In the 1890’s the borough of Wampum, Pennsylvania, was a thriving little settlement fueled in large part by a local cement plant and the associated coal and limestone mining operations. Without a church of their own Catholic parishioners from the local area would generally walk the two miles to attend services at St. Teresa Catholic Church in Hoytdale. Occasional services were held in Wampum as the New Castle News of Wednesday, February 24, 1897, mentioned, “The Catholic people of this vicinity are having a series of lectures delivered in (William) Braby’s hall this week.”
In 1900 a small mission church, associated with the St. Agatha Catholic Church in Ellwood City, was established in Wampum. Services were initially held in a building in lower Chewton, and then moved into Wampum at a later date. The small mission at Wampum quickly grew and in June 1902 it achieved independent status as the new St. Monica Catholic Parish/Church. The church was named in honor of Saint Monica (331-387), the patron saint of married woman, mothers, and alcoholics who was born in modern-day Algeria in North Africa. At that same time the church in Hoytdale became a mission of St. Monica’s. The senior pastor at St. Monica Church, at times augmented with an assistant pastor, would be responsible for conducting services in both churches over the next six decades.
The Irish-born Reverend Patrick A. Dooley (1873-1912), serving as assistant pastor at St. Agatha Church in Ellwood City, was soon tasked to take over the congregation at Wampum. Dooley, of County Kilkeney in Ireland, attended St. John’s College in Waterford and was ordained in 1898. He made his way to Pittsburgh and soon after was assigned to Ellwood City and then Wampum.
The New Castle News of Wednesday, July 2, 1902, reprinted an article that had previously appeared in the Ellwood Citizen. It read in part, “Rev. Father Dooley, for some time assistant priest at St. Agatha’s church, was last week appointed to the charge of Wampum and Clinton. Father Dooley by his genial manners made many friends during his residence in Ellwood and the best wishes of a host of friends go with him to his new charge. On Thursday evening of last week a large number of friends of Father Dooley gathered in C. M. B. A. hall, where James Meneice, on behalf of the congregation, presented him with a purse of $100 in cash and the pupils of the Sunday school presented him with a fine smoking set as a token of the high esteem high esteem in which he is held. The reverend gentleman was greatly surprised and completely overcome by this evidence of good will and in a neat address thanked the donors for their great kindness toward him.”
Dooley set about with fund-raising efforts and plans to erect a church in Wampum. Jacob F. Bieber (1855-1951), a Swiss immigrant who was a longtime barber in Wampum, donated a lot of property on Clyde Street to the church. At that location construction of a new church began in the summer of 1904 with the cornerstone being laid on Sunday, September 25, 1904. The completed church, which seated 300 parishioners, was dedicated on Sunday, July 9, 1905.
The New Castle News of Wednesday, July 12, 1905, reported on the event with, “St. Monica’s church at Wampum was dedicated Sunday by Rt. Rev. Regis Canevin, bishop of Pittsburg. The event was an important one in the Catholic history of the Beaver valley. A great crowd was present from New Castle, Ellwood City and throughout the valley. The grand work of the little congregation and its energetic pastor were given merited praise by high officials of the church. The new church is a handsome structure of buff brick and brown stone and cost about $12,000. Adjoining is the parsonage – a two-story residence recently remodeled, in which the bishop and visiting clergy were entertained Sunday.”
The same article elaborated on the features of the new building with, “The new church stands at the extreme west end of the village. The interior is neat and about 300 persons can be seated. The main altar stands out prominently at the head of the main aisle and inside the sanctuary railing, while at its side are the two smaller ones always seen in R. C. churches. The altars were made in Pittsburg and are of the finest workmanship. Sunday they were decorated with cut flowers and potted plants, the colors of same being brought out beautifully why the illumination of the wax candles during the celebration of the mass. The pews are of the finest oak. St. Monica’s church is 44×88 feet in dimensions. The little flock that comprises the congregation are proud of their new edifice and gave free vent to their feelings Sunday. The weather could not have been better and the occasion will long be remembered.”
Father Dooley served the congregation until he passed away at the age of thirty-nine in 1912. He had been suffering from a chronic kidney issue for almost two years. The New Castle News of Monday, May 27, 1912, reported, “Bringing profound sorrow to his hosts of friends in Lawrence and Beaver counties, where he was well known, news of the death of the Rev. P. A. Dooley of St. Monica’s church, Wampum, became known last evening. His death occurred Sunday afternoon at 1 o’clock, in the New Castle hospital, this city, to which he was removed Saturday. He had been in failing health for some time past… Father Dooley was universally liked, both among the people of his parish and elsewhere, and his death will cause much sorrow. He was a man of unusual intellectual attainments and his genial, kindly manner and his earnest devotion to his church, had won him hundreds of friends… In addition to his mother, who is in Ireland, he is survived by three brothers in Ireland and one in this country, who is Edward Dooley of Bridgeville, Pa. He leaves also four sisters, all of whom are in Ireland.”
A funeral service was held at St. Monica Church on the morning of Wednesday, May 29, and was preceded over by the Rev. Florence F. O’Shea of St. Mary Catholic Church in New Castle. The New Castle News of Thursday, May 30, 1912, mentioned, “Some 50 or 60 of the clergy, as well as hundreds of others, from Wampum, Ellwood, Pittsburg and New Castle districts, attended the funeral of the Rev. P. A. Dooley of St. Monica’s church, Wampum, Wednesday morning. The high mass of requiem was a most impressive ceremony, and the church was crowded with friends of the departed priest, who was known to clergymen and laity alike as a man of brilliant intellectual attainments and a most devoted worker. The Rt. Rev. Regis Canevin of Pittsburg, bishop of the diocese, was present… Many accompanied the funeral party to Pittsburg, where the interment was made in St. Mary’s cemetery. Father O’Shea went to Pittsburg with others, being in charge of arrangements.”
Dooley was succeeded by the Reverend Thomas J. Walsh, who served as pastor for the next two years. He worked hard to pay off the debt incurred in the building of the church. The New Castle News of Thursday, January 29, 1914, reported, “A look of expectancy is to be seen in the faces of many of the young people of Wampum as the result of the announcement that the young people of St. Monica’s parish will hold a social in the form of a dance and serving of refreshments in the very near future. The affair will be held in the Wampum opera house and the proceeds will be used for the benefit of St. Monica’s church. It is expected to be of the usual successful character of all entertainments held by this parish. It will also be pleasing news to the members and friends of the parish to know that the church has just passed through a very successful year. Since Rev. Fr. Walsh has been in charge of St. Monica’s, the church debt has been materially reduced and the past year has been no exception, as the principal was reduced $500, in addition to the paying of the interest on the indebtedness and other obligations of the parish.”
The Reverend Francis A. Maloney took over as pastor in late 1915 and guided the congregation for the next twenty-seven years. Many local residents from the Wampum-Chewton area were united in marriage in the small church. One such wedding was that Polish immigrants Mary Modzelewski and Waclaw Kubinski, who went on to operate a general store in Chewton for the next thirty years. The New Castle News of Tuesday, October 29, 1940, reported, “Miss Mary Modilszewska (sic) of Wampum was united in marriage to Waclew Kubinski of 23 North Liberty street, in the St. Monica church of Wampum, on Saturday morning at 9 o’clock. Rev. Fr. (James) Harvey officiated, using the double ring service. Miss Sophie Kubinski, niece of the bridegroom, was maid of honor, and Steve Holodnik served as best man. A reception followed in White Eagle Hall at Chewton, and a wedding dinner was served. Music was under the direction of Victor Owoc. Mr. and Mrs. Kubinski are on a wedding trip to Chicago, and upon returning, will be at home to friends in Wampum, where they will reside.”
Maloney departed in 1942 and was succeeded a host of assistant and senior pastors to include James Harvey, Edmund F. Rowan, Frederick A. Atkinson, Frances Lezniak, Norbert J. Schramm, and Richard V. Paluse. In June 1951 the Reverend Edmund J. Sheedy arrived and took over as pastor of St. Monica’s and also of St. Teresa’s in Koppel. Sheedy worked hard to open the new St. Monica and St. Teresa parochial school in Koppel in the fall of 1952.
The New Castle News of Wednesday, May 5, 1954, reported, “St. Monica’s Catholic church in Wampum is the scene today of an outstanding celebration with, the members and visiting clergy uniting in a 50th anniversary observance. Led by Rev. Edmond A. Sheedy, present pastor of the congregation, the event opened at 10:30 a.m. with a solemn pontifical high mass being conducted by Bishop John F. Dearden of the Pittsburgh diocese. Assisting in the pontifical mass will be Frs. Atkinson, Rowland, Sullivan, O’Neil, Lisnirk, Schramm and Stubanitz. Some 60 priests will be present for the celebration with a group of 130 children and adults to be confirmed. Rev. Sheedy was instrumental in getting a parochial school started in the parish and is located in Koppel. It has an enrollment of 167 and is manned by five sisters of the Holy Ghost of West View, Pa.”
St. Teresa’s in Koppel was granted status as an independent parish/church in May 1962 and provided with its own fulltime pastor. Sheedy continued on at St. Monica’s until he retired, at the age of seventy, in September 1965. He was granted the status of pastor emeritus of St. Monica Church, but died the following August while residing in a retirement home in Canton, Ohio. He was succeeded by the Reverend George P. Stuparitz, who had previously served as assistant pastor of the church from 1952-1957 before taking an assignment in the Bloomfield section of Pittsburgh. Stuparitz served for almost three years before being reassigned to McKeesport in June 1968. He was replaced by the Reverend John P. Flaherty, a Duquesne University graduate who had previously done an eight-year stint as assistant pastor of the church.
Flaherty spent ten years in charge of the congregation until he died rather tragically. At 9:00am on Sunday, November 5, 1978, Flaherty, suffering from the effects of cancer, stopped his car on the turnpike bridge over the Beaver River. A passing motorist observed Flaherty as he climbed over the railing and jumped from the high span. His body was recovered by a Beaver County dive team later that afternoon. A solemn funeral service was held at the church on Wednesday, November 8, as the congregation said their goodbyes. Among the attendees was the Most Reverend Vincent M. Leonard, the Bishop of Pittsburgh from 1969-1983. Flaherty was laid to rest in Calvary Cemetery in Pittsburgh.
The Reverend Stuparitz returned a few weeks later to take over as pastor, his third assignment at the church. The New Castle News of Saturday, November 25, 1978, reported, “Father Stuparitz has been a priest for 32 years. He was ordained in June of 1946 and his first appointment was at St. Francis DeSales Parish in McKees Rocks, from there he came to St. Monica’s the first time. He was assigned as an assistant pastor of St Joseph’s Church in Bloomfield and from there came back to St. Monica’s as pastor. When he left the second time, in 1968, he told the members of the parish, he would be back, because he loved the people of the Wampum area, and hoped to stay there working with them.”
In November 1989 the Most Reverend Donald W. Wuerl, the Bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988-2006, initiated the Parish Reorganization and Revitalization Plan. The goal of the project, deemed necessary by a growing loss of parishioners and a lack of priests, was to consolidate parishes and maximize the use of available resources. After preliminary studies it was announced in June 1991 that 129 of the 332 parishes within the diocese were being examined for possible merger or suppression (closure). Seven churches/parishes in Lawrence County were among the earliest slated for reorganization. They included St. Monica Church but also Holy Cross in West Pittsburg, St. Joseph in Ellport, and St. Margaret, St. Lucy, S.S. Philip & James, and St. Michael in New Castle. Many of the affected congregations were dismayed by the news and aired their grievances.
The New Castle News of Saturday, June 15, 1991, reported, “St. Monica’s Church in Wampum is appealing the review board’s ruling that it needs reorganization. Its pastor, the Rev. George Stuparitz, is retiring as of Monday. A replacement has been named. “The main reason we’re appealing is we’re the only (Catholic) parish in a (40-square-mile) area, “Stuparitz said. “The only thing they got us on was the lack of members. Financially and everything else we’re stable. … We’ve been self-sufficient for about 90 years. I think we can go a few more.” Stuparitz said his church has been hurt by young people moving from the area to find jobs. He said that in the mid-1960s, the parish had 200 grade-school students and 75 in high school. Today, there are about 60 of grade-school age and 30 in high school. “We don’t have any young families to speak of,” he said. He said diocesan leaders don’t understand the climate of a small church. “We’re a small parish, that’s all there is to it,” he said, adding that population growth from the completion of Pa. 60 is its only hope to get larger.”
After the retirement of Stuparitz in June 1991 the Reverend William M. Miller took over as pastor. Just over a year later it was announced that the churches in the Ellwood City area were to be reorganized. St. Joseph of Ellport would be closed on August 28, 1992, while St. Agatha and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ellwood City would receive new pastors. St. Teresa and St. Monica would be officially merged on August 30, 1992, to become the new Queen of Heaven Parish. Both of the churches, under the care of the Reverend Joseph R. Lemp, remained open as “worship sites.” Lemp, a native of Pittsburgh who ordained in 1956, had been serving as the pastor of St. Teresa Church since 1986.
On Sunday, July 10, 2005, the congregation at Wampum held several events to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the church. A larger and more formal ceremony, to be attended by Bishop Wuerl, was scheduled for two months later on Sunday, September 11, 2005.
On the afternoon of Saturday, August 21, 2005, St. Monica Church was severely damaged by a powerful storm that swept through the Wampum area. A large hole was torn in the roof and caused damage to the sanctuary. The building was shuttered while temporary repairs were made to the roof. The 150 members of the congregation began attending services in Koppel. Unfortunately, the 100th anniversary celebration, just a few weeks away, had to be cancelled.
Worse yet, the Reverend Lemp, at the age of seventy-five, suffered a stroke about a month later and was hospitalized in Beaver. He suffered another stroke in the hospital and passed away on Friday, September 30, 2005. Bishop Wuerl, soon to depart for an important conference at the Vatican, was at his bedside and administered the last rites. The parishioners were devastated by the news. A funeral mass was held at St. Teresa Church on the morning of Tuesday, October 4, 2005, and presided over by the Reverends Paul Bradley and William Winter. Among the esteemed attendees was the Most Reverend Adam J. Maida, a longtime friend who was serving as the Archbishop of Detroit. Lemp was interred in St. Agatha Cemetery that same afternoon.
St. Monica’s remained closed and in a state of limbo as church officials wrestled with the future of the small parish. In February 2006 the Reverend Joseph P. Pudichery was appointed to take over as pastor of Queen of Heaven Parish. Later that year, after studying the situation, he recommended to the diocese that the church in Wampum be permanently closed. It took some time but St. Monica Church was officially closed at the end of September 2008 – 105 years after it was established as an independent church.
The former church on Clyde Street was put up for sale by the diocese and was purchased by local businessman and civic leader Jim Ferrante in May 2010. He completely renovated the building and reopened it in early 2013 as the Wampum Chapel Center, a full-service wedding and banquet facility available for rent. Despite the upgrades the old look of the church has been graciously preserved as best as possible. The name of the old church was revived within the diocese in July 2013 when four churches in northern Beaver County were merged to form the new St. Monica Parish.
To read an article about the dedication of the church in July 1905 click on: DEDICATION ARTICLE.
An old photo possibly taken during the dedication of St. Monica’s Church on Sunday, July 9, 1905. You can see that the bell tower is open at the time, but enclosed in later pictures.
New Castle Weekly Herald Wednesday Jul 12, 1905
A view of St. Monica’s Church in Wampum at it’s dedication. (Jul 1905)
St. Monica’s was dedicated in 1905 and served the local community for a century. It was damaged by a storm in 2005 and was never reopened for services. (Feb 2011)
Old photo of Sunday school class from what I believe is 1915.
Sunday school class c1945.
Old photo of Sunday school class in about 1945. Carol Grace Aiello is in front row and second from right end. Notice the different style of doors from the last photo.
Sunday school class from about 1946-47.
I believe this is the St. Monica’s Choir in 1930. Mary LaPatka (Aiello) is in first row second from right end and George LaPatka is all the way in back.
Photo showing the inside of St. Monica’s. Taken during the wedding of Bill Gierlach and Carol Jean DeMarc on July 13, 1974.
Gierlach-DeMarc wedding party inside St. Monica’s on July 13, 1974. Yes, that’s me – the little dude with the thrilled look on his face.
Looking down Kay Street towards St. Monica’s. Jul 2009.
A view of the front entrance of the abandoned church. Apr 2010.
Looking skyward from the front steps. Apr 2010.
An aerial view of the former St. Monica’s Catholic Church. The old Wampum High School can be seen in upper left corner. (c2012)