South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporer Editor 

St. Paul's Monastery continues to anchor many on the Slopes


Last updated 10/12/2017 at 11:56am

Fr. Mark Ward, C.F., religious superior of Pittsburgh Passionists (right) and Fr. Junesh Xavier Vakapadath, C.P. in Fr. Ward's office at the St. Paul of the Cross Monastery on the South Side Slopes.

The Passionists of St. Paul of the Cross Monastery have been an anchor in the South Side Slopes community since arriving in North America 165 years ago in 1852.

Paul Danei founded the Passionists as order of preachers in Italy. Following his death in 1775, the order expanded into England.

In 1852, Bishop Michael O'Connor brought four Passionists to Pittsburgh from Rome, Fr. Don Ware explains. Bishop O'Connor was familiar with the order from his seminary days in Rome. The Passionists would later spread out across the country from Pittsburgh.

The Bishop provided the Passionists with land to build their home, the St. Paul of the Cross Monastery, on the South Side Slopes and St. Paul's Monastery was completed in 1854. The project was supported by the German Catholics of nearby St. Michael's Parish.

In addition to St. Michael's Parish, the first Passionists helped establish St. Joseph's in Mt. Oliver and St. Anne's in Castle Shannon. The early Passionists also did a lot of "fill in" work with other parishes, Fr. Ware explained.

The grounds of the St. Paul of the Cross Monastery include not only the monastery and church, but also a retreat center a former personal care facility and expansive gardens.

The retreat center offers weekend retreats for Catholic parishes and hosts a number of other Christian groups, serving as many as 4,000 people a year. With the recent closing of Gilmary, the diocesan retreat center, St. Paul's has been noticeably busier.

The center is also home to a variety of organizations who use the facility for social services trainings, couples' retreats, Alcoholics Anonymous spiritual weekends and more.

Fr. Ware said the Monastery also operates a weekly food pantry, which is affiliated with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Each week they serve 25 to 30 families going up to as many as 60 depending on the week and month.

The number of families served increases around the holidays.

The center hosts AA meetings each Monday evening and Narcotics Anonymous meetings on Tuesday afternoons.

Fr. Ware noted the monastery provides much AA support, in particular, "Fifth Step" aid to recovering alcoholics. The Fifth Step in the Twelve Step Program of AA is to "share their brokenness with somebody," he explained. Annually, the four priests involved with the program help 200 people achieve their Fifth Step.

"We do a lot of AA work, that's the bottom line," Fr. Ware added.

"It's our Mission, to bring God's love and healing to our society," he said. "To let people know God loves them, even if they mess things up."

The back gardens are considered a hallowed or sacred grounds by the people who use the monastery and retreat center.

"It's like a spiritual oasis in the city," he said. "Our whole place is and the grounds are very much a part of that."

In the church, the Passionists hold three weekend Masses two daily masses, on Monday there are four Masses with Novena services. They are known as a center for confessions, counting retreats and daily, confession is available as many as eleven times a week.

"People can come and receive the Lord's forgiveness and be strengthened by God's mercy," Fr. Ware said. "That's what confession is about for a Catholic."

Although the St. Paul of the Cross doesn't have its own parish and is not part of the Pittsburgh Diocese, it is permitted by the diocese to be a place where people can come to worship publicly.

"We're not financially supported by the diocese and our men are not assigned by the diocese," Fr. Ware said. "But we are under the Bishop whenever we do public prayer."

He noted they are finding with the consolidation of Catholic parishes in the area that there are people from the neighborhood now attending church at St. Paul of the Cross who once belonged to other parishes.

Fr. Ware said St. Paul of the Cross is stable and they are currently working on a plan to take them 10 to 15 years in the future, how they have to adapt to current times.

Part of that may have to do with a building they call the Manor overlooking South Side and the Monongahela River. Beginning in 1977 it was used as a personal care home, but the census dropped and it was closed in the 2000 due in part to not accepting Medicaid.

Mercy Behavioral used the Manor from 2001 to 2010 in a group home setting. It has been closed since. Unlike the monastery, the future of the Manor is unsure at this time.

The Passionists will soon undertake a campaign to raise funds to make several updates and renovations to the church. The two "big" things that need to be done are painting and re-wiring of the church.

"The church was built in 1859, I don't know if it was ever re-wired after that. It was painted about 30 years ago," Fr. Ware said.


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