St. Joan of Arc Church began as a mission of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Finleyville, PA. The Pittsburgh Catholic Chancery organized St. Francis in Gastonville in 1891. When the coal mines in the area were closed, the congregation decided to build its church in Finleyville.
On January 1, 1923, a mission church of St. Francis of Assisi in Finleyville was established in Library, PA. It is the first and only church in the Pittsburgh Diocese to take the name St. Joan of Arc. Her canonization, which was decreed by Pope Benedict XV on May 9, 1920, took place 489 years after her death. At first, Sunday mass was celebrated in the Union Hotel by Fr. Michael J. McBurney, Pastor of St. Francis as well as St. Joan of Arc. The hotel, located on Piney Fork Road at its intersection with Library Road, was built in 1918. Because it was managed by Peter Burke, it was referred to as Burke’s Hotel. This building, after many chances in ownership, was acquired by the Library Volunteer Fireman Company, which tore down the building in March 1996 to enlarge its parking lot.
Peter Simmons Family Land for the Church
In 1925, Peter Simmons, his wife, and nine children came by wagon from New Jersey to a place four miles from the present Bethel Presbyterian Church, of which they became members. The locality of their homestead, now known as Pleasant Street (formerly Simmons) streetcar stop, became the center of community activity. The area had been known as “Loafers Hollow.” On July 29, 1842, a post office was established. It was called Library, after a circulating library association originated by John Moore, who became the first Postmaster.
Peter Simmons’ son Phillip became owner of the homestead and farm, which by 1886 included 20 acres south of the homestead, later sold to the heirs of brother John and 70 acres purchased from Thompson Simpson. Phillip had for 25 years lived in a house built and designed by his brother William. This house and barn on two acres of ground situated on Route 88, was purchased by St. Joan of Arc in 1949. The house was first used by St. Joan of Arc for fund-raising activities, such as card parties, bingos, and dinners, and as a Sunday school for the children. In 1955, it was converted into a convent for the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, who taught in our school. When sisters as teachers were no longer available, it became our preschool building. It was torn down in 1999 as part of the new building program.
After Phillip and his wife died, the estate was divided among their three sons: Peter (a Presbyterian minister), William P., and Orlando.
In the summer of 1924, William P. Simmons sold a tract of two acres, long known as the “baseball grounds,” to St. Joan of Arc Mission Church for $3,500. This site for a newly planned church was situated along Library Road (Route 88) between Piney Fork Creek and the Pittsburgh Railways street car line. Some referred to this area as “the bottoms” because of continual flooding through most of the year. This property is now the parking lot and playground for the St. Joan of Arc school.
A Prefabricated Church
It was decided that a prefabricated building would be purchased and used. The church, fabricated by E. M. Diebold Lumber Company was a white wooden structure with a gabled roof. Also erected was a modest bell tower. It soon arrived by train, was assembled, and put up on timbers which held the building about three feet off the ground to avoid flooding that often occurred. As passing winters proved, the method caused frozen feet on everyone inside the church. In an attempt to correct the situation, the foundation was enclosed in a sort of wood skirt, which only slightly helped. Of course, the big pot-bellied stove situated on the right side as you stepped inside from the vestibule, did its share to warm those hearty souls.
The inside furnishings for the most part were donated. The Catholic Church in Irwin was being remodeled, so it donated to us its altar, pews, confessional, baptismal font, monstrance, vestment case, carpets and runners for the aisles. Miss Mercedes Schober, one of our first CCD teachers, provided Father Glennon with the vestments to be used both at St. Francis and at St. Joan. Miss Schober also donated the statue of Mary, and Miss Margaret McMahon, another teacher, donated the Sacred Heart Statue. The cross for the new church came from Mrs. Peter Burke, and the Stations from daughters Catherine and Margaret. Mr. Rectenwald, druggist-naturalist in Library, had a bell off a riverboat, which he donated for our small bell tower. Because of a lot of hard work by the faithful, the church was ready for its first mass on September 8, 1924.
On October 19, 1924, St. Joan of Arc Mission Church of Library, PA, was dedicated to the service of God by Reverend Father F. J. Hertzog, former pastor of the territory and the first resident priest of St. Francis of Assisi, Finleyville, PA. He was appointed by Bishop Boyle to dedicate the new church in honor of St. Joan of Arc. The ceremony began at 11:00 a.m. with a sermon delivered by Father Kevin Guinagh of Aliquippa. Father McBurney sang the mass assisted by the Finleyville church choir.
Father John T. Flaherty Remembered
Father Flaherty remembered well his days at St. Joan of Arc Mission Church. He was assistant at St. Francis from 1934 to 1936, and he remembered his walk from Finleyville along Route 88, Brownsville Road, then Seabolt Road, up Piney Fork Road, to Church Street. It was necessary for him to carry with him a satchel containing the altar stone and the other items he needed to say mass. He also remembered times when it was necessary to lay a boardwalk from the street car tracks to the church because of flooding in front of the church, and how he often thought it was colder inside church than out, and how on warm days with windows and doors open, chickens often attended services. He remembered being grateful to Mrs. Tobiczyk, who lived next to the church, for making him as comfortable as possible while he was in Library, and to Robert Hicks for a ride back to Finleyville each week.
When Father Flaherty came to our parish in 1934, he had encouraged the youngsters to participate in sports. He participated in most of the sand lot baseball games. There was a basketball team that played regularly, as well as a football team.
Father Patrick Fenton Becomes Assistant
Father Patrick Fenton was assistant to Father Quilter (pastor at St. Francis) from April 26, 1945 to June 29, 1949. The duties and care of our little mission church were usually given to the assistant priest. So it was Father Fenton who began having two masses every Sunday to accommodate the number of people now attending St. Joan of Arc.
In January 1946, Bishop Boyle was asked by the church committee to reconsider St. Joan’s debt to the Diocese for the property in Library, which they considered “simply a fish pond.” Then on February 13, 1946, Father Quilter presented St. Joan of Arc a check for $3,001.66 that paid off our debt in full. We had been trying to indicate to the Bishop with how badly we needed to be a parish. What might have turned the tide was when Bishop Deaden came to St. Joan to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation. The confirmandi and their sponsors took up every inch of space in the church, while parents and friends had to remain outside. Such an overflow of people must have impressed the Bishop, for in June of 1949 Father Rice (later Monsignor) was assigned to St. Joan of Arc to establish us as an independent parish . . . no longer a mission of St. Francis of Assisi, Finleyville.
History of the Parish 1949-2012
Father Rice Appointed First Pastor (1949 – 1952)
The parish was established on June 30, 1949, with Father Patrick W. Rice as its first pastor. St. Francis of Assisi Pastor Rev. Quilter turned over to the newly organized parish the sum of $13,804.94, which belonged to St. Joan of Arc Mission Church. Father Rice in the first church bulletin announced that, for the time being, he would be making his home with Fr. Janok of St. Valentine in Coverdale (now Bethel Park), PA. The Sunday mass schedule would be 8:00, 9:00, and 11:00.
Since the parishioners had established a practice of having a summer money-raising social, which they named the “Lawn Fete,” Fr. Rice immediately set up a meeting of parish members to discuss preparations for the annual event. At this meeting, a general chairman and general chairlady were chosen: John Pauletich and Mrs. Englert. It was held for three days in August, had ten game booths and a raffle. The event made a profit of $1,848.
To get the parish on a sound financial footing and to start accumulating a building fund, Father Rice initiated a Dollar-a-Sunday Club, with envelopes available from the ushers. The names and amount of each contributor were published in the church bulletin. Beginning in January 1950, a packet of envelopes was distributed to each registered family. Each packet contained envelopes for each Sunday and the holy days.
In October 1949, Father Rice announced that he changed his temporary residence from St. Valentine’s rectory to St. Francis Academy, Whitehall. In December 1949, St. Joan of Arc Parish purchased the home of Mr. And Mrs. Roger Rigatti located on Route 88 for a rectory. The men of the parish remodeled it, and the women helped with the furnishings. Miss Nina Dougherty, sister of Mrs. Garnet McNaughton, a charter member of the parish, became the first housekeeper and remained Father Rice’s housekeeper even after he left here.
In July 1950, Father Rice was able to arrange for the purchase of a two-acre plot of ground, farmhouse, and barn located on Route 88 and bordered by Montour Street and Trax Lane, across from the present property of St. Joan of Arc. This property was owned by the Simmons family, who sold it to Dr. Perry Engstrom. He in turn agreed to sell it to St. Joan of Arc Parish at a cost of $16,433.50. The farmhouse was immediately put to use as an activities building. Card parties, spaghetti dinners, turkey diners and bingoes were held as money-raising events for the building fund. The building was first used by the Sisters of St. Joseph from St. Bernard, who taught Sunday School for our grade school children. Later, the Sisters of St. Francis Academy took over our Sunday School. On February 7, 1952, Father Rice was transferred, and Father Sullivan became our second Pastor.
Father George Sullivan Becomes Second Pastor (1952 – 1963)
Father Rice, our first Parish Pastor was transferred to Transfiguration Parish in Monongahela, PA. He has been remembered for his zealous work and good example and for the foresight to acquire the new property so that subsequent pastors were able to continue the development of St. Joan of Arc Church, school, and now our new beautiful Gathering Place (Domremy Hall).
The parish was still growing, and it was decided that we needed a school, as well as a larger church and parish house. In 1954 and for several years thereafter, the men canvassed the parish to obtain pledges from each family for their financial support of the Building Fund. Mr. McCloskey, a contractor, was hired for the new church-school building. The church cornerstone was laid in December 1954. On June 26, 1955, the $150,000 school and church were officially dedicated by Bishop John F. Deaden.
On May 8, 1956, new Stations of the Cross were erected, and in October, thanks to a gift from the Women’s Guild, Father Sullivan purchased a $2,000 electric organ.
Father Sullivan celebrated his silver jubilee on June 7, 1956. The parishioners sponsored an open house on the lawn of the convent to congratulate him for 25 years of priestly service. Sister Eucharia, Principal of our School, also celebrated her 25 years as a nun in the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.
With school enrollment growing, it was necessary to embark on another building program. With the bishop’s approval in 1957, two rooms were added on to the original first floor. A second floor consisting of six classrooms, a large multiple-purpose room, and a kitchen was completed at a cost of $99,105. Also, the convent had to be enlarged to accommodate additional teaching sisters. The addition to the convent was the work of volunteer parishioners, supervised by full-time parishioner-carpenter Steve Sewchock. The cost of the addition and furnishings was $11,000. Father Sullivan boasted that we had the best plant in the South Hills. The church could seat 660, the convent accommodated 16 sisters, and there were 16 schoolrooms, a new rectory and office. When school reopened in September 1957, the school consisted of grades 1 through 6, with two first grades.
Father Kurutz: Our First Assistant Pastor
On June 10, 1959, newly ordained Father Joseph F. Kurutz was assigned to St. Joan of Arc as Assistant Pastor. He has fond memories of St. Joan of Arc and of the parishioners whom he still recognizes when he visits during our annual carnival (Lawn Fete). On February 25, 1961, Bishop Wright blessed the entire St. Joan of Arc plant. Now that Father Sullivan had accomplished his goal of establishing a church and school, the Diocese on May 19, 1963, decided that he was needed at St. Athanasius in West View. Father Feldmeier replaced him as the third pastor of St. Joan of Arc. On January 23, 1964, the congregation was greatly saddened by Father Sullivan’s sudden death. They paid their last respects when the body was returned to St. Joan of Arc to lie in state for one day before burial from St. Athanasius.
Father Feldmeier as Pastor (1963 – 1969)
Father Francis X. Feldmeier was our third pastor, with Father John A. Palko as assistant. In June 1969, $7,891 was used to build a bridge over Piney Fork Creek from Library Road to the parking area. This was badly needed, as it was very inconvenient for parishioners coming south on Library Road to circle through Library to Church Street to get to the parking area. Only a very small footbridge was available from the parking area to the Church. In 1969, St. Joan of Arc had a congregation of about 1,000 families. Father John M. O’Toole was assistant when Father Feldmeier was transferred on August 20, 1969.
Father Fording as Pastor (1969 – 1973)
Our fourth pastor was Father John D. Fording, who was assisted (after Father O’Toole was transferred on March 2, 1971) by Father Joseph Galanda, Father Dennis A. Peterman in September, Father Martin R. Conley in January 1973, and Father John M. Bauer in 1973. He inaugurated as austerity program and urged parishioners to increase their offertory. Thus, he was able to pay off the inherited debt of $72,500 and to renovate the interior of the church. He was also able to have an additional Sister from the “Holy Family of Nazareth” order assigned to us to take over the CCD program for students attending public schools. Sister Patricia Ruth was a dynamic person who was always looking for ways to get all ages of parishioners involved in St. Joan of Arc Church. In addition to directing the CCD program, she organized the St. Joan of Arc Golden Agers, and arranged activities for the youth group.
Father Kuenzig as Pastor (1973 – 1996)
On July 2, 1973 Father Peter A. Kuenzig (better known as Father Pete) replaced Father Fording as our fifth Pastor. He was educated at St. Wendelin Grade School and South Side High School. He attended Duquesne University on a scholarship, majoring in pre-med.
However, realizing that the Lord was calling him to His service, Father Pete entered St. Vincent Seminary, where he received a Master of Arts degree. He was ordained into the Pittsburgh Diocese in June 1946 by Bishop Boyle. During the first 20 years of his priestly career, he served as associate pastor at various parishes in Butler, Beaver Falls, McKees Rocks, McKeesport, Crafton Heights, and South Side, Pittsburgh. In June 1966, he was assigned as Pastor of St. Alphonsus in Murrinsville and its mission church Epiphany in Boyers until July 2, 1973, when he was assigned to St. Joan of Arc.
In his 23 years as Pastor of St. Joan of Arc, noteworthy was his availability. No matter how busy he was, whenever a parishioner would visit the rectory, with or without an appointment, he always had the time to speak with them. It was necessary for Father Pete to have a quadruple heart bypass operation in June 1981. The operation was successful, and he still remembers the many parishioners who offered him their support and their prayers and good wishes. One of the important challenges that he faced was keeping the St. Joan of Arc School operating. Operating costs were increasing due mainly to the loss of teaching sisters and the decline in enrollment of students due to the appeal of the public schools, which offered greater and more varied extra curricular activities, especially in sports. However, when many parish schools were either closing or merging, Father Pete was able to manage the parish so that the school remains very viable today and attracts quality teachers. Father Pete retired on July 1, 1996, when he reached the diocesan mandatory retirement age of 75. He had nine assistants during his 23 years as Pastor of St. Joan of Arc. Father John Bauer was assistant when Father Pete became our pastor. Subsequent assistants and their starting dates were: William Guiser (October 1978), Joseph Karabin (October 1979), John Gudewicz (February 1980), Fidelis Lazar (March 1981), John Kozar (July 1984), Phillip Pribonic (July 1984), Paul Gruenbach (November 1986), and R. Donald Jones (October 1991). Parochial Vicar Paul Gruenbach was instrumental in having the parking lot paved; new lights, ceiling fans, memorial glass doors and windows, and a cry room installed in the church. As well as the renovation of the front of the church-school building including a handicap ramp entrance.
Father Pribonic: Our Current Pastor (1996 – 2017)
Father Phillip P. Pribonic was ordained on December 21, 1967, at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. He said his first mass on January 1, 1968, at St. Maurus Church, Bosiljevo, Croatia. He celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving July 21, 1968, at St. Denis Church, Versailles, PA, and his Silver Anniversary Mass on May 30, 1993, at St. Valentine, Bethel Park, PA. Father Pribonic returned on July 1, 1996, to St. Joan of Arc as Pastor. He had been an assistant here from July 1984 to November 1986, when he left to become Pastor at St. Valentine. His first assistant at St. Joan of Arc was Kenneth Kazmarsky, followed by E. Daniel Sweeney. Father Dan, as he liked to be addressed, was transferred to Pastor of Epiphany Church on October 23, 1998. Father Dan was helping Fr. Pribonic to initiate a large building program. He also organized a group of St. Joan of Arc parishioners to join several other parish volunteers participating in a yearly program of building homes for the needy in Appalachia. However, a pastor was urgently needed at Epiphany Parish in the lower hill district of Pittsburgh. Since then, Father Pribonic alone has operated the parish and continued on with a building program he initiated.
Father Pribonic saw a need in the Parish for a social/banquet hall – a gathering place that he envisioned in which church- and school-related events could be held. He also felt that the church itself needed to be remodeled. Thus, in late winter of 1998-99 he began advising the parishioners that he was embarking on a building program, a program that entailed the construction of a hall adjacent to the school-church building where the old original farmhouse and bar was situated. Remodeling of the church would follow this. Construction of the building began on July 12, 1999, and was completed on March 10, 2000. Through the efforts of many volunteer parishioners, the finishing of the inside (wall papering, wood trim, etc.) was completed in time to have fish dinners prepared and served the last four weeks of Lent. Father asked parishioners to suggest a name for the new building. He selected “Domremy Pavilion” suggested by Miss Kathleen Hall. Domremy being the name of the birthplace of Joan of Arc in Lorraine, France. Since the building also has large rooms and garages, Father refers to the actual hall as “The Gathering Place.” On June 11, 2000, the celebrating of Mass was temporarily moved to “The Gathering Place” and the remodeling of the church began. The entire cost was estimated at about $1.4 million. Father Pribonic has been pleasantly surprised by the wonderful response that he received from parishioners in buying memorials, etc., to raise the necessary funds.
On February 8, 2012, due to low enrollment, expected higher tuition fees, and increased parish subsidy for school operations, Father Pribonic asked Bishop Zubik, Bishop of Pittsburgh, to close Saint Joan of Arc School at the end of the 2011 – 2012 school year. On February 13, 2012, Bishop Zubik ackowledged that Saint Joan of Arc school would close following the 2011-2012 school year after providing a Catholic education to the South Hills communities for 57 years.
Past Organizations and Societies
August Summer Carnival 1973 – 2011
St Joan of Arc School 1955 – 2012
St. Joan of Arc Kindergarten 1975 – 2012
St. Joan of Arc Preschool 1988 – 2011
Parent Teacher Association/Boosters 1977 – 2012
Athletic Association 1957 – 2012
Altar Society 1924 – 1949
May Crowning 1925 – 1951
St. Joan of Arc Warriors/Jaw 1925 – 1935
Holy Name Society 1935 – 1969
Young Ladies Sodality 1934 – 1951
Camp Fire Girls 1936 – 1942
Boy Scouts 1942 – 1945
Lawn Fete 1944 – 1969
Christian Mothers 1954 – 1974
Children’s Choir- 1984
Mission Group 1958 – 1989
CYO – 1959 – 1981
St. Joan of Arc Golden Agers 1970 – 1981
Folk Group/Glory Singers 1970 – 1983
Mixed Choir 1973 – 1991
Women’s Guild 1984 – 1988