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A Brief History of the Diocese of Pittsburgh
The first Mass in the territory of what would be the Diocese of Pittsburgh was celebrated on April 17, 1754 by Fr. Denys Baron, a
chaplain to the French garrison at Fort Duquesne at the Point. From those humble beginnings, the history of the diocese began.
For the ninety years following the first Mass, the Catholic population in southwestern Pennsylvania region steadily grew, and the Catholic Church grew with it. In 1808, Pittsburgh’s first Catholic parish, Saint Patrick’s in the Strip District, was established. Twenty years later, in 1828, the first Catholic school in the city of Pittsburgh was opened by the Sisters of St. Clare in what is now the city’s North Side.
During this period of early growth, the entire state of Pennsylvania was part of the Diocese of Philadelphia. On August 8, 1843, the diocese was split in half, forming the Diocese of Pittsburgh in the west and Philadelphia in the east. The Irish-born first bishop of Pittsburgh, Bishop Michael J. O’Connor, had served as the vicar general under Bishop Francis Kenrick of Philadelphia and assumed control of the fledgling diocese amidst strong anti-Catholic prejudice and violence.
In part to combat anti-Catholic prejudice, the diocesan newspaper the Pittsburgh Catholic began in 1844. The paper is presently one of the oldest Catholic newspapers in the United States in current circulation and is the second-largest in circulation in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
The last half of the nineteenth century was challenging for the diocese. Catholic immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe seeking work in the steel mills swelled the population. The city was rife with ethnic and labor strife, money was scarce, and anti-
Catholicism was still prevalent. For several decades, the diocese was internally focused, helping immigrants adjust to American society, building schools and parishes, and solidifying its position.
During the early years of the twentieth century, the pace of the church in Pittsburgh’s development began to quicken. In 1908, the United States was finally removed from the list of mission territories. Throughout the United States, the Catholic Church had reached what the Jesuit historian Fr. James Hennesey has called “the end of the beginning.” American Catholics began to emerge out of their cultural and social isolation, seeking to prove that they were just as important, just as strong, and just as American as their Protestant peers.
In Pittsburgh, the growing strength of the Catholic Church was symbolized by Bishop J. F. Regis Canevin, the fifth bishop of Pittsburgh. Born in Beatty, Westmoreland County, Bishop Canevin was the first native son—and the first American-born priest—to become bishop of the diocese.
Throughout his tenure, Bishop Canevin sought to strengthen the diocese’s ability to improve the life of the region as a whole. During the outbreak of the Spanish Influenza following the First World War, the centralized structure that he developed in the Catholic Church in Pittsburgh allowed it to spring into action to help people of every ethnic background and creed.
Bishop Canevin strengthened the financial picture of Catholic institutions as well. Specializing in whirlwind campaigns, he raised millions of today’s dollars to endow Catholic Charities, which had begun under his tenure, and Duquesne University, the Catholic university begun by the Congregation of the Holy Spirit in 1878.
Following the retirement of Bishop Canevin in 1921, Bishop Hugh Boyle, another native son, took charge of the diocese. Born in Johnstown, PA, Bishop Boyle would be bishop until 1950, giving him the longest tenure of all the bishops in Pittsburgh. Through the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, the Second World War and the early years of the Cold War, Bishop Boyle guided the diocese with a steady hand.
In August 1931, he also became the first bishop of Pittsburgh to use the emerging mass media, when he took to the airwaves of WCAE (later WTAE) to ask for money to rebuild the Little Sisters of the Poor’s Home for the Aged, which had been tragically destroyed in a fire a few weeks before.
During the 1950s, the city of Pittsburgh was in its prime. The diocese experienced tremendous growth under Cardinal John Dearden, who would go on to become cardinal archbishop of Detroit. Catholics moved to the suburbs, parishes and schools boomed, and the Catholic Church was quickly becoming an accepted part of American society.
Since its formation in 1843, the territory of the Diocese of Pittsburgh had changed several times. In 1853, its northern counties became the Diocese of Erie, and in 1901, the counties in the around Altoona and Johnstown became the Diocese of Altoona-
Johnstown. Early in Cardinal Dearden’s tenure, Westmoreland, Armstrong, Indiana and Fayette Counties split from the diocese to form the Diocese of Greensburg in 1951. Since then, the diocese has had six counties: Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Greene, Lawrence, and Washington.
The 1960s brought the Second Vatican Council and tremendous change to the Catholic Church. A brilliant intellect who played a part in the Second Vatican Council, Cardinal John Wright sought to steer the diocese through those changes and the tumultuous years of the Vietnam War. The task of implementing the Second Vatican Council in Pittsburgh, however, would fall to Cardinal Wright’s successor, Bishop Vincent Leonard.
Bishop Leonard had to contend with one of the most difficult decades in Pittsburgh’s history. Though it had been declining gradually for decades, the bottom fell out of Pittsburgh’s steel economy during the 1970s. With the recession of the early 1980s, the economic future of the region looked bleak. Population declined drastically, and parishes and schools suffered.
After the short tenure of Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, Bishop Donald W. Wuerl assumed leadership of a diocese with an uncertain future. Throughout the 1990s, the diocese underwent a sometimes painful reorganization process as parishes and schools were closed to reflect the region’s demographics. Nationally recognized as “the education bishop,” Bishop Wuerl would emphasize Catholic education and catechesis for all ages and in all media, including a television program based on his best-selling adult
catechism, “The Teaching of Christ.” Bishop Wuerl would become Archbishop of Washington, DC in 2006.
Bishop David A. Zubik was installed as the twelfth bishop of Pittsburgh on September 28, 2007, and announced in his first pastoral letter on June 29, 2008 his goal of a Church Alive! Dividing diocesan administration under four regional vicars, he has overseen a reorganization of diocesan offices geared to serve the needs of the 204 parishes of the diocese while energizing the lay faithful. Despite continuing population decline in the region, under Bishop Zubik’s leadership the diocese remains one of the largest in the country, with 640,000 Catholics or 34 percent of the population in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Born September 27, 1810 at Cobb, Ireland; ordained June 1, 1833; appointed first Bishop of Pittsburgh August 11, 1843; consecrated August 15, 1843; transferred to first Bishop of Erie July 29, 1853; transferred to Pittsburgh December 20, 1853; resigned May 23, 1860; entered the Society of Jesus December 22, 1860; died October 18, 1872 at Woodstock, Maryland; buried in Jesuit cemetery at Woodstock, Maryland.
Right Reverend Michael Domenec, C.M., D.D.
Born December 27, 1816 at Ruez, Spain; ordained June 30, 1839; appointed Bishop of Pittsburgh September 28, 1860; consecrated December 9, 1860; transferred to first Bishop of Allegheny, January 11, 1876; resigned July 29, 1877; died January 5, 1878 at Tarragona, Spain; buried at Tarragona, Spain.
Right Reverend John Tuigg, D.D.
Born February 19, 1820 at Donoughmore, Ireland; ordained May 14, 1850; appointed Bishop of Pittsburgh January 11, 1876; consecrated March 19, 1876; appointed Apostolic Administrator of Allegheny sede vacante 1877; died December 7, 1889 at Altoona, Pennsylvania; buried at Saint John Cemetery, Altoona, Pennsylvania.
Right Reverend Richard Phelan, D.D.
Born January 1, 1828 at Ballyragget, Ireland; ordained May 4, 1854; appointed Titular Bishop of Cibyra and Coadjutor to the Right Reverend John Tuigg, D.D. May 12, 1885; consecrated August 2, 1885; succeeded to Pittsburgh December 7, 1889; died December 20, 1904 at Idlewood, Pennsylvania; buried at Saint Mary Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Most Reverend J.F. Regis Canevin, D.D.
Born June 5, 1853 at Beatty, Pennsylvania; ordained June 4, 1879; appointed Titular Bishop of Sabrata and Coadjutor Bishop of Pittsburgh January 16, 1903; consecrated February 24, 1903; succeeded to Pittsburgh December 20, 1904; appointed Titular Archbishop of Pelusium January 9, 1921; died March 22, 1927 at Pittsburgh; buried at Saint Mary Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Most Reverend Hugh C. Boyle, D.D.
Born October 8, 1873 at Johnstown, Pennsylvania; ordained July 2, 1898; appointed Bishop of Pittsburgh June 16, 1921; consecrated June 29, 1921: died December 22, 1950 at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; buried at Saint Mary Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
His Eminence John Cardinal Dearden, S.T.D.
Born October 15, 1907 at Valley Falls, Rhode Island; ordained December 8, 1932; appointed Titular Bishop of Sarepta and Coadjutor Bishop of Pittsburgh March 13, 1948; consecrated May 18, 1948; succeeded to Pittsburgh, December 22, 1950; installed Archbishop of Detroit, December 18, 1958: created Cardinal April 28, 1969; resigned July 16, 1988; died August 2, 1988 at Southfleld, Michigan; buried in Detroit, Michigan.
His Eminence John Cardinal Wright, S.T.D.
Born July 18, 1909 at Dorchester, Massachusetts; ordained December 8, 1935; appointed Titular Bishop of Aegeae and Auxiliary Bishop of Boston May 10, 1947; consecrated June 30, 1947; transferred to first Bishop of Worcester, January 28, 1950; transferred to Pittsburgh January 23, 1959; to the Roman Curia as Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy April 23, 1969; created Cardinal April 28, 1969; resigned from Pittsburgh, June 1, 1969; died August 10, 1979 at Cambridge, Massachusetts; buried in Boston, Massachusetts.
Most Reverend Vincent M. Leonard, D.D.
Born December 11, 1908 at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; ordained June 16, 1935; appointed Titular Bishop of Arsacal and Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh February 28, 1964; consecrated April 21. 1964; succeeded to Pittsburgh, June 1, 1969; resigned June 30, 1983; died August 28, 1994 at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; buried at Calvary Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
His Eminence Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua, J.C.D., J.D.
Born June 17, 1923 at Brooklyn, New York; ordained June 11, 1949; appointed Titular Bishop of Aquae Albae in Byzacena and Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn October 4, 1980; consecrated November 24, 1980; appointed Bishop of Pittsburgh October 10, 1983; installed Bishop of Pittsburgh December 12, 1983; installed Archbishop of Philadelphia February 11, 1988; created Cardinal June 29, 1991; resigned October 7, 2003.
His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl, S.T.D.
Born November 12, 1940 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; ordained to the priesthood December 17, 1966; appointed Titular Bishop of Rosemarkie and Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle, Washington December 3, 1985; consecrated January 6, 1986; appointed Bishop of Pittsburgh February 12, 1988; installed March 25, 1988; installed Archbishop of Washington, DC June 22, 2006.
Auxiliary Bishops of the Diocese of Pittsburgh
Most Rev. William John Waltersheid (2011-present)
Most Reverend William John Waltersheid was born on November 18, 1956 in Ashland , Pennsylvania , the son of the late William F. and Margaret M. (Deane) Waltersheid. He was baptized in St. Joseph Church in Locust Gap where he spent his childhood and early adult years. An only child, he lived with his parents and maternal grandfather.
He was educated in the Mount Carmel Area School System and was given religious instruction by the Sisters of St. Felix of Cantalice (Felician Sisters) of Holy Spirit School in Mount Carmel . After having graduated high school in 1974, he worked in the health care field. He was graduated from the Pottsville Hospital School of Nursing in 1983. Bishop Waltersheid was very active in his home parish of St. Joseph in Locust Gap and taught CCD in neighboring parishes as an adult.
In 1985 he was accepted as a candidate for the seminary formation program of the Diocese of Harrisburg. He studied at St. John Seminary College in Brighton, Massachusetts and received a Bachelor's Degree in Liberal Arts with a concentration in philosophy and classical languages.
In 1988 Bishop Waltersheid was sent by the Most Reverend William H. Keeler to the Pontifical North American College in Rome for continued formation for the priesthood. He received a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology in 1991 from the Pontifical Gregorian University and a Licentiate in Dogmatic Theology from that same university in 1993.
He was ordained a deacon in Rome on April 30, 1992 by His Eminence Pio Cardinal Laghi and a priest in Harrisburg on July 11, 1992 by the Most Reverend Nicholas C. Dattilo.
He remained in Rome for further studies until 1995 when he returned to the Diocese of Harrisburg and was assigned as parochial vicar at Prince of Peace Parish in Steelton. In 1999 Father Waltersheid returned to Rome and served on the faculty of the Pontifical North American College until 2003. He served for one year as Director of Apostolic Works and then for three years as Vice Rector of the seminary.
In June of 2003 he was appointed Pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Carlisle. In June of 2006 he was appointed Diocesan Secretary for Clergy and Consecrated Life by the Most Reverend Kevin C. Rhoades.
On February 25, 2011 it was announced that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI appointed him Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and Titular Bishop of California.
Most Reverend Coleman F. Carroll, D.D. (1953-1958)
Born February 9, 1905 at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; ordained June 15, 1930; appointed Titular Bishop of Pitanae and Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh August 25, 1953; consecrated November 10, 1953; appointed first Bishop of Miami, Florida August 8, 1958; installed first Bishop of Miami, Florida October 7, 1958; first Archbishop of Miami, Florida March 2, 1968: died July 26, 1977 at Miami, Florida.
Most Reverend Vincent M. Leonard, D.D. (1964-1969)
Born December 11, 1908 at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; ordained June 16, 1935; appointed Titular Bishop of Arsacal and Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh February 28, 1964; consecrated April 21, 1964; succeeded to Pittsburgh, June 1, 1969; resigned June 30, 1983; died August 28, 1994 at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Most Reverend John B. McDowell, Ph.D. (1966-1996)
Born July 17, 1921 at New Castle, Pennsylvania; ordained November 4, 1945; appointed Titular Bishop of Tamazuca and Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh July 19, 1966; consecrated September 8, 1966; resigned September 30, 1996; died February 25, 2010 at Pittsburgh, PA.
Most Reverend Anthony G. Bosco, J.C.L. (1970-1987)
Born August 1, 1927 at New Castle, Pennsylvania; ordained June 7, 1952; appointed Titular Bishop of Labico and Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh May 14, 1970; consecrated June 30, 1970; appointed Bishop of Greensburg, Pennsylvania April 2, 1987; installed Bishop of Greensburg, Pennsylvania June 30, 1987; resigned March 4, 2004.
Most Reverend William J. Winter, S.T.D. (1989-2005)
Born May 20, 1930 at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; ordained December 17, 1955; appointed Titular Bishop of Uthina and Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh December 21, 1988; consecrated February 13, 1989; resigned May 20, 2005.
Most Reverend Thomas J. Tobin, D.D. (1992-1996)
Born April 1, 1948 at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; ordained July 21, 1973; appointed Titular Bishop of Novica and Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh November 3, 1992; consecrated December 27, 1992; appointed Bishop of Youngstown, Ohio December 5, 1995; installed Bishop of Youngstown, Ohio February 2, 1996; appointed Bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, March 31, 2005; installed Bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, May 31, 2005.
Most Reverend David A. Zubik, D.D. (1997- 2003)
Born September 4, 1949 at Sewlckley, Pennsylvania; ordained May 3, 1975; appointed Titular Bishop of Jamestown and Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh February 18, 1997; consecrated April 6, 1997; appointed Bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin October 9, 2003; installed Bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin, December 12, 2003.
Most Reverend Paul J. Bradley, D.D. (2005-2009)
Born October 18, 1945 at Glassport, Pennsylvania; ordained May 1, 1971; appointed Titular Bishop of Afufenia, Africa and Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh December 16, 2004; consecrated February 2, 2005; appointed Bishop of Kalamazoo, April 6, 2009; installed Bishop of Kalamazoo, June 5, 2009.