Saturday, October 21, 2017
Register | Login
  Our Parish » Our History     
Our History

The Origins: 1944-85

At the conclusion of the Pleistocene age, our parish territory was facing the frontal barrier of a 20,000 year old glacial moraine. That original pile of boulders, now long excavated and used for local constructions, continues to provide the name to our park and has endowed our parish territory with uniquely appealing geological characteristics. Our campus sits on layers upon layers of petrified sediments, progressively receding into the most ancient geological past of our globe. Scholars assure that this goes back hundreds of millions of years to the time of Pangaea’s slow colliding of its tectonic plates. The water we pump from our wells emerges from the ancient aquifers that once formed the swamps of America's vast Jurassic Park. Some of our moraine's botanic survivors from the time of the dinosaurs continue to bloom every spring. The 'native' Indians first, some 20,000 years ago, and later in the 1700s the earliest European immigrants expelled from home by the religious persecutions settled here. Thanks to the latter, by around 1900, our Prospect Borough was a well-established and self-sufficient center. It was endowed with its newspaper, Elementary and High School, a variety of churches serving both Afro-American and white worshipers from different Christian denominations, a lawyer, a doctor, a dentist, a pharmacy and a general store. Catholics were the last to arrive and get organized. Our St. Christopher at the Lake is the youngest Catholic parish of Butler County. Its short history could be conveniently divided into three main periods: The Mission (1944-1974), the early attempts at establishing a parish life, structure and identity (1974-1984) and the recent re-organization (1985-). There are no records of a distinct Catholic institution in Prospect, Portersville, Mount Chestnut, West Liberty, Connoquenessing, Franklin, Muddy Creek and surrounding townships before World War II. Up to that time, the few farming Catholic families who had settled in our territory under a variety of circumstances. A family whose name will remain anonymous, even acknowledged that the grandfather had bought a farm here during the 'Prohibition' for one main purpose. During those years of financial & 'bibulous' hardship, he kept shuttling back and forth from Pittsburgh. Through his moonlighting activities conducted under cover in our rustic setting, he supported his partially interrupted former business by supplying his secretive bar customers. All these Catholics had to travel weekly to participate at Mass at the comparatively distant neighboring churches of Butler [10 miles away from our present center], Slippery Rock [12 miles], New Castle [15 miles] or Zelienople [13 miles]. After identifying the presence of some 30 Catholic families through a survey conducted in 1944, Fr. Peter Bernarding, the Pastor of St. Gregory in Zelienople, started to attend to the spiritual needs of the Catholics living in our present parish territory. He celebrate Mass at the former 'Rustic Inn,' located along Route 488 in Prospect, the home of Leo H. Miller. For the next four months, the priests of Zelienople alternated in celebrating Mass twice a month here, to an average audience of some 40 to 50 people. The children's catechism was taking place in Mrs. Bicehouse's home in Whitestown. When in July 1945, the owner of the former 'Rustic Inn' could no longer pay the mortgage on hi house, the monthly Masses were temporarily discontinued. The area Catholics then returned for Mass at the neighboring churches and appealed for help from the clergy of Butler.

On January 10, 1946, Monsignor William J. Spiegel, Pastor of St. Paul in Butler, applied and received the approval from the Bishop to attend to the spiritual need of our area Catholics. On February 17, 1946, the Prospect Borough granted him permission to use the now demolished Prospect Public Grade School building exclusively for the weekly Sunday Mass. This building's first floor, while 'condemned' for school purposes, was still used by the community for various activities. It could accommodate some 50 people. On December 8, 1948, Joseph C. Schultz's family sold the present 4 acres of our church campus to the 35 families' strong Catholic Mission of Prospect for $800.00. In the '50s, Margaret Flinner and other volunteers began to teach Catechism in the Prospect fire-hall. For a short while, in 1960-61, our CCD students were even bussed to St. Paul but with unsatisfactory results. The erection of our church building has a history of its own. In 1909, St. Paul in Butler tore down its old church to replace it with the present one. In the interim, they built a multi-purpose structure, they called 'the white building,' used as church, school, youth center, catechetical and social hall and gymnasium. With their new church completed and in need of space to erect the parochial school, in 1949 St. Paul donated the 'white building' to the families of the Mission in Prospect. The Grindel, Hudak, Jesteadt, McNaughton, Madden, Miller, Petrus and Yanovich families dismantled the 'White Building' and stored its salvaged lumber in their barns and garages. Starting in April 4, 1950, the Mission invested all its financial resources to re-assemble the 'White Building' as their new church, a simple 70-by-38-foot structure. John Kolak, a member of the Mission community, was the full-time carpenter of this project. In his design, Mr Kolak repeated the basic blueprint of the 'White Building'. They spent in this effort the Mission's $3,300 in saving and the borrowed $6,500 from the Butler Catholic cemetery fund. On the feast of St. Christopher, July 1951, Bishop John F. Deardon [later Cardinal of Detroit] assigned St. Christopher, protector of travelers as patron of our Mission and on July 16, 1952, came to dedicate the now completed church. At that point, the local Catholic community had grown to 60 families strong.

A contemporary news release reads: "Since Prospect is located at the crossroads of an old Indian trail now called US Highway # 528 [which once connected Fort Duquesne and Fort Venango, the first direct route between Pittsburgh and Erie] and State Highway # 422, the Mission is appropriately under the patronage of St. Christopher, the patron of travelers. It was near this area of the old 'Venango Trail' that George Washington narrowly escaped death at Buhl Hill when he was fired upon by a hostile Indian." In September 1961, the CCD classes moved to the church basement where volunteers would teach Catechism by out-shouting each other. That was plainly an unbearable and unrealistic educational environment and even the Bishop urged the parishioners to resolve that inconvenience as soon as possible. The first attempt to respond to the Bishop's request came only in 1982, when the Parish acquired two old trailers "for temporary CCD space". These facilities frequently broke down and turned out to be unsatisfactory. For a number of reasons, the rest of the campus, often insufficiently maintained, progressively fell into precarious condition, also. The rectory, church and hall were declared firetraps and failed to pass State inspection. Their damaged and non-insulated roofs and sidewalls were showing signs of progressive deterioration on the occasion of major storms. It was not unusual in winter to see inside the church that some inner walls were decorated by hanging icicles. When in 1984, St. Christopher presented an architect's blue print to the Diocesan Planning Commission for building a brand new, modern church, social center and a CCD building for an estimated cost of $720,000, the Diocesan Consulters blocked the implementation of the proposal as unrealistically expensive for the inadequate income of the parishioner's collections. That Diocesan evaluation triggered a sense of general dejection and paralysis in the community. In the meantime, the first ten years of St. Christopher as a parish were marked by an unwritten policy of just survival. Few, even among the newly settling 'immigrants', knew of the existence of St. Christopher. The demographic growth of the parish had been slow. By 1972, the Parish census was listing 132 Catholic families and the data of 233 households by 1985 was a significantly inflated figure. In 1974, the house of a Catholic couple living across from the Church was acquired for $24,400. With some improvised adjustments it was turned into our Rectory. That year Bishop Vincent Leonard elevated our Mission to the rank of full-fledged Parish. Its assigned territory was stretching from Prospect to the west of Route # 68, to Butler Twp, to Slippery Rock, to Lawrence County and to Harmony-Zelienople and Evans City. The priests assigned to our church, aware of the unusual conditions they were finding at St. Christopher, alternated in fast succession. Rev. Ignatius Koller was assigned as the 1st pastor. A hard worker, he expanded the Rectory to provide it with a garage, storage area, and some office space and donated a second-hand electronic carillon for our bell tower. In 1976, Fr. James Woods, a Scottish monk and an eager scholar, succeeded Fr. Koller as 2nd pastor. He updated our people to appreciate the post-Vatican teachings and to implement the new liturgical regulations. In 1978, Fr. Earnest Strelinski was appointed as the 3rd pastor. He revived and emphasized the popular devotions. But, the much too frequent alternation of Pastors after only two years of assignment each did not permit the possibility for large scale planning for the young parish and it hinted to the Chancery that things were not working properly here. So, when Fr. Blase Meyer succeeded Fr. Ernest, he was assigned with the title and limited pastoral authority of 'Parish Administrator' for the length of his assignment between 1980-85. After all, he was concomitantly also a full time post-graduate student of Duquesne University, majoring in spirituality. He left his special mark of personal gentleness and compassion.

The Waves of "Immigrants"

In the meantime, during the last 35 years, major unexpected and providential transformations took place in and around St. Christopher's parish territory. These eventually triggered unique opportunities for our development. What was then the Pennsylvania Department of Forests and Waters, encouraged by private foundations, in the late 1960s agreed to restore throughout our future parish territory one of the former glacial lakes that had existed 10,000 years ago, formed by the melting of the Wisconsin ice sheet, a lake that later had drained itself. The result was the creation of our enchanting Mc Connell's Mill and Moraine State Parks. The availability of these unexpected, vast recreational areas suddenly changed the local rustic characteristics and projected our territory in the public eye as a vast vacation resort area. This transformation played a major role in our demographic and socio-economic development. Most local 'old timers' sold their farms and the various titles they had accumulated on gas and oil wells and on deep underground and open strip mines. At that, the state land reclamation policies and the concomitant arrival of the various waves of 'city immigrants triggered a seller's market for real estate. Unlike in the neighboring Cranberry Township, large land developers did not take advantage of our relatively inexpensive real estate, reasonable taxes, bucolic setting and easy access to excellent major new highways. In their place, private initiative and investments changed our countryside. Tourist campgrounds and trailer courts for middle and lower class workers started to mushroom everywhere. The new owners were former city dwellers representing a variety of national, social, economic and religious backgrounds. Their coming reshuffled the religious and cultural composition of our local boroughs and townships. Previously, our area had been primarily populated by the long-established descendants of German Protestant farmers. But now, these waves of new settlers came from the descendants of immigrants that had originated from practically every European nation. They were neither interested in farming nor particularly curious about the customs of their new neighbors. They were in significantly large number Catholics, recently married or just starting their families. Above all the earliest arrivals did not possess much income, but they did not mind roughing it. Two or three generations before, their 'immigrant parents' had left Europe in totally destitute conditions, gambling that they would have a chance to survive in the American wilderness, their unexpected, providential 'promised land.' Our local new settlers of 1960s-70s had escaped the city world of their parents gambling that they and their children would have better opportunities of growth and expansion in this 'pristine' park surrounding. They were not alone in this experience, but part of an impressive nation-wide exodus, millions strong, that in those decades had also migrated to locations not un-like ours, away from the cities, and for similar reasons. They had abandoned the large, congested, multi-ethnic, often crime infested and tax burdened American metropolises to escape the overcrowding, the restlessness, the noise, the crime, the smog and the high cost of living of their place of birth. Many moved here looking for a "safer" place to establish their roots and search for, affirm and uphold their own cultural, social, moral and religious values. In general, these former city dwellers were a comparatively quiet and unobtrusive breed. Here was the 'prospect' they had longed for. Here they had met a community of total strangers that looked safe, friendly, welcoming and had its values straight; small towns seemingly out of time, with clapboard houses and wrap around porches, flags fluttering in the breeze, neatly repainted white small churches in their old picture perfect rural setting. Here was a cozy, innocent, protected and enticing environment where everybody could raise kids in safety around these green, hilly vacation parks and campgrounds. People competed planting their flowers, orchards and gardens. They landscaped their property, spruced up, painted, wallpapered and decorated their houses. It was all part of a fashionable back-to-nature trend. Less and less people needed to be tied to their urban centers by their jobs and older forms of transportation. The super highways, the new job requirements and changed technologies had made it possible for these parents to re-settle practically anywhere they wanted. Here in and around the townships and boroughs of Franklin, Muddy Creek, W. Liberty, Prospect, Lancaster, Mt. Chestnut, Princeton, Portersville, Connoquenessing and Unionville, people owned a hunters' and fishermen's paradise, with its multi-fingered lake, two dense parks interwoven by well kept walking trails. It was the best investment of their lives. Here they were no longer just a statistical number in the faceless, downtown crowd. They had now an identity and they and their children would soon make a difference. A few, in an unobtrusive, quiet way, started to even initiate more direct contact with the closely-knit, laid-back neighboring old timers. They were so plainly good folks, law abiding, church-going, unpretentious people interested in clean living, with some hunting and fishing on the side, mutual respect and quiet pursuit of peace of mind. But, the majority kept to themselves, just too busy with their jobs, house and family to join a church or do anything else. Perhaps they were waiting for some new opportunity to develop on its own.

Parish Reorganization: 1985-Present

While these various waves of cultural 'immigration' were unfolding, on January 26, 1985, Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua [now Cardinal of Philadelphia] decided to intervene and re-examine the situation of St. Christopher. When he appointed Fr. Matthew Tosello as the 4th Pastor of Prospect, he requested a detailed report explaining possible reasons for the lingering stunted growth and difficulties of our parish. He expected suggestions and possible solutions that would revamp the life of St. Christopher. After extensive consultations with various parishioners, the new pastor reported that the St. Christopher community was probably handicapped by a number of heterogeneous factors. Among these were, the parish's sudden, unanticipated demographic growth, its unusual vast composition from coetaneous settlers too young to have experienced leadership in their former parishes; their origin from parishes vastly scattered throughout Allegheny County, their lack of experience in mutual collaboration, their untested personal exposures to communal planning, the long neglected physical condition of the church campus, the parishioners' recent frustration with the Diocesan Planning consulters, St. Christopher's insufficient delineation and implementation of modern parish structures and the parish's chronic shortage of basic financial income. When the new census data were turned into statistical charts, they proved how most of the adult parishioners were in their late twenties and thirties. They were mostly newly married and raising a significantly large number of babies. Geographically they had settled wherever a lot of land had been offered on sale. Consequently they lived spread far apart from each other with minimal mutual contacts. They had arrived as unaccompanied, newly wed couples, or newly established nuclear families that had originated from different corners of Allegheny County. They missed their previous daily contacts with the members of their extended families. So one of their emotional uplifts consisted in returning weekly to Pittsburgh to visit their parents and nurture for a few hours their family emotional bonds. Having already spent most of their limited financial resources in acquiring their lot of land, most of these households were burdened further by a second mortgage invested in building their permanent homes and furnishing their trailers. They were stretching their dollar to attend to the other necessary expenses for their children, their insurance premiums and utilities. Too many of their daytime hours were spent in traveling to and from their distant jobs in Pittsburgh. They would return home exhausted. And, still, they easily kept changing jobs to assure better income, accepted less popular work shifts and agreed to move to far distant and better paying jobs. Living under those trying conditions, the promotion of closer contact among either Catholic or non-Catholic neighbors or people's involvement in parish programs, services, organizations and ministries was not a priority. So few had dedicated themselves to cultivate new roots with their fellow Catholics and the Church. It was no surprise that the previous Pastors, one after another, had found this situation hard to manage while trying to foster parish structures and a sense of commitment within the church community. So, on an experimental base, in 1985, the new Pastor, who all his life had been exposed to a variety of internationally different forms of coordinating church communities, suggested to our parishioners to adopt an unorthodox, 'Third World' form of running and experiencing life in the parish. Parishioners were reassured that, if needed, it was OK for them to cut down on their financial tithing contributions to the church as long as they would compensate by contributing as many hours of work as possible in running whatever service, ministry or menial work the parish needed. Since then, each confirmed adult and each new registering parishioner has been invited to face this radical alternative of membership in a parish, then select in writing, from a lengthy list of choices, and become responsible to manage some aspects of our parish life. According to this plan, our parishioners coordinate with the Pastor or report to their Parish coordinators their handling of their chosen parish projects. Thus, even the most financially strapped parishioners can prove to themselves how much they provide in Biblical tithing to the church. Since 1985, unpaid parishioners have replaced former part-time parish employees. We are all grateful that a sufficient number of parishioners have adopted and keep implementing this sometimes demanding stewardship approach with a sense of faith and perseverance. The implementation of this approach since 1985 has triggered a significant turn around for the both parish and everyone. These persevering 'stewards' now justifiably feel as if new blood, their very own, is running through this Community. Because so many in so many ways and so often continue to contribute to this pragmatic parish life support, we can re-channel the salaries once paid to the parish employees. But, parishioners feel mutually grateful and obligated. Many respond with similar generosity by accepting to work as volunteers. Careless behavior and vandalism are minimized. Even the children know how everything here remains available through everyone pitching in. Involved parishioners feel like they are the rightful owners of this Parish. If this form of total parish stewardship continues, we could provide the best assurance that St. Christopher will not only survive, but will continue to hold its own even in the future years when the shortage of clergy will become more taxing than it is at the present time. Since 1985, the limited income from the church collections has instantly been sufficient to both cover the expenses and rebuild and revamp the parish in all its aspects. Intrigued by our unusual experiment, in 1990 a church survey organization advertised our approach and results in a national publication. The Bishop's request and our response to the need to revitalize the parishes continue to influence every aspect of our parish life.

  • In the area of Parish Leadership and Administration, we appointed our fist Parish Administrator and first Parish Financial Councilors. As members of the Parish Pastoral Council, we annually nominate parishioners without previous experience in that ministry. The goal is to expose as many parishioners as possible to the inner experience of the parish programs, and to take advantage of ever-new personalities, approaches, contacts and ideas. Through our group-discussions and publications, we keep analyzing, reviewing and updating our parishioners' written evaluations on our parish's strengths and weaknesses. Our achievements have been audited, reviewed, approved and praised by both the past Deans and the Diocese. We have adopted the Diocesan "Parish Resource Manual" and the Diocesan Synod as our main study guidelines for continuously revising and updating of our 'self-analysis'.
  • In dealing with our Parish Community, Evangelization and Apostolate, we monthly update our census by monitoring the results of the multiple phone and mailing campaigns conducted by the Rectory, our parish organizations, ministries and services. To speed up our communications we use phone chain campaigns, regular and bulk mailings, e-mailings and our weekly updated parish web page. The Ladies' Guild members have significantly increased their field of social involvement. We have started our Men's Club and Welcoming Committee. We have vastly expanded the content and purpose of our weekly bulletin. We distribute on demand the monthly Bulletins, Calendars, Parishioners' Lists, charts, surveys, and financial reports. We have published four successive Parish Photo Directories and two Parish Cookbooks. The location of our Church has become evident by erecting ubiquitous directional highway signs. We send annual saturation mailings throughout our parish mailing routes to welcome the area new arrivals and the inactive Catholics. We advertise by mail, phone, radio, TV, newspapers, large banners and fluorescent signs our various events. We annually celebrate St. Christopher's Feast and Festival, participate in the community parade, blessing of cars and of hunters, Moraine Regatta and Parish Picnic. Our various Parish's surveys and projects' explorations, our elections, the pledges of the Parish Share and Building campaigns are carried on in church with the participation of everyone attending Mass. Every adult and couple annually receives mailed greetings on their wedding anniversaries and birthdays. We advertise our presence and liturgies in all the surrounding campgrounds. Our Community keeps increasing demographically. We presently serve over 1000 registered members. The entire campus is successfully become handicapped friendly and smoke free.
  • In Education and faith formation, besides counting on homilies and the distribution of various forms of religious literature, we maintain weekly adult bible study, the annual Rite of Christian Initiation of children and adults, the attendance to the our various Marriage Encounter communities and Cursillo sessions, diocesan and deanery seminars for training and accreditation for clergy and laity, the productions of musicals and dramas, weekly catechetical programs from pre-schoolers to upper grades and the annual Vision of Love. Parents of sacramental candidates and students regularly meet with each other, with the teachers and with the Pastor.
  • In Prayer, Worship and ministries every major event of the liturgical calendar is assigned to the special planning skill and execution of each school grade, ministry, Councils, Parish organization and service representatives. Annually we run a 'Renewal' program. We systematically baptize and anoint during Mass in order to involve the entire Community. Private devotions like Prayer Groups, Healing and Home Masses, Novenas, Rosary, Exposition, Benediction and Procession of the Blessed Sacrament are celebrated on a regular basis.
  • In Stewardship and Temporalities we are guided by an architect who agreed to adopt our parish as his charity. Proceeding step by step, we have completely remodeled and expanded the structures and yardage of our campus. Repeatedly our parishioners are called to vote by secret ballot on prepared 'lists' of our possible priorities for projects, programs, and areas of remodeling and expansion. To cover the cost of our major projects, at times we borrow money while at the same time every family pledges an amount to be paid during the next three years. In order to reduce our expenses, a number of parishioners volunteer to collaborate in the projects under the supervision of our various contractors. Parishioners have thus far handled most excavations, the pouring of cement, the mounting the suspended ceilings, the electrical re-wiring, the painting, the staining of woodwork and similar tasks. Now, Church, hall and rectory are completely re-modeled, with new roofs, fire insulated, air conditioned, re-painted, provided with new carpets, and furniture. For instance, the formerly barren sanctuary has been painted by a parishioner, is decorated by a life-size carving of the 'resurrected Jesus', and enjoys radically improved illumination and a new electronic sound system. The former hazardous church emergency escapes are replaced by three large entryways, emergency lights, a spacious lobby that links school, church, hall and sacristy. The bathroom facilities have increased three times in number. The dilapidated CCD trailers were sold and replaced by our spacious Sunday school. Our parking facilities have been expanded four times, are paved and provided with abundant illumination.

    We have introduced a lift for the handicapped, a new organ with its sound chamber, a powerful air exhaust system to alternatively and rapidly clear the air of church, hall and CCD; a new electronic carillon, a bronze tabernacle and safe poor box, a golden monstrance, sterling silver chalices and ciboria, an artistic processional crucifix and advent wreath, a variety of bronze candle holders, holy water fountains, decorative bronze symbols, linen from Belgium and silk vestments from China, a renaissance oil painting of St. Christopher from Cusco, Peru, eight artistic church doors' glass etchings, a white marble statue of the Blessed Mother in the context of a fountain and meditation rock garden. All our facilities are provided with an abundance of water through new excavation of deep wells and the adoption of complex filter systems. We have planted hundreds of trees and shrubs, erected a bridge over the campus creek, cleared our parish park for festivals, picnics, bonfires, sing-along sessions and home masses. We have computerized all our community records; replaced the two old festival 'shacks' with a spacious multi-purpose pole building and an open pavilion. The old rectory and garage have been transformed into a complex of waiting rooms, a large office endowed with sophisticated equipment and five computers in a network, a deck, acoustically insulated conference rooms, three bathroom facilities, all handicapped friendly and a new garage provided with all the basic tools for our working stewards.

    We are most grateful for the accomplishments of those comparatively few, self-pledging and self sacrificing past and present parishioners who proved how this parish could live up to the expectations of Bishop Bevilacqua and indirectly, of his successors. On October 1, 2009 our Diocese adopted the Vicariate system for its administration and contacts. We have been assigned to the 4th Vicariate. Great new challenges and unexpected opportunities stand in front of everyone of our St. Christopher's parishioners in this third millennium of Christianity. The Divine Providence and the persevering involvement of our faith-endowed stewards assure us that we could keep up to par in maintaining this parish prepared and alive also in the future.

    Our 25-year experiment in individual involvement in parish administration has turned out remarkably positive. For the first time in our parish history, it made St. Christopher totally self-sufficient in its administrative, apostolic, liturgical, sacramental, cultural, educational, fiscal, physical, social and spiritual life. By forcing so many of us to work side by side and so often, these parishioners have come to know, appreciate each other as brothers and sisters who are self-dedicated servants of the Lord, who support and love, not in words only, but in deed. It has hopefully awakened in the rest of us an awareness of mutual responsibility, interdependence, and even personal 'ownership' of our Parish where sacrificing time and talent in the name of the Lord is worthwhile. While such policy of total "stewardship" has been and remains unprecedented and, perhaps, at times stressful to some, it also has been our Parish's greatest blessing preparing us for the near future when the Diocese will have less and less priests to assign to Parish Communities. On August 30, 2009, as he celebrated his 75th birthday, Fr. Matthew Tosello received the assignment from Bishop Zubik to retire from further Diocesan responsibility on February 1, 2010. In His letter to Fr. Tosello, Bishop Zubic commented: "Throughout your entire priesthood  you have faithfully and zealously  served Christ and his Church. On behalf of the church of Pittsburgh, I express my profound gratitude for your priestly example and ministry." On his retirement day, Fr. Tosello will thus complete 25 years as Pastor and Administrator of St. Christopher at the Lake.

    Dedication, 1952Remodeling, 1989Present, 2002
    Left: Dedication, 1952; Center: Remodeling, 1989; Right: Present, 2002
    Home  |  Our Parish  |  Education  |  Volunteering  |  Links  |  Bulletins  |  Parish Staff  |  Contact Us
    Privacy Statement | Terms Of Use | Copyright 2015
    louis vuitton taschen pandora charm dr dre beats abercrombie mbt online sale moncler online