Pittsburghers can honor at least 16 saints or candidates for sainthood with ties to this region


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On Monday, All Saints Day, Pittsburghers can honor at least 16 saints or candidates for sainthood with ties to this region.

Two Catholic saints lived here, as did two blesseds and four servants of God. The Orthodox, the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America also have feast days for Pittsburghers on their calendars.

Bishop David Zubik of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh isn't surprised.

"For Pittsburgh, faith is a very big thing. God isn't on the back burner," he said.

The Catholic and Orthodox churches teach that anyone who has gone to heaven is a saint, who can pray for those on earth. But they honor some as role models by officially declaring them saints. The Episcopal and Lutheran churches avoid the title "Saint" for those who died after about 1500. But they do add new role models to their calendars, which is how saints are honored.


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Only the Catholic Church requires candidates for sainthood to work miracles from beyond the grave. Five years after a Catholic's death, someone can make a formal petition -- with some documentation of holiness -- to the diocese where he or she died, said the Rev. Dominic Papa, a Passionist from Jamaica, N.Y., who has worked on three sainthood causes. If no bishops in the region object, the bishop declares the individual a "servant of God."

The candidate's writings are examined, and witnesses interviewed, for evidence of "heroic virtue." If it is found, all documents go to the Vatican. Officials there can declare the candidate "venerable." Miracles are sought, usually medically inexplicable healings after asking the prayers of the candidate. Martyrs need one, others need one for beatification and one for sainthood.

Pittsburghers should benefit from knowing that saints cheered at Forbes Field and ate at Station Square, said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit and author of "My Life with the Saints."

"It shows that saints, whom we normally think of as coming from far off places, can be from our hometowns," he said. "Twentieth century saints watched TV ... they loved the Pirates -- although true saints would probably root for the Phillies."

The Philadelphia native noted that his city beats Pittsburgh not only in baseball, but in saints. Two who lived in Pittsburgh are venerated as Philadelphians.

St. John Neumann (1811-1860) died as archbishop of Philadelphia, but he served for three years in Pittsburgh. Born in what is now the Czech Republic, he joined the Redemptorists here in 1840. He was pastor of the former St. Philomena in the Strip District from 1844 to 1846.

"He was a dynamic speaker and preacher," said Derris Jeffcoat, who keeps the history of Strip District saints at St. Patrick-St. Stanislaus Kostka parish.

Blessed Francis Seelos (1819-1867), a German missionary, was pastor of St. Philomena from 1845 to 1854. He founded an orphanage in Troy Hill and gave his own shoes and gloves to people on the street who had none. He died in New Orleans of yellow fever he caught while ministering to victims of an epidemic.

In 1897, Blessed Frances Siedliska (1842-1902), founder of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, spent a month with her sisters at St. Stanislaus Kostka. She adopted a black orphan girl here, Mr. Jeffcoat said.

St. Katharine Drexel (1858-1955) was a Philadelphia heiress who founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to educate and serve American Indians and blacks. But first she was a novice of the Sisters of Mercy of Pittsburgh from 1889-1892.

Servant of God Demetrius Gallitzin (1770-1840) was a Russian aristocrat and convert to Catholicism. For 20 years he was the lone priest in Western Pennsylvania. In 1796 he settled in Loretto, Cambria County. His log church became St. Michael the Archangel Basilica, where he is buried. He spent his personal fortune helping immigrants become farmers and tradesmen..

Servant of God Theodore Foley (1913-1974) is buried at St. Paul of the Cross Monastery, South Side slopes, where he headed the Passionist community from 1956 to 1958. He went to Pirates games. People flocked to his confessional for guidance. He later led the global Passionist order, and sought to heal rifts in the church

Servant of God John Hardon (1914-2000) was born in Midland, but soon moved to Ohio. As a Jesuit theologian, "his main concern was education of the Catholic lay faithful in the fundamentals of the faith and the prolife cause," said James Maldonado Berry, executive director of the Father John Anthony Hardon Archive and Guild in St. Louis.

Servant of God Gwen Coniker (1939-2002) and her husband gave up wealth to found a ministry to families. She refused to have an abortion after doctors said she would die giving birth to the 11th of their 13 children. The Conikers founded Catholic Familyland, a retreat center in Bloomingdale, Ohio. She was often in Pittsburgh and enjoyed Mother's Day at the Grand Concourse in Station Square, said her son, Joseph Coniker of Franklin Park.

St. Paul of the Cross Monastery was a magnet for officially holy people. Blessed Francis Seelos laid the cornerstone. St. Katharine Drexel saw a spiritual director there. Blessed Bernard Mary Silvestrelli (1831-1911) helped to launch its retreat ministry. Blessed Niceforo of Jesus and Mary (1893-1936) stayed briefly between exile from Mexico and his martyrdom in Spain, according to the Rev. Jerome Vereb, a Passionist historian.

Among the Orthodox, St. Raphael of Brooklyn (1860-1915), established St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral, now in Oakland, in 1908. In 1914 he authorized the liturgy for what is now St. Mary's Orthodox Church, South Side. He is buried at Antiochian Village in Bolivar.

Born in Syria, he was a missionary to Arabs, but served all ethnicities and promoted English services. He traveled the continent, planting churches.

St. Vasily Martysz (1874-1945) was briefly a priest at what is now St. Mary Orthodox Church, South Side, and also at the former St. Michael Cathedral, Hill District, said the Rev. Patrick Carpenter, pastor of St. Mary's. In 1912 he returned to Poland, where he was martyred by Communists in 1945.

St. Patriarch Tikhon (1865-1925), a Russian who was the first archbishop of North America, consecrated the former St. Michael Cathedral in 1905. He returned to Russia and in 1917, amid revolution, was elected patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. He was imprisoned from 1922 to 1923. Poisoning is suspected in his death.

St. John Kochurov (1871-1917), the first priest martyred in the Russian Revolution, and St. Alexander Hotovitzky (1872-1937), who died for his faith in a Soviet prison, were at the consecration of St. Michael's, and visited the region to teach, Father Carpenter said.

The Episcopal Church is in the process of adopting a new commemorative calendar, and three Episcopalians with Pittsburgh ties are on it.

The earliest was Jacob Riis (1849-1914), a journalist and pioneering news photographer who documented poverty in New York City. But as a newly arrived Danish immigrant in 1870, he was a carpenter and coal miner at Bradys Bend Iron Works at East Brady, Armstrong County. In 1872 he returned to Pittsburgh and spent two years as a salesman of furniture and flat irons.

An Episcopal saint who is beloved in many denominations here is the Rev. Samuel Shoemaker (1893-1963). The rector of Calvary Episcopal Church, Shadyside, from 1952 to 1961, he was the spiritual mentor to a founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and assisted in drafting the 12 Steps. From Mount Washington he prayed that Pittsburgh would become as famous for God as it was for steel.

"He was big on evangelism, actually going out and rounding people up," said the Rev. Harold Lewis, Calvary's current rector.

He preached against real estate covenants, which people used to prevent the sale of their homes to black people, Jews or Catholics.

"To do that in the 1950s from Calvary's pulpit was daring," Dr. Lewis said. "He was so much a man of his convictions that he was universally respected, even by people who didn't agree with him."

Calvary itself was designed by an Episcopal saint, architect Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942). He also designed East Liberty Presbyterian and Holy Rosary in Homewood.

"He was a man of deep faith. He was a very staunch, old-fashioned Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian whose architecture was reflective of his piety," Dr. Lewis said.

Dr. Lewis wrote one of the few official Episcopal texts to invoke the prayers of a saint: a hymn honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King. "Holy God, You Raise Up Prophets" has the refrain, "Blessed Martin, holy martyr, pray that we may all be free."

In addition to honoring Dr. King, a Baptist, the Episcopal calendar commemorates the Rev. William Passavant (1821-1894), one of two local Lutherans on the calendar of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Rev. Passavant was born in Zelienople, where he is buried in the cemetery of St. Paul Lutheran Church. He was pastor of First Lutheran Church, Downtown, from 1844 to 1855 and of Christ Lutheran Church, Baden, from 1858 to 1879.

He emphasized classic doctrine and serving the poor. The many institutions he founded include Passavant Hospital in McCandless and an orphanage that became Glade Run Lutheran Services in Zelienople.

Another Lutheran saint, the Rev. John Christian Frederick Heyer (1793-1873) founded First Lutheran Church, Downtown, in 1837. After his wife died in 1839 he became a medical missionary to India, the first Lutheran missionary sent overseas from the United States.

The Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) commemorates the Rev. Friedrich Wyneken (1810-1874), a missionary to the Midwest who set out from Pittsburgh.

But while he is on the calendar, the church hasn't given any post-Reformation figure, including Martin Luther, the title "Saint," said Larry Vogel, associate executive director of the Missouri Synod Commission on Theology and Church Relations.

"We are perfectly willing to use the term saint in the generally accepted fashion, referring to heroes of the faith," he said

But "all of those whose sins are forgiven in Christ can claim that title, even though we aren't heroes of the faith in any way."

on the web

To view an interactive map and more photos, visit post-gazette.com


Ann Rodgers can be reached at arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.


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