1866: The Birth of Four Churches

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Four churches in our diocese celebrate 150th birthdays this year: St. John’s, Sharon; Grace Church, Ridgway; St. Clement’s, Greenville; and Emmanuel, Emporium. We were part of the Diocese of Pittsburgh then. But why did Pittsburgh found four new churches in 1866?

Several reasons come to mind. The Civil War had just ended – in fact, the Diocese of Pittsburgh itself was established only in 1865. It has just celebrated its own 150th.

By that time, the commonwealth and the nation needed new evangelization. According to the U.S. Census, the United States had (in round numbers) 23 million people in 1850; that had grown to 31.4 million by 1860, just before the Civil War. By 1870, the United States would have 38.5 million. Pennsylvania had proportionately more people, too. In 1850, 2.3 million; by 1870, that had risen to 3.5 million, certainly a dramatic increase.

But perhaps the greatest force for growth was Pittsburgh’s first bishop, the Rt. Rev. John Barrett Kerfoot, D.D. Pittsburgh’s historiographer, Joan Gunderson, has researched the period for bishop-kerfootPittsburgh’s own anniversary. She points to the bishop’s addresses at the diocese’s first two conventions (1866 and 1867). He called missions “the special work which God has caused me to lead.” Work in Pennsylvania was “urgently needed at once to arrest the sad loss of members of our own Communion coming over from the Church of England and Ireland,” according to Ms. Gunderson especially the many miners who had immigrated to the United States from northern England. Without ministry, “thousands of our own are lost to us yearly.” Not only these immigrants, but the many other unchurched Americans – millions in danger of lapsing to indifference or (to the bishop’s concern) fates such as Mormonism — needed mission work immediately. New churches would need forth new priests. To him, the work was urgent. Its results we see in our four new parishes.

Bob Guerrein is historiographer for the Diocese of Northwestern PA.

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