Our Church History
Each milestone is but another commencement.
Right Reverend Bishop Christopher, 1984
In the beginning. . .
Our people began to come to Pittsburgh toward the end of the 19th century, most from the province of Croatia around Gomirje, which was then in the autocratic hands of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. This monarchy had as its goal the conversion of the Serbian Orthodox people to Roman Catholicism and the absorption of the Serbian culture.
To safeguard their Orthodoxy and Serbian heritage, many Serbian people immigrated to America, settling on South Side. Most of the men found jobs in the mills but life was very hard for our early pioneers.
They attended other Orthodox churches but felt a need to have a church of their own. On October 8, 1905, a group of Serbs organized a church that was incorporated as St. George Serbian Eastern Orthodox Church on January 13, 1906. In 1910, land in Carrick was purchased for the St. George Serbian Orthodox Cemetery. With hard work, sacrifice and great love for their faith the humble community thrived -- enough to outgrow the “single-story converted house church.” They found larger quarters at the Lutheran Church at 103 S. 16th Street in 1911, built a belfry in 1917 and established a church school and a choir. By the early 1920s the ladies formed a Kolo Srpskih Sestara – Circle of Serbian Sisters – an indispensable part of the parish ever since.
Then the Depression hit in this country. And there was strife and power struggles abroad. With the assassination of King Alexander in Marseilles, France, on October 9, 1934, things came to a head in South Side.
A group of Serbs decided to form their own parish and separate from St. George. Their church – St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church – was incorporated on August 4, 1935. A Russian church (once a bakery) at 2107 Sidney Street became their new church home. St. Sava grew rapidly and bought land in 1937 in Bethel Park for a cemetery and picnic grounds. A church school was formed.
And the two were united. . .
St. Sava’s was under the Serbian Orthodox Diocese in the United States and Canada and St. George became an “independent” Serbian Church. During the pastorate of Archimandrite Firmilian at St. George Church (1949-51), this church also came under the Diocese.
Even when there was strife, wiser heads prevailed. In 1956, St. George Church moved to reunify. The first effort failed, but efforts resumed in earnest in 1960. On January 15, 1961, St. George sent St. Sava ”an open invitation to your church for a discussion of the unifications of our churches.” The first “unity committee” met on April 3. A dual membership vote on October 8, 1961 ratified the unification. The two churches were incorporated into the Serbian Orthodox Church-School Congregation of Pittsburgh on December 4, 1961.
On July 15, 1962, the combined membership voted to adopt a new name and on October 5, 1962, the amended decree was signed proclaiming the new name -- Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church-School Congregation of Pittsburgh.
Though only five blocks, apart the church couldn’t continue to exist in two buildings.
On February 17, 1967, the problem was solved. In memory of her late husband Carl, Mrs. Louise Thoma Colteryahn of blessed memory, donated 5.8 acres of land with two houses in Whitehall valued at that time at approximately a quarter of a million dollars. Jovan Tomich was appointed architect on March 23, 1967.
Groundbreaking for the new church – July 21, 1968 – was another historic moment! Construction contract and financing were approved by the congregation membership on June 8, 1969, and the construction contract was signed on June 13.
Despite complex legal and financial problems, construction began on September 15. Bishop Sava blessed the cornerstone of the new church on November 18. Labor problems notwithstanding, the church building was completed in less than two years. Two stainless steel crosses were blessed and placed on the domes of the new church on March 28, 1971. On April 4, 1971, three bronze bells were blessed and placed in the belfry.
Unless the Lord built the house. . .
On May 2, 1971, Bishop Sava, along with Bishops Firmilian and Gregory and twenty priests, consecrated the new church and celebrated the first Divine Liturgy! V. Fr. Milan Savich, who served at St. George beginning in 1953, and V. Rev. Zivojin Zdravkovic, who served at St. Sava beginning in 1968, were the host priests.
The new complex is an impressive example of architectural engineering fashioned of 139 tons of structural steel and 67,500 cubic feet of concrete. But beyond its award-winning architectural grandeur, Holy Trinity Cathedral is a living testament to the deep and abiding faith and heritage it sustains.