St. Michael School is an abandoned Catholic school in Pennsylvania that was infamous for its long-running Veronica’s Veil performance.
St. Michael Church, designed in the Romanesque Revival style by local architect Charles S. Bartberger, was constructed between 1858 and 1861. 2 It was the first Catholic church south of the Monongahela River in the city and the third church built for a German congregation.
A rectory, designed in the Richardsonian Romanesque style by architect Frederick C. Sauer, was added in 1890. A school was built in 1882 and enlarged in 1900 to hold 14 classrooms, an auditorium, and a social hall. 3
One of the longest-running Passion of the Christ plays, Veronica’s Veil, was held in St. Michael School’s auditorium. 1 First performed on February 3, 1913, the play was an American take on Oberammergau Germany, a drama of Christ’s Passion, death, and resurrection. St. Michael’s congregation performed it again in 1914. Traditionally, twelve performances were held throughout Lent. 3
The auditorium was enlarged to accommodate 800 seats in 1925 as part of an effort to relaunch Veronica’s Veil. 3 The play was later headed by Veronica’s Veil Players theatre group. 4
St. Michael Church was merged with six other parishes in 1992 as part of a reorganization by the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. 2 The building was desanctified, with the altar and other religious items removed.
In February 2001, it was announced that St. Michael Church and rectory would be rehabilitated into 25 luxury residential condominiums after the developers had closed a deal with the Diocese to acquire the property. 2 Veronica’s Veil continued to be held in the closed St. Michael School. 1 On March 18, 2003, the Veronica’s Veil Players acquired the former St. Michael School from the Pittsburgh Diocese for $1. 3
On March 25, 2006, the gas supply to the old school was turned off because of nearly $40,000 in unpaid bills. 3 Veronica’s Veil’s performance continued to be held over the weekend using space heaters, but numerous audience members left early. The Player’s board canceled the remaining four performances and decided to regroup in June.
In the play’s heyday in the 1920s, Veronica’s Veil drew 25,000 annually, 3 but by 2006, attendance dropped to 3,500 annually.
In March 2010, the Academy of the South Side announced that it would relocate its painting and drawing classes to the former St. Michael School building. 4 The relocation never occurred.
Facing a deteriorated, aging building that was difficult to heat, Veronica’s Veil Players announced that its 2011 season would be its last. 5
- Batz Jr., Bob. “Here: On the South Side Slopes.” Post-Gazette [Pittsburgh], 29 Feb. 2004.
- Ackerman, Jan. “South Side church converting to condos.” Post-Gazette [Pittsburgh], 14 Feb. 2001.
- Rawson, Christopher. “Financial problems postpone ‘Veronica’s Veil’ until June.” Post-Gazette [Pittsburgh], 28 Mar. 2006.
- “Academy of the South Side relocates to new home in Veronica’s Veil.” South Pittsburgh Reporter, 30 Mar. 2010.
- Crompton, Janice. “Passion plays a vanishing Easter tradition.” Post-Gazette [Pittsburgh], 10 Apr. 2014.
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So incredibly sad. I know you can’t keep everything forever but surely more could have been done to save this treasure. I wonder if the large curtain with Christ’s image is still on the stage. *sigh* I’ve always wondered what the church looked like inside before the conversion. 🙁
It’s a shame what’s become of the auditorium and school. I went to school there in the late 70’s and helped with Veronica’s Veil- busses used to have to be parked on Pius street from 18th Street to the top of 12th Street. It was really popular. I’m surprised some investor didn’t at least look into that auditorium as a music venue or something. And the school might’ve been useful for apartments- I know there was some development like that in the other buildings on that property. If it’s in that kind of bad shape now it’s probably too late. It’s sad to hear it got so bad
As a young boy growing up in the area, I remember a number of us were threatened with being sent to this school, implying it was for bad boys. Not sure how true that was… Later, as a teenager, I delivered produce to this school in the 70’s for Frushon’s Produce… It was always the last stop & then a moderately long ride back to the store in downtown pittston…
Now both the school & Frushon’s produce are history, apparently..
I was just here a few weeks ago, and it is not anything like these pictures anymore. The auditorium is an absolute mess; the walls and ceilings are caving in for most of the rooms sadly.
i’ve been here but forget what street it’s on do you know the address?
Went to school here. Spent a lot of time in this auditorium. Amazed to see what’s become of the place. I’d like to see pictures of the rest of the interior of the building.
I loved the Passion Play. It seemed so lifelike when I was young.
27 years of my life were spent here in the Play Veronicas veil. My children grew up in the show…so so sad to see what it has become
I was involved with the others plays Veronica’s Veil players did. I am looking for Denny and Frank’s (directors) names. Where did the costumes for the Passion play go?