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Pittsburgh's St. Benedict the Moor Parish has been community staple for 100-plus years

Pittsburgh's St. Benedict the Moor Parish welcomes all
Pittsburgh's St. Benedict the Moor Parish welcomes all 04:03

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — For 135 years, St. Benedict the Moor Parish has been serving the African American community in Pittsburgh's Hill District.

St. Benedict the Moor was the son of African slaves, born in Scilly in the 1500s. He became known for his charity work throughout his life as a man of the cloth. And after his death, he was made the patron saint of the African diaspora. Many churches and parishes around the world bear his name, including here in Pittsburgh. 

Father Lou Vallone was the pastor at St. Benedict's throughout most of the 1980s and into the early 90s. He says that this church and parish are unique in the catholic diocese because St. Benedict the Moor is personal for its parishioners.

"If you are Polish, you go to the Polish ethnic parish by default," said Father Vallone. "But if you are African American, or African, or African Caribbean, you can personally choose to identify here. It is canonically a personal parish. So, there is more of the involvement of the individual rather than coming by default."

Two people who have personally identified here for almost 50 years are Judge Conrad A. Johnson and his wife, Carol A. Johnson.

These two say that this has always been a church and a parish full of not just laughter and love but of people who care about one another.

"We do all know each other," Carol said. "We are concerned about everything that happens in each other's lives. We are concerned about the new babies.We are concerned about if somebody is sick. We are concerned about if somebody has needs that need to be addressed and we cherish each other."

Judge Johnson added, "St. Benedict the Moor's charism is one of our gifts. It is one of hospitality. We are welcoming to anyone. And anyone who visits or comes to the parish, and some become members, are struck or impressed by how welcoming of contraction we are to everyone who comes through our doors."

Father Matthew Hawkins is the current pastor and administrator for this parish. He is proud of the church's 135-year history in the city and the Hill District, but he says that the doors here are open to anyone and that on Sundays when he looks out from the altar, he sees a diverse and growing congregation.

"Increasingly, we have graduate students from the universities, from Pitt, CMU and Duquesne," said Father Hawkins. "We have young adults, we have older adults, we have senior citizens who are interested in their adult children and grandchildren coming back to church. They know that if they come to Benedict the Moor, the homily will actually be about the sacraments and sacred scripture. It will not be about something else, and I think people really do appreciate that."

If you would like to stop into St. Benedict the Moor Parish, all are welcome at Mass, which is celebrated each Sunday at 11 a.m. 

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