his predecessors in the house or donated by prominent Catholics.

Because current Bishop David Zubik chose to live at St. Paul's Seminary in Crafton, many of the house's artworks and furnishings are now in storage. But photographs from the past offer a glimpse of this mansion's grandeur.

Built in 1910 by rubber tycoon Herbert DuPuy, the home includes five suites, four bedrooms, a formal dining room and breakfast room, a kitchen and butler's pantry, a wine cellar, 10 fireplaces, and a five-car garage with a storage area.

The bishop's second-floor suite contained a large sitting room with a green marble fireplace and extensive book shelves, a kitchenette with a sink and cabinets, a spacious bedroom, and a bath tub with whirlpool jets.

The Rev. James Wehner, pastor of St. Thomas More Church in Bethel Park, served as personal secretary to Bishop Wuerl, now archbishop of the Washington, D.C. diocese. Those duties required Father Wehner to live at the mansion from 1996 through 1998 and several additional summers. Nine years ago, at Bishop Wuerl's request, Father Wehner wrote a detailed house history, which was never published. The history describes some of the art, antiques and Oriental rugs that furnished the home during Bishop Wuerl's tenure.

The baronial, wood-paneled rooms in the Edwardian Tudor home offered a perfect setting for showcasing carved Gothic benches and chairs as well as a Louis XIV carved oak console table and matching cartouche mirror. The console table and mirror adorned the large foyer, which is accessible from the main and side entrances, according to the house history.

Near a bay window in the living room was a Belgian watercolor titled "Christ in Bluejeans." The picture, a modern interpretation of Michelangelo's famous "Pieta," was done in 1922 by Antoine Carte, whose best known work is another painting called "Holy Thursday."

David McCahill, a prominent Pittsburgh industrialist, attorney and polo player, lived in the mansion with his family starting in 1928. Founder of the Boys Club of Pittsburgh, Mr. McCahill donated the mansion to the diocese for use as the bishop's house in 1949. The McCahill family's living room furnishings were part of the gift, including a 19th-century square cabinet called a taboret, decorated with a Chinese rosewood design.

Bishop John Dearden transformed a children's playroom, off a staircase landing, into a chapel.

"Bishop [Vincent] Leonard had a weekly radio program that broadcast from that space," Father Wehner said.

When he established the chapel, Bishop Dearden commissioned Henry Hunt Studios, a well-known South Side art glass firm, to create eight stained glass windows for it. The symbols in the windows illustrate the ministry of a bishop.

In the 1960s, Virgil Cantini, a noted Pittsburgh enamel artist, created a crucifix and four matching candlesticks, in enamel on copper, for the chapel. The candlesticks portray the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Mr. Cantini's stations of the cross, which he created for what is now St. John Vianney parish in Allentown, hang in the John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C.

In addition to the costs of maintenance, the house has an impressive tax bill: $44,068, according to records in the city treasurer's office and the Allegheny County real estate Web site. Only the house's chapel was tax-exempt, because Mass was offered there regularly, said attorney Ira Weiss, solicitor for the city's public schools.

In the foyer hung an oil painting that shows two angels supporting a bishop's miter and crosier. Bishop Leonard acquired the painting after a fire damaged Duquesne University in the 1970s and school officials gave it to him. In 1988, Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua asked conservator Christine Daulton of Westmoreland County to repair the painting. She attached layers of Japanese mulberry tissue to it and did additional work in 1992.

Marylynne Pitz can be reached at mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648.



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