Church History

An excerpt from the book
“Allentown, the Story of a Pittsburgh Neighborhood."

Chapter 3, CHURCHES AND SCHOOLS pg. 63

St. George Church was derived from St. Michael's Parish on the South Side, which was founded in 1848, and it also was an offshoot of St. Peter's Parish on the South Side, which was founded in 1871. St. Michael's was the oldest German parish south of the Ohio and Monongahela rivers.

Before the middle of the century, the German people had neither church nor priest anywhere near the hilltop section of Allegheny County. All that the English-speaking people had was a small chapel that measured 20 by 40 feet in an area southwest of what became downtown Pittsburgh, where a traveling priest visited to perform services once a month. Many German settlers took a ferry across the river to the northern and eastern side of town to go to church.

Overcrowding in both St. Michael's and St. Peter's led to the birth of a group of small parishes in south Pittsburgh communities, including St. George in Allentown. Among the others were St. Mary's, Chartiers Creek; St. Joseph, Mount Oliver; St. Wendelin's of Baldwin Township, which later became

Carrick and St Martin's of Temperencville, which later became the West End.

On Januay 18, 1886, the Diocese of Pittsburgh purchased the St. George parish grounds from the Jacob Schaeffer estate for $7,000 and signed a contract worth $21,400 with Benz Brothers for the construction of the church. Work started on July 22, 1886.

The original supporters of St. George contributed a total of $1,148, according to the official pledge list of 112 names. Charles Fischer, who donated the largest amount, had the honor of naming the new Allentown church. Some 200 hill-top families migrated there from St. Michael's.

Bishop Richard Phelan laid the cornerstone on September 8, 1886 as an audience of 2,000 people witnessed the event. The bishop addressed them in English and Reverend J. Suehr addressed them in German. Reverend F.J. Kaib, St. George's first pastor, lived in a small house on Proctor Way at the time.

Ethel Marie Wilhelm was the first baby to be baptized at St. George Parish. She was christened at home since the church was not ready yet.

Both the first wedding and funeral at St. George were held on November 25, 1886. The married couple were Charles Lundell and Lia Young. The deceased was Gebhard Meyer.

The first Christmas Mass at St. George was celebrated a month later at a temporary altar in the church basement.

The three bells for St. George Church were cast in Baltimore, Maryland. “The St. George,” which was paid for by the parish branch of the Knights of St. George, weighed 2,667 pounds; “The St. Alphonsus,” which was donated by Mr. Hogeniller, weighed 1,450 pounds and “The Sacred Heart,” which was a gift from the Reverend Kaib, wieghed 700 pounds. Father Kaib blessed the bells during a special Sunday service on April 17, 1887.

On April 18, 1888, Father Kaib was replaced as pastor by Reverend Stephen Joseph Schramm, who was responsible for many accomplishments during his tenure at the parish.

Stephen Joseph Schramm was born on February 14, 1859. His family lived in McKees Rocks for a short time, then settled on a farm near Sharpsburg, where young Stephen became the hard worker he remained throughout his professional life.

He attended St. Mary School in Sharpsburg, and then entered St. Vincent College and Seminary in Latrobe in 1873. Following an assignment at St. John the Baptist Parish inThompson Run, Father Schramm arrived at St. George and took up residence on Allen Avenue.

Under Father Schramm's direction, St. George was formally organized as a parish.

While he was the pastor, the parish started many religious societies, including the Catholic Knights of St. George; the Ladies' Catholic Benevolent Society, which was organized to serve the families of recently deceased parishioners; the Men's Conference, which later was replaced by a local branch of the international Holy Name Society; the Christian Mother's Confraternity for married women; the Blessed Virgin Society for single women and the St. George Literary and Dramatic Society for men.

By May of 1886, the parish had its own cemetery on a large tract of land south of Allentown on Brownsville road. The cemetery was open for burials by the end of that year.

The growth of the parish created a need for another priest. Little time passed before Father Schramm asked for an assistant. Initially, the Benedictines from St. Vincent's Arch-abbey in Latrobe provided weekend help. In 1896, the diocese sent Reverend G. Bock to be Father Schramm's assistant. This was the same year that the rectory was built on the corner of Allen Avenue and Climax Street.

In 1901, Father Schramm was notified that Reverend Charles Steppling was to replace Father Bock as his assistant. Father Steppling stayed at St. George until July, 1902 when he was appointed pastor of St. Basil's in Carrick, a younger parish that also had predominantly German roots. Father Steppling was succeeded at St. George by Reverend Mangus Schaebler and then by Reverend Leo L. Mayer.

On May 6, 1907, the parish held a two-day celebration in honor of Father Schramm's 25th anniversary to the priesthood. A reception in the Turner Hall, featuring entertainment by the school children, was part of the festivities. Later, Father Schramm took a trip to Europe, the first vacation of his career.

By the end of the decade, the parish had to make plans for a new church building because the space in the existing building was insufficient to accommodate the numbers in the congregation.

Excavation for the new church began in 1910. Reverend Monsignor J. Suehr, Father Schramm and Reverend Aloysius Weisenberger laid the cornerstone for the new edifice on March 12, 1911 and celebrated mass.

Monsignor Suehr gave a sermon in English and Reverend Charles Steppling delivered the sermon in German.

The church was constructed in a year and a half and was completed on Sunday, July 7, 1912. Bishop Canevin presided at the dedication Mass held that day.

The three bells were transferred to a majestic tower in the new church. Features of the magnificent church also included brand new pews, a pipe organ and stained glass windows. The parish had grown large enough to merit acquiring a second assistant priest and Reverend Andrew J. Schaub was appointed.

St. George had a gala celebration in honor of Father Schramm's golden jubilee in the priesthood in May , 1932. On December 21, 1938, when the parish celebrated its own jubilee, members presented a new marble altar to the church. Similar to the Roman Basilicas, the new altar was covered with a baldachin supported by four, massive marble columns. Completing the sanctuary were a gilded cross standing 25 feet above the floor and a bronze-cast tabernacle with an interior and exterior of fine Roman gold. The altar was a gift of appreciation to Father Schramm for his faithful years of service and his inspiration to many young men of the parish to join the priesthood. Father Schramm remained pastor until his death on January 29, 1939.

The 1938 golden jubilee booklet listed the names of the parishioners who entered the priesthood.

Nearly 50 years later, on October 26, 1986, St. George celebrated its parish centennial. Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua was celebrant of the Mass of Thanksgiving for St. George's 100 years as a parish community. The capacity crowd in attendance included Mayor Richard S. Caliguiri.