The story of a forgotten America.

The Rise and Fall of St. Michael’s Catholic Church

The Rust Belt defines a vast declining industrial corridor of the United States roughly between Chicago and Albany, New York, and dominating many of those once-bustling communities are churches. Many were built as domestic steel mills were being constructed across the country in the early 20th century, and many were closed with the collapse of the steel industry—including St. Michael’s Church in Munhall, Pennsylvania.

The Slovaks who had migrated to the Pittsburgh region often worked as laborers at the many mills that lined the Ohio, Monongahela, and Allegheny rivers. It was their mass immigration to the region that the Slovakian population started a church in Homestead in 1896 and that led to the formation of the St. Michael parish in 1897. Many of the worshippers tendered to the Homestead Steel Works of the Carnegie Steel Company. The growth in the city’s population and status eventually led to the construction of a massive all-brick church in nearby Munhall in 1927.

But much as the growth of the Homestead Steel Works fueled St. Michael’s rise, its decline was equally as tethered when the steel industry rapidly contracted. As early as 1967, the congregation began to decline in size, and the Homestead Steel Works closed in 1986 during a prolonged slump in the steel industry. In 1992, the decision was made to merge St. Michael with five other parishes to form St. Maximilian Kolbe parish in 1992. St. Michael’s continued to operate until mounting expenses and a small congregation forced its closure.The final mass at St. Michael’s was held on October 25, 2009.

The rectory, convent, and parochial school were sold to developer Walter Viola in 2012, who proposed rehabilitating the facility for commercial and residential uses. Some residents initially rebuffed his efforts at the renovations, although the proposals were ultimately accepted in light of the region is peppered with yet another abandoned property. Today, St. Michael’s has been renovated and is home to This is Red, an advertising agency.

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Amazing post, thank you! My extended family lived right up the street. 2 cousins and many baptisms there. Can’t believe I stood in exact places shown in your pictures.

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