St. Peter Parish and statue on North Side undergo repair and cleaning

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While walking through her North Side neighborhood recently, Holly Barr noted how strange it was not to see the outline of the St. Peter statue on top of the Catholic church of the same name.

The iconic statue, which had never left the roof of the building since the church was dedicated in 1874, now sits in front of the church -- less visible to passers-by but still present and still watching over the parish. Over the next few months, the Rev. Vincent Zidek said, the statue will undergo a restoration process on-site as a part of the church's overall repair and cleaning.

"We have a beautiful building, but it has aged," Rev. Zidek, pastor of the parish, wrote in an email.

Not only have the building and statue been worn by time for nearly a century and a half, they also have been worn by disaster. In 1886, the building caught on fire, and in 1927, it was damaged by a gas explosion near the Allegheny River. As time went on, the statue lost some fingers and a key that those fingers once grasped.

Mrs. Barr remembers the dilapidated condition of the building -- and its surrounding neighborhood -- from her childhood.

Growing up on the North Side, she saw the community population shrink as residents moved elsewhere.

The parish downsized as well.

Her church, St. Mary's, was absorbed by St. Peter, and for a while she believed St. Peter would close as well.

Times have changed since then, as more businesses and attractions moved into the neighborhood, causing a demographic shift. But Ed Barr, Mrs. Barr's husband, who has attended St. Peter for about 20 years, said the church was still neglected, despite its centrality and importance to the region.

The Barrs credit Rev. Zidek with the spiritual and physical revitalization of the church.

"He's a leader. He motivates people, he gets them involved," Mr. Barr said.

According to Mr. Barr, since Rev. Zidek's arrival fewer than three years ago, the parish has grown.

Rev. Zidek also began to physically restore the church, starting with ensuring that the church bell rang on the hour. Now, in addition to the statue, he is tackling other projects -- cleaning the stone of the church, individually restoring four stained-glass windows and replacing the church's cupola. The cupola and statue projects together will cost $424,300, while the cleaning, painting and restoration of the church's exterior will cost $554,128. Rev. Zidek said the money will come in the form of donations from parish members and those with an interest in the church or the area.

According to site manager Kenny Shea of contractor Mariani & Richards Inc., the restorations began in April with cleaning the church.

The church is now 90 percent clean, Mr. Shea said. But his team has yet to decide on some other aspects of the project, such as what to make the cupola out of so that it is not too heavy and is easy to maintain.

The Barrs are ecstatic about the makeover of the building, believing that the public image of the church once again will match the church, the community and the pastor to whom they feel an emotional connection.

"The outside is no question a reflection of the inside ... and a reflection of Father Vincent," Mr. Barr said.

Wesley Yiin:

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