New Castle News

October 3, 2013

Hitting 125: Mass to mark milestone anniversary for St. Joseph the Worker Church

David Burcham
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — It has meant so much to so many for so long.

St. Joseph the Worker Church has been part of the fabric and landscape of New Castle for more than a century.

Starting with 20 families in 1888, the parish grew to a maximum of 1,500 families at its downtown site before relocating on Cascade Street.

The countdown to commemorating the church’s 125-year anniversary began last fall. Various past and present parishioners and former students have participated in monthly activities and events — all featuring the number 125 and the theme “We Remember, We Celebrate, We Believe.”

It’s been a year filled with joyous celebrations, now giving way to anticipation of what will take place Oct. 13 — an afternoon Mass celebrated by the Most Rev. David A. Zubik, Diocesan Bishop.

In the final days before the special observance, a weary Sheryl Skowronski remains faithful and focused.

“We tried to incorporate prayer, good works and stewardship into all of our activities,” said the longtime director of religious education at St. Joseph. She is a master at coordinating, having helped plan weddings for daughter Kelly and son T.J.

But those were merely tune-ups for her current endeavor as chairperson for the anniversary.

“We wanted to do something every month leading up to the bishop celebrating Mass here,” said Skowronski, who attended St. Joseph school from 1960 through 1967.

Skowronski said the Oct. 13 Mass will be unique because it will involve “each of our groups (ministries) from our parish for past 25 years.”

They will be part of an opening procession that will also include CCD and Sunday school teachers. Banners will be carried, identifying each ministry.

The normal schedule of a 6 p.m. Mass Saturday and a 9 a.m. Mass Sunday will be replaced by a 3 p.m. Mass Oct. 13. Catholic parishes throughout the city have been invited to join the celebration with St. Joseph members.

The average attendance at those Masses is about 200, but Skowronski said that number may triple for the anniversary Mass.

Several priests scheduled to take part in the Mass include the Rev. Frank Almade, current pastor; the Rev. Norbert Campbell, a pastor at St. Joseph from 1985 through 1999; the Rev. Richard Ward, who served in the 1970s; the Rev. Philip N. Farrell, V.E. Episcopal Vicar for Pastoral Vicariate Region 4; the Rev. Mark L. Thomas of Holy Redeemer Parish in Ellwood City; the Rev. William P. Siple; the Rev. Nicholas S. Vaskov; The Rev. James Downs, pastor at St. James and Christ the King Church; and John Curran, deacon.

The Knights of Columbus will be involved.

“As much participation as we can get from the congregation is what we’re after,” Skowronski said.

Following the Mass, a dinner is planned at the New Englander with music by The Dorals and dancing. For more information regarding any of the events, call (724) 658-1683, or visit the church website at

“The church is part of my everyday life,” said Dougherty, 61, who was chairperson for the first St. Joseph school reunion, which took place in the summer.

“My parents attended St. Joseph and I was baptized there.”

“We’ve attended school here taught by the nuns,” Dougherty said. “It was some of that was the best times of our lives.”

In June of 1954, Bishop Dearden, of Pittsburgh decreed: “In order to provide better for the welfare of souls, it has become necessary and expedient to transfer the parish of St. Joseph to a new location.” The goal was to raise $250,000 to build a new church and school which was relocated to 1111 S. Cascade Street on the city’s east side. The school was opened in 1956.

In 1972, it became necessary to close the school for lack of enrollment, lack of funds and the general withdrawal of the Sisters of St. Francis (Millvale), who taught at the school. The convent was converted into a home for the aged known as St. Joseph Residence.

For Skowronski, the church is still all about families. “I don’t know how people go through life without faith,” she said.

“It’s about bringing people closer to Jesus Christ and passing on traditions of faith,” she said. “These are challenging times for parents who want to instill Catholic values in their children.”

Skowronski said St. Joseph has been blessed through the years with its leaders, “but it’s the people that keep it alive.”

“We persevered through the (2010) death of a beloved pastor (Father Robert Schweitzer). Only through faith can you get through such difficult times.”

“We have a great steering committee with Jeanne Snyder and Carol Gardner Malizia and we’ve done everything we can do,” Skoronski said. “Now we just hope it all comes together.”

In addition to their commitment to the celebration, they share the bond of faith.

“Every week we’ve been tweaking something,” Skowronski said. “But we’re all meeting-ed out!”

“One thing we know, through all the trials and tribulations, God always wins.”

Almade said he has been following the lead of the committee. “I’m very impressed with what they’ve done.”

“They’ve made a lot of effort to look backward, but are also excited about moving forward, too.”