The History of St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church
Union Mills Bulletin
Catholic Church-West High Street
Reverend T. Lonnergan, Pastor
Services on the second and fourth Sundays in each month are held at half past 10 o'clock a.m.
In The Very Beginning
Father Charles B. McGuire of Pittsburgh was the first to serve a pioneer Catholic Community in Northwestern Pennsylvania. Before 1900 Irish families had established themselves on Cussewago Creek, northwest of Meadville. Famine and poverty had driven them from Ireland to Pennsylvania via Philadelphia.
Father McGuire's efforts still stand in the famous St. Phillips Catholic Church at Crossingville. People from miles around attended the Church and it attracted thousands of people around attended the church and it attracted thousands of people each year to the annual church picnic.
Catholic families settled in the Union Mills area in 1854 and were attended by priests from Pittsburgh for several year. Then in 1859, about 20 Catholic families organized St. Teresa's congregation. They built a church building in 1860 and enlarged it in 1864. Father Emerand, O.S.B., then held services for several years. At the opening of the Civil War, he enlisted as a chaplain of a regiment under General Rosecrans and was killed in the service. Reverend T. Lonnergen was the first pastor. A flourishing school and temperance society were maintained by the congregation.
August 3, 1882
St. Teresa's parishioner Thomas Maloney keeps a model piece of railroad. He has charge of a section extending two miles each way from Union City on the P & E. No better piece of road can be found anywhere in the country. Mr. Maloney takes great pride in having everything exactly right.
August 30, 1883
The marriage of Jerry Mackey and Miss Mary Meehan was consummated today. Reverend J.M. Dunn, rector of St. Teresa's Catholic church, performed the ceremony. The couple's many friends wished them a long, prosperous, and happy life together.
May 3, 1887
Reverend Father Dunn exchanged pulpits last Sabbath with Father Babbinger of North Clarendon.
St. Teresa's- The Inside Story
by Father James Peterson
When Father Thomas Lonnergan arrived in Union Mills he was one of the most educated men in the area, but he was Irish, he was a stranger, and he was a Catholic. What Catholics were in town were recent arrivals and were not really part of the community.
By 1859, the parish of St. Teresa of Avila had already been established two years. Father Lonnergan was becoming part of his people and the parish his people. St. Teresa's came into being for their spiritual growth and for their common praise of God.
The first parish organization was a Temperance Society, much needed by some of the young men who were here. With its roots in Ireland in some of the giants like Matt Talbot, it was the closest thing the Nineteenth Century had to A.A. And it was one reason that established citizens in the area started to take the Catholic Church seriously.
The first recorded wedding goes back to July 12, 1862, when Father Lonnergan assisted at the marriage of Richard Shea and Mary Finney. The register for April 10, 1864, records the baptism of their first son, James. It's hard at this time to know the excitement, but on June 22 of 1863, Father Lonnergan had three marriages on the same day. William Dillon married Mary Clearr; George Behan married Mary Leyden; Peter Mullin married Mary Lynch. And so it began.
In October of 1868, Bishop Mullen traveled from Erie for the first confirmation. And there, duly prepared and a little awestruck were Daniel Healy, Michael Farrell, Thomas Frawley, james McDonald, John Conroy, Patrick Higgins, Elizabeth Fitzgerald,d Cecelia Skivington, Mary Quin, Catherine Ryan, Catherine O'Neil, mary Farrell, Margaret Watson, Elizabeth Kelly, Marcia Pendergast, Elizabeth Healy. And the pastors from Meadville, Titusville and Warren came for the ceremony. Father Mahoney, who was a successor of Father Lonnergan, was happy that the young people were well taught and ready.
The parish is people. The parish then was poor people: immigrants, young men away from home. And St. Teresa's came into being for their spiritual growth. For years one of the chief works of the church as a Temperance Society and the preparation of the young people for First communion, Confirmation, Marriage. The early names were all Irish-
McNeray, Harriot, Harrington O;Neil, O'Connell, Campbell, Sheridan, Cumiskey, O'Brein, Kelly, Hickey, Leyden, Livingston, Murn, Crawley, McCarthy, Healy, Calihan.
And there are the stream of veterans from the wars. One by one they were laid to rest- their relatives sometimes in burning heat, sometimes in the icy wind and snow of mid winter. And the priest would pray, "May the angels guard you into paradise." And in those days the people would watch the first shovelsful of dirt that fell upon the closed casket.
The congregation was coming together - with the new stability, with new pastors, Father Mahoney, Father Dunn, Father Hunley, Father Fielding, Father Thomas Cantlin. Only the parish was the people.
When Father Cantlin came in 1904, the people were still worshipping in the old church - at the same site on which the present one was built. It was a frame building; it was plain. But on a Sunday morning the parishioners would come for miles - by foot and by horse. On winter mornings they'd leave home as early as 5 a.m. and come through the wind and cold.
This article continues Father James Peterson's history of St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church in Union City
by Father James Peterson
And the church would be warmed only gradually with a huge, potbellied stove. when it needed more wood, or when it needed to be cooled, one of the parishioners would tend to it, whether mass was going on or the sermon at its high point, the usher often old John Tierney, would get up and open its door on clanking hinges, and no one minded because on a cold morning without heat, it was almost impossible to praise.
But Father Cantlin knew that the parish needed more, and could do more. So the present church was planned. Mass was moved over into the old hall and the present church was built under Father Cantlin's direction.
The Union City Times on May 27, 1907, describes the dedication that followed:
The consecration of the church was a notable event and all were unanimous in their expressions of admiration at the fine building and its furnishings. Scarcely in the history of Union City has there been a more impressive ceremony dignified as it was by the presence of a large number of distinguished Catholic churchmen, including the Reverend Father John E. FitzMaurice, D.D., Bishop of the Erie Diocese.."
It was a proud day for Reverend Father Thomas A. Cantlin, pastor of St. Teresa's Church, who has worked untiringly that the building might be completed in time for the date set for its dedication and to whom its magnificence is due."
So came into being the marvel of the present St. Teresa's Church, dwelling place of the Blessed Sacrament, in Union City for the past seventy years.
At the celebration was Father Joseph Dunn, then pastor in Titusville, who had been pastor of St. Teresa's for twenty three years, and who helped bring the people to a point where they could undertake the tremendous work with confidence. And in the pulpit was young Father John Downs, the first of the sons of the parish to be ordained priest; in fact, one of the first parishioners to finish college. The editor of the local paper was amazed at his eloquence, surprised that a great orator had arisen unnoticed among its people.
For a quarter of a century, Father Cantlin lived for the people. He was not well. Often after the coming of the automobile, he traveled by cab. Or he went by train to the mission at Waterford where St. Cyprians was gradually emerging as a mission and a parish. Many times he was accompanied by Emmet Layden, when his physical condition was such that he could hardly move by himself.
Then came the years of war. The people called it The Great War, and many of them felt they were going back to the country from which their fathers came to make it safe for the new freedom they had found. The years were hard. The separations and the funerals with closed caskets were most painful.Through the whole first part of the century, new families and groups continued to arrive - Polish, Slavish, Italian and many others. They were poor, hard working and had a language problem that made life very difficult. It is a tribute to the leadership of Father Cantlin and then of Father Ring that they were accepted and became so much a part of the parish.
A tribute from the Union City Times and Enterprise of March 6, 1930, describes the attitude of the whole city toward him at the time of his death:
"Kindhearted, faithful to every trust and when health permitted every ready to respond to the call of the needy, he has gone from among us. we will recall his pleasant smile, the grasp of is hand, and the pleasant word of greeting which he was ever ready to give. We mourn his passing only as men can mourn the loss of a kind and devoted friend and honored citizen of Union City.
Especially has Father Cantlin been faithful to his Church and to his God. In he long years of his declining health he was ever at his post to instruct those under his leadership."
His successor in 1930 was Father John Ring, a quiet, unassuming man of great courage. Like many of the pastors, he had been born in Ireland and educated there. He had come to care for poor immigrants, and then faced a new poverty.
Father Ring guided the parish through the most painful years of its existence. The Depression of 1929-1933 hit Union City very hard. Jobs and money were scarce and barter was almost a way of life. many parishioners helped as they could with chickens and ducks, with vegetables and berries. Without anyone in the parish knowing it, Father ring sold his own insurance to cover the bills needed for heat in the church.
And all the time he was calm and the gospel was preached. The Church was beautifully covered with ivy. The people were increasingly part of the life of the city, which by now had long been renamed Union City.
The arrival of Father Lawrence Trembly in 1941 marked a new era of the life of the Church in Union City. He was much alive with faith, with life, with a great love of people and seemed color blind to the old prejudices that had hampered the life of Catholics in the area. To this day there are unnumbered people who called him friend and remember his friendship as one of the great influences of their lives. With much closeness to the parishioners, he set about retiring the parish debt with the help of festivals and bingo.
It is difficult to describe all his activities. One of the most lasting was the building of the Chapel of Our Lady of Fatima. Beginning in 1950, Father Trembly had Mass for vacationers at Melody Lane, a teenage soda bar and recreation center made available to the parish by Mrs. Henrietta Schmitzer. The response was so great that it was clear a chapel was needed.
This is the continuation of Father James Peterson's history of St. Teresa's of Avila in Union City, Pennsylvania
Father Trembly described what followed: "Land was donated and in the fall of 1952, with the permission and approval of Bishop Gannon of Erie construction of the chapel was begun. An old cheese factory in Lincolnville was purchased and torn down for lumber. The Presbyterians donated an altar. Stained glass windows from another Protestants church were bought at auction for fifty cents apiece. The communion rail and pews came from a Catholic Church in Erie. Joe Miller, owner of a bar at the lake, kept his customers reminded of the big project. One man said to Joe, "This is the first saloon I've been in where a man can order either a short beer or a Station of the Cross."
Voluntary labor cut down expenses and in a surprisingly short time Our Lady of Fatima chapel was completed. During the vacation season it was filled to capacity. The chapel is left open, and through the Blessed Sacrament is not reserved, many vacationers drop in to light a vigil light or say the rosary or make the Way of the Cross."
The chapel was simple, dominated by a painting of Our Lady of Fatima, done in oil by Frank Fazio of Pittsburgh - one of his last works before his early death.
In 1958, the outdoor shrine of Our Lady with the children of Fatima around her was added to the chapel. Labor was donated by Joseph Miller, Sr. and Joseph Miller, Jr. But for years the winters made it impossible to keep the chapel open year around.
And Father belonged to the people. They worked with him in building the present auditorium which has served so many parish needs over the years. It became a center for the festivals which were so much a part of Union City and so much a work of the people. The Lions Club and many other groups helped with the gifts because they knew Father Trembly was building not just the parish, but for the city. John Mineo Sr. and his family were tremendous in works, but the whole parish helped.
In 1952, St. Teresa's convent, which was a distant memory became a reality again. Father Trembly traveled to Huntington, Indiana, to the mother house of Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters and acquired a promise of three sisters. The parishioners prepared a convent for them.
Sister Loretta, Sister Mary William and Sister Henrietta came for summer school, but in the fall the three who arrived to stay were Sister Ruth Anthony, Sister Valeria, and Sister Martin. Others later included Sister Benedicta, Sister Hilary, and Sister Barbara. Although they have been gone from the parish for years, it is wonderful how some of their names remain household words in Union City. Their CCD classes, their convert instruction, their friendship abides.
Father Trembly's career in Union City came all too an abrupt end with his death in 1954. He had already agreed to preach at the baccalaureate service for the Union City High School-and had already written his address. At the exercises, the graduates listened with somber alertness as his words were read to them.
Union City was shaken by his death. People of all faiths, of all ages, of all kinds gathered to mourn him. And they took up a collection. They bought the bells of St. Teresa's so that day after day they might continue to call men to the praise of God, to the living Gospel for which Father Trembly offered his life.
Father Charles Hackerl and Father Malloy, who were his first successors, lived in his shadow. They were at St. Teresa's for only a short while.
But in 1955, Father Anthony Robaczewski came as pastor. He was brother to Monsignor Robaczewski of Erie. They were men of faith, molded by the Polish tradition and experience into princes of the Church. he seemed and was in many ways aloof, but those who penetrated to his core knew his goodness and concern.
The Church by now was in need of much repair. The lovely vines that made it so lush and alive were tearing at its shell of brick and the inner Church was shabby and dirty.
The whole building was covered with bondstone, the towers strengthened, the louvres were replaced. The statue of St. Teresa of Avila- all three hundred and fifty pounds of it- was lowered and sand blasted. The children from the CCD classes, including a youngster named Gary Smith, were amazed at its size and touched it gingerly with the awesome expectation that they were performing a feat that would be impossible, perhaps for another century. And then the statue was returned to its place.
In the next few years, Father Robaczewski was ill, and his successors had only a short stay the parish until in 1968, Father Charles Skinner came from the Cathedral Prep School as pastor. He brought with him years of experience in education and administration. And he found surrounding him the decree of the Second Vatican Council. With tremendous energy and concern for the people he took up his work. He implemented the spirit and planning of the Vatican Council, with great loyalty to the Church, with deep seated concern for the old, for the feelings of those who were fearful that the Catholic Church was changing under pressure.
With the parish senate, he planned the updating of the Church property, the gradual winterizing of Our Lady of Fatima Chapel, a system of lectors and commentators and a living choir. The parishioners were no longer simply immigrants who had to prove something. They belong to the lifestream of Union City.
On any Sunday, there was the mayor, Frank Hakel, the postmaster, Herb Combs, the justice of the peace, mary Jane Fuller, councilmen, school principals, teachers, doctors, nurses, successful farmers and businessmen. And there were cantors, and a living liturgy, rarely matched in the diocese.
Meanwhile, Father Skinner who was so much accepted in the community, spearheaded a drive to preserve the local hospital by building and by resisting federal pressure to close it. His stature was tremendous, his friendships broad, his work effective. And then in 1975, because the Bishop of Erie felt that his talents were needed elsewhere, he was transferred to Oil City to be pastor of St. Stephens.
Father James Peterson came to St. Teresa's in 1975. For Union City's part of the bicentennial celebration in 1976, he wrote an article about St. Teresa's which he called Progress Report.
by Father Peterson
We are too close to the past year - 1975-to attempt to write history but it would be unfair to stop as though his story had come to an end. So I take the privilege of a memoir rather than a history.