Priests swap amid major changes at St. Elizabeth Seton

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Probably no one is more disappointed about the upcoming pastoral change at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish serving the Carnegie and Scott area than the priest involved.

"I wanted to stay, but I took a vow of obedience," the Rev. Joseph Luisi said sadly, adding he had hoped to oversee a proposed $6 million renovation and expansion project at St. Luke Church in Carnegie and the sales of St. Ignatius de Loyola Church on Finley Avenue in Scott and Seton Hall on Mary Street in Carnegie.

But it was not to be.

On Oct. 1, Rev. Luisi, who has been at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton for more than 8 years, will become co-pastor at St. Michael Church in Pitcairn and at North American Martyrs Church and School in Monroeville.

In turn, St. Michael's pastor, the Rev. David Poecking, will relocate to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

The Rev. Thomas Lewandowski will move from North American Martyrs to St. Camillus Church in New Castle, Lawrence County, where he will also serve as chaplain at Westminster College.

The priest swap was made by the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese in response to the April appointments of four regional vicars, said the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, Diocesan spokesman. Because of a priest shortage and his experience with a consolidated parish, Father Luisi was assigned to both St. Michael and North American Martyrs, which are two miles apart, Rev. Lengwin said.

The Diocese typically moves priests about every six years.

News of Rev. Luisi's impending departure saddened some parishioners.

"He was an inspiration to me and he helped me through rough times. I respect him and I'll love him forever," said Carnegie Councilman Fred Carini.

Dan Falcioni of Collier, who shares Rev. Luisi's love of sports, said, "It's a big loss for me personally and a big loss for our church."

But recent years have not been without controversy, especially concerning the proposed construction project that was recommended in July by a 16-member building committee.

Some parishioners who favor retention of the St. Ignatius worship site argue that $6 million is too much to spend on a building that sits in a flood plain. Furthermore, they dispute the contention that St. Ignatius does not have enough seating capacity.

"There's so much room. I've gone to a Mass where I can lay in a pew," said one parishioner who asked not to be identified.

Another said offering additional Masses would relieve any potential congestion at the St. Ignatius site.

Rev. Luisi said St. Ignatius holds about 390 people, while the proposed renovated and expanded church would seat 650. The parish population is about 4,500 from Carnegie, Collier, Heidelberg, Robinson, Rosslyn Farms and Scott.

Some discontent may be rooted in tradition and ethnicity.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was formed in 1992 from six churches representing four ethnic groups. The September 2004 Hurricane Ivan flood that damaged several parish buildings in Carnegie and left St. Ignatius as the sole worship site may have polarized opinions, too.

The original St. Luke and St. Ignatius parishes each are more than 100 years old.

Aware of these two schools of thought, the Rev. Poecking said, "The building project, whatever it turns out to be, will be a new challenge for me."

Born in Buffalo, N.Y. and baptized as a Presbyterian, he studied computer science and math at Carnegie Mellon University and taught math with the Peace Corps in Africa. In college, he found himself drawn again to the works of author J. R. Tolkien, a devout Catholic. Bernadette Young, a campus nun, encouraged his religious pursuits.

"It was a short step from there to wanting to share the sacrament with others," Rev. Poecking, 44, said.

Ordained in 1996, he has served as vicar to three other Pittsburgh parishes before joining St. Michael's four years ago. He also was chaplain to Forbes Regional Campus of West Penn Hospital.

An easy conversationalist with a sense of humor, the Rev. Poecking said he is looking forward to his new assignment.

"He's a great young priest," added Rev. Lengwin.

Freelance writer Carole Gilbert Brown can be reached in care of .


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