Frank Charney

Frank Charney's Sunday Postcard

Johnstown Catholic Church mergings await Bishop's decision

Parishioners in the Cambria City section of Johnstown are holding with bated breath the decision whether their respective church will survive. The fate of five historic Johnstown churches will soon be announced. The Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese confirmed that Bishop Joseph Adamec will visit the city shortly for meetings with priests and parish representatives.

The diocesan spokesman, Rob Egan, would not say whether the bishop intends to disclose which of the five churches will remain open under a merger plan to take effect next July. The diocese announced in February that the five churches – SS. Casimir & Emerich, St. Columba, Immaculate Conception, St. Rochus, and St. Stephen – would be merged into one parish with one worship site.

The news was a blow not only to parishioners, but also to local historians who see the churches as a link to the city’s ethnic heritage.

The declining population and a shortage of priests have forced the diocese to face the issue of consolidating these five churches.

Some historical background and the patron saint or church dogma about each church is as follows:

SS. Casimer & Emerich was completed in 1907. Polish residents organized the St. Casimer parish in 1907. St. Emerich's congregation merged with St. Casimer in the late 1990s. St. Emerick's church was demolished in 2003. (St. Casimer is the patron saint of Poland. He lived from 1458 to 1484, dying from tuberculosis at 26 years of age and was canonized in 1521. St.Emerich (1007 - 1031) of Hungary was killed by a wild boar while hunting at the age of 24, and was canonized in 1083).

St. Columba Church, constructed in 1913-1914, originally served primarily Irish and English-speaking residents. (St. Columba (559 - 615) is the patron saint of Irish monks. After serving as a priest in his Irish homeland, he traveled and taught in France, Switzerland and Italy.)

Immaculate Conception Church was formed in 1859, and served German Catholics. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated on December 8, was first adopted as Catholic dogma in 1854. It is the belief that the conception of Mary, the mother of Jesus, was without any stain of original sin. The Immaculate conception dogma states that, from the first moment of her existence, she was preserved by God from the lack of sanctifying grace that afflicts mankind, and that she was instead filled with divine grace. It is further believed that she lived a life completely free from sin.

St. Rochus Church was built around 1908 and served the Croatians. Prior to the building of the church, the St. Rochus parish was organized in 1894. (There is controversy over the life of this saint and when he lived. Considered the patron saint against plagues and diseases, a St. Rochus (1295 - 1327) is recorded in church history.)

St. Stephen parish was founded in 1891 to serve the Slovak community, and the church was dedicated in 1911. (St. Stephen, patron saint of stonemasons and bricklayers, lived during the first century and was the first martyr in the early church. He was stoned to death in 35 AD for his religious beliefs.)

— Frank Charney

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— G.K. Chesterton (1874 - 1936)

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