The story of a forgotten America.

Immaculate Heart of Mary School

Immaculate Heart of Thraseas School is an abandoned Roman Catholic school that closed in 1997 because of dwindling enrollment in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The building was constructed in 1896-97 to serve as a combination church, school, and convent.

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Topping out at 1,260 feet above sea level, Herron Hill is Pittsburgh’s highest point. 8 The neighborhood that gave the Hill District its name was home to the Herron family, who had settled on the hill in the mid-1700s. The clan had made a fortune in the coal and lumber industries and later invested in factories that produced everything from cotton batting to brass. Polish immigrants to the city began settling on Herron Hill circa 1885, and it was not long before the northerly sloping hills had become known as Polish Hill. 1

Polish Hill residents first attended St. Stanislaus parish in the Strip District, but the local Polish population grew to the point that the neighborhood clamored for the bishop for a Polish ethnic parish. 1 Permission was granted to form the Immaculate Heart of Mary parish, and a cornerstone for a combination church, school, and convent was laid in October 1896. The new building, which featured a sanctuary on the upper floor and ten classrooms on the lower floors, opened in September 1897. 1 7

Land on an adjoining street was acquired for a much larger sanctuary in 1899. 2 William P. Ginther, a prolific Akron, Ohio architect, was hired to design an ecclesiastical church building modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the cornerstone for the new Immaculate Heart of Mary Church was laid on July 31, 1904. After the massive Italian Baroque-style sanctuary was dedicated on December 3, 1905, the original circa 1897 building was re-dedicated for use as just a school and convent.

A special Mass to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the school was held at 4 p.m. on October 12, 1996, which was followed by the blessing of the school’s cornerstone and an open house of the school. 4 But despite widespread parish and community support, the Immaculate Heart of Mary School faced a triple threat of rising teacher salaries, higher costs of teaching materials, and an aging infrastructure that led to back-to-back tuition increases, which led to enrollment declines and increases in parish subsidies. 3 Enrollment dropped by 24% between the 1994-95 and 1996-97 school years. 5 After just 71 students registered for the 1997-98 term, the decision was made to close the Immaculate Heart of Mary School in June 1997. 3 5

The Salvation Army attempted to purchase the vacant school in 1999 to renovate the buildings into 19 transitional housing units for local families. 6 The church was looking to offload the school as it had a $240,000 debt from the facility plus thousands of dollars in monthly utility and insurance expenses.




  1. Parish History.” Immaculate Heart of Mary Church.
  2. Cullen, Kevin. “Unsung Hero of Architecture.” The Catholic Movement, 10 Mar. 2013.
  3. Nuzzo, Marc W. “St. Paul Cathedral school closes its doors, citing decrease in enrollment.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 15 Jul. 1997, p. A-11.
  4. “Catholic school’s milestone.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 7 Oct. 1996, p. B-3.
  5. “Catholic school to close.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 25 Jun. 1997, p. B-3.
  6. Bucsko, Mike. “A fresh start.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 6 Sept. 1999, p. A-12.
  7. “Churches, Synagogues, Schools, and an Orphanage.” Polish Pittsburgh, by Stanley States, Arcadia Publishing, 2017, p. 85.
  8. Potter, Chris. “The first stop on the East Busway leaving Downtown is called “Herron Avenue.” Did those long-legged birds once inhabit that area?CityPaper, 24 Jun. 2004.

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