The Italian Christian Assembly Church, a local Pentecostal order led by the Reverend Frank A. Maruso (1903-1976), was founded in New Castle, Pennsylvania, in 1925. The congregation, which catered to Italian immigrants of the Pentecostal faith, was aligned with the Italian Christian Church denomination that was founded in Chicago, Illinois, in 1907.
Services were held at various locations in the coming years. The New Castle News of Saturday, March 30, 1929, mentioned, “The Italian Christian Assembly, which has been holding its services at the Pentacostal Tabernacle, South street, will hold its Sunday service at the Central Christian Church, located on Long avenue and Pennsylvania avenue, at 2:30 p.m. It is for all who desire to attend and especially for the Italian speaking people of the city.”
At some point a church building was opened at #215 Taylor Street. In the spring of 1939 the congregation applied for an official charter as the Christian Assembly Church of New Castle. It appears the name “Italian” was dropped from the official name. A small mission church was also founded on Thirteenth Street in West Pittsburg, which later became independent. In 1948 the national organization dropped the “Italian” from its name and became known as the Christian Church of North American (CCNA).
Frank Maruso served as pastor of the church for many years until he departed in 1948 for a new position in New Jersey. Years later he took a position with the church on a national level and returned to reside in New Castle. Maruso was succeeded by the Reverend James Lipiano, who served as pastor until he departed for a new assignment in Erie in May 1955. The Reverend Vincent A. Riniti soon arrived from a secular assignment in New York City and took over as pastor.
In 1957 the congregation started raising funds in anticipation of erecting a new building. About seven years later, in February 1964, they purchased a prominent lot at #905 Highland Avenue for $31,000. The site was formerly the site of a magnificent mansion built for oil tycoon Thomas W. Phillips back in about 1902. Phillips died in 1912 and afterwards his grandson Charles H. Johnson Jr. resided in the home for many years until he passed away in early 1955. After his widow Marie Langford Johnson passed away in 1957 and home generally sat vacant. The Johnson heirs, including wealthy philanthropist Grace Phillips Johnson, had the mansion completed stripped and dismantled in late 1961 before selling the two-acre property. The congregation also acquired a home on Winter Avenue in 1965 for use as a parsonage.
Meanwhile, the plans for a new church building progressed. The congregation also reacquired the sister church in West Pittsburg and began providing services there as well. Within a few years the small house of worship in West Pittsburg was closed. In early 1968 the congregation sold their old church building on Taylor Street to the United Labor Club as plans for a new church, designed by the architectural firm of W. G. Eckles, got underway. In the meantime they held their services at the YMCA and in the Epworth United Methodist Church. The new Christian Assembly Church cost $275,000 and was dedicated on Sunday, April 20, 1969.
By the time the Reverend Riniti departed in June 1970 for a new assignment in Alhambra, California, the congregation had been completely transformed. He was succeeded as pastor by Harris S. McSkimming from 1970-1979, Louis L. Trotta from 1979-1980, Louis A. Lagatta from 1980-1986, and Michael A. Trotta from 1986-2003.
By late 2003 the congregation, facing some turmoil, severed its affiliation with the Christian Church of North America (CCNA) and soon realigned itself with the Church of God (Pentacostal) based in Cleveland, Tennessee. In became known as the Highland Avenue Church of God and was served by an interim pastor for the time being. In March 2005 the congregation merged with the Ray Street Church of God and formed the New Castle Church of God. The congregation utilized the Highland Avenue location and came under the leadership of the Reverend Ron Mounts, the longtime pastor of the Ray Street Church of God. The congregation, under the expert tutelage of the Bishop Ron Mounts and his wife Karen Mounts, is still in service today.
In February 1964 the congregation purchased a two-acre along Highland Avenue that was once the location of the magnificent home (shown above) of oil tycoon T. W. Phillips. The house had been dismantled just a few years prior. (c1905)
Fundraising efforts continued throughout the mid-1960’s as the congregation planned to erect a new church at the Highland Avenue location. The above drawing, presumably by the architectural firm of W. G. Eckles, shows an early design of the church. It would be built without the tall spire. Groundbreaking ceremonies took place in March 1968 and the new Assembly Christian Church, which cost $275,000, was dedicated on Sunday, April 20, 1969. (1968) Full Size
The Bishop Ron Mounts has served the New Castle Church of God since its inception (after a merger of two congregations) in late 2003. He had previously been serving as the pastor of the Ray Street Church of God since the fall of 1974. (2004)
The building later became home to the Highland Church of God, currently under the tutelage of Senior Pastors Ron and Karen Mounts. According to their website the congregation, “…is part of the world’s oldest continuing Pentecostal fellowship, the Church of God, with international headquarters in Cleveland, TN. This international organization operates over 5,000 churches in the United States and remains one of the fastest growing fellowships in the world.” (Mar 2012) Full Size
The Church of God occupies the former site of the magnificent home of Thomas W. Phillips (1832-1912), a U.S. Congressman, religious leader, and founder of the T. W. Phillips Gas & Oil Company. The church bought the property in 1964 for $31,000. They subsequently razed the large Phillips mansion and erected the modern church. (Jul 2013) Full Size
(Apr 2017) Full Size
(Apr 2017) Full Size
The Bishop Ron Mounts holds up a drawing of the old Phillips mansion which once occupied the location of the church. (Apr 2017)
That’s me (Jeff) posing with Ron Mounts. We had a good time that day! (Apr 2017)