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

The Rust Belt encompasses a vast declining industrial corridor in the United States, roughly stretching from Chicago to Albany, New York. Many of the communities within this region, once bustling with industrial activity, are characterized by prominent churches. Constructed during the early 20th century as domestic steel mills were proliferating across the country, these churches faced closure with the steel industry’s collapse, including St. Michael’s Church in Munhall, Pennsylvania.

Slovaks who migrated to the Pittsburgh region often found employment as laborers in the numerous mills lining the Ohio, Monongahela, and Allegheny rivers. It was their mass immigration that prompted the establishment of a church in Homestead in 1896, leading to the formation of the St. Michael parish in 1897. Many worshippers were associated with the Homestead Steel Works of the Carnegie Steel Company. The city’s population growth and elevated status eventually led to the construction of a substantial all-brick church in nearby Munhall in 1927.

However, just as the growth of the Homestead Steel Works propelled St. Michael’s ascent, its decline was equally tied to the rapid contraction of the steel industry. By 1967, the congregation began shrinking, and the closure of the Homestead Steel Works in 1986, amid a prolonged slump in the steel industry, further affected St. Michael’s. In 1992, the decision was made to merge St. Michael with five other parishes to form St. Maximilian Kolbe parish. Despite continuing operations until 2009, mounting expenses and a diminishing congregation forced the closure of St. Michael’s, with the final mass held on October 25, 2009.

In 2012, developer Walter Viola purchased the rectory, convent, and parochial school with plans to rehabilitate the facility for commercial and residential purposes. Initially met with resistance from some residents, the renovation proposals were eventually accepted, considering the prevalence of abandoned properties in the region. Today, St. Michael’s has been renovated and serves as the home for 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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