Oct. 18, 1936: Roman Catholics played a role in Pittsburgh before the city was named for William Pitt. Father Denys Baron, chaplain at Fort Duquesne, a French garrison at the Point, offered the first Roman Catholic Mass here on April 17, 1754.
The faith spread across Western Pennsylvania and by 1941, the Pittsburgh diocese counted a total population of 874,000 Catholics and 387 parishes. That made it the second largest diocese in the nation, with the largest being the diocese of Brooklyn in New York.
During the last century, the Holy Name Society hosted Eucharistic rallies in the evening at Forbes Field and Pitt Stadium. In 1941, Bishop Hugh Boyle presided over a gathering at Forbes Field, which attracted nearly 1,000 priests and about 10,000 altar boys and choir boys. The stadium was packed with more than 40,000 people. An overflow crowd gathered in Schenley Park and on Flagstaff Hill.
A dramatic moment was the lighting of tens of thousands of candles. Catholics prayed for the intentions of Pope Pius XII, which included, “actual realization of social justice and works of assistance in favor of the humble and needy.”
Although a pope has never toured Pittsburgh, two men who later became the Bishop of Rome made visits to the city. In September of 1951, Monsignor Giovanni Battisti Montini, who was serving as the substitute papal secretary of state, came to the U.S. on vacation.
He paid a condolence call on the mother of his late colleague, Monsignor Walter S. Carroll, who had died in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 24, 1950. Monsignor Carroll had served in the Vatican’s Office of Secretariat of State.
While here, Monsignor Montini offered Mass at Sacred Heart Church for the opening of the school year. At the time, Monsignor Carroll’s brother, Coleman, was pastor at Sacred Heart. Monsignor Montini was elected to the papacy in 1963 and was known as Pope Paul VI.
On Sept. 20, 1969, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla visited St. Stanislaus Kostka in the Strip District, where he prayed in front of the Blessed Sacrament and at the side altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In October of 1978, he was elected to the papacy and became Pope John Paul II.