St. Peter and Paul was established as a German 2 and Lithuanian 4 parish in 1857 in the village of East Liberty. 2 Prior to the formation of the parish, worshippers had to travel to St. Philomena Church in the Allegheny River valley to attend weekly Mass.
The Redemptorists from St. Philomena began construction on a church on donated land in 1857, with the cornerstone laid on November 26. 2 The new sanctuary was dedicated on November 26, 1859. A resident pastor was assigned to the new parish in 1860.
By 1887, the church structure was in poor condition as construction on Larimar Avenue caused damage to the structure; it was also overcrowded. 2 It was soon razed and the cornerstone of a new structure was laid on August 10, 1890. The second iteration of the St. Peter and Paul sanctuary, designed by Adolphus Druiding, opened to worshippers on December 20, 1891.
Lightning struck the church and started a fire on August 5, 1909, causing the roof the burn away and the interior to be severely damaged. 2 All that remained were the twin towers, walls, and altar. The building was renovated and reopened in 1910. The exterior of the church was remodeled in 1916, the interior saw modernization in the mid-1960s, and the bell towers were repaired in 1982.
The Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation designated the church as a historic landmark in 1983. 6
Decline and Closure
The population of Pittsburgh began a slow and steady decline after World War II, dramatically bleeding after many of its famed steel mills began to close in the 1970s. With a dwindling congregation, the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh announced the mergings of five parishes and the closure of several buildings in July 1992. 4 St. Peter and Paul folded with the others to form the St. Charles Lwanga Parish. 2
The Diocese sold the property to Everlasting Covenant Church in 1997, which had hoped to restore the structure for their own congregation and start a charter school in the former school building. 1 In the interim, the charter school was held at another site in the neighborhood but folded after five years. 1
The church gained notoriety after serving as the backdrop for the climax for the 1999 film “Dogma.” 3 6 7
Squatters inside the now-abandoned church set fire to the floor while attempting to keep warm on December 5, 2012. 1 5
The East Liberty Development Corporation (ELDI), a nonprofit community development organization, entered into an agreement to acquire the sanctuary from Everlasting for $90,000 in 2014. 3 ELDI, Pittsburgh Housing Authority, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), and the city applied for the Choice Neighborhoods Grant, which was approved. 3 7 With assistance from the URA, ELDI invested $400,000 into the site. The church and school were abated for asbestos, the church’s roof and steeples were repaired, and the collapsing rectory was demolished in 2017. 7
ELDI was granted conservatorship of the former church in 2018. 7 The firm estimated that it will cost $9.4 to redevelop the property for a restaurant or offices and $12 million for apartments. 3
- Rielythe, Kaitlynn. “Is once-grand Pittsburgh church an opportunity or is it doomed?.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12 Dec. 2012.
- “Saints Peter and Paul, East End.” Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, article.
- Fontaine, Tom. “East Liberty Development Inc. seeks loan to fix dilapidated Sts. Peter and Paul Church.” TribLive [Pittsburgh], 10 Nov. 2015.
- DiFillppo, Dana. “Diocese’s 150th celebration draws protest.” News Record [North Hills], 21 Sept. 1992, p. A11.
- Abraham, Heather. “Historic Church Home To Squatters, Fires.”KDKA [Pittsburgh], 5 Dec. 2012.
- Santoni, Matthew. “Firefighters extinguish fire near vacant St. Peter and Paul church in East Liberty.” TribLive [Pittsburgh], 11 Jan. 2015.
- Jones, Diana Nelson. “Plans bubbling for reuse of ‘Dogma’ church in East Liberty.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10 Jul. 2019.