Saint Raphael parish has its beginnings as many East End parishes, with the founding of Saint Patrick’s in the Strip District. Saint Patrick’s was founded in 1810, to serve the growing Catholic population settling on the eastern bank of the Allegheny, the site of many of Pittsburgh’s mills and factories. By 1840, the congregation became too large to be adequately served by one parish, and the Germans branched off to form a new parish, Saint Philomena’s, also located in the Strip.
In 1854, the Irish, residents of Irishtown, now known as Lawrenceville, branched off from Saint Patrick to form their own parish, Saint Mary’s on 46th Street The town was the center of manufacturing in the area, and Lawrenceville grew. Saint Mary’s grew so much that in 1878, the parish was divided and Saint John the Baptist church was built at Liberty Ave and 36th Street (In 1993, that parish was merged with three other parishes to form Our Lady of the Angels - the building is now a restaurant).
As Lawrenceville prospered, families started moving up the hill to get away from the mill dirt & smoke. A new community formed called Morningside. The Number 96 streetcar ran from East Liberty down Chislett Street to Butler Street and back along Jancey Street through this new community. In 1911, the residents of Morningside petitioned the bishop for a new church, and on July 15, 1911, Saint Raphael Parish was formed from parts of three neighboring parishes, Sacred Heart in Shadyside, Saint Lawrence O’Toole in Garfield, and Saint Kieran in Lawrenceville. Fr. John Gallagher was appointed pastor of the new parish.
While searching for a more permanent location, the new parish rented a house at 901 Highview Street. The parish eventually purchased the DuBarry property on Chislett near Hampton, and plans called for a new church, rectory, school and convent. Within months, a temporary church was built. The first Mass was celebrated in the original building on December 24, 1911. That building was to become the parish hall when the new church and school were built.
The first day of classes at Saint Raphael Parish Elementary School was September 8, 1915, under the direction of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. The school had ten classrooms and an auditorium and served 134 students.
The parish experienced rapid growth, and in 1920, the present rectory and a convent on Jancey Street were purchased. A co-educational high school was opened in 1926. However, Bishop Boyle was not a fan of co-educational high schools, and worked with the Christian Brothers to open Central Catholic High School in Oakland. The first graduating class from Saint Raphael High School in 1930 was the only co-educational class to graduate; beginning in the fall of 1930 the high school served only girls. By 1940, the school had outgrown the original building, and a three-story addition was built to house the high school.
Now that the parish school was well established, attention turned to the need for a new church building. With the help of a generous bequest from the estate of Mildred Kelly King, plans were made for a new church building, which was dedicated by Bishop Wright on December 20, 1959. The original church building was remodeled into a gymnasium and renamed Gallagher Hall in honor of the parish’s first pastor.
By 1962, the grade school had become overcrowded, and for five years some Saint Raphael students were taught in classrooms in the Saint Kieran school annex. In 1966, a new Saint Raphael High School building was built, complete with cafeteria and science labs. With the growth of neighboring girls’ high schools, the decision was made to close Saint Raphael Girls’ High School. The last class graduated in 1973. At the same time Morningside was growing in population, Lawrenceville’s population began to decline. The mills were closing and people moved out of the area in search of work. By 1993, the diocese found it necessary to merge Saint Kieran parish with Saint Mary Assumption on 57th Saint The new parish was renamed Saint Matthew. In 2012, Saint Matthew was merged with Saint Raphael.
With the new Children’s Hospital nearby, the revitalization of the East Liberty Corridor, and the merger with Saint Matthew, Saint Raphael Parish is poised for growth. The monthly children’s liturgy is well-attended, and other ministries are on the horizon. Combined with the strong foundation of ministries already in place, Saint Raphael Parish is well on its way to becoming one of the stronger ministerial presences in the East End of Pittsburgh.
O Sacrum convivium, in quo Christus sumitur: recolitur memoria passionis eius;
mens impletur gratia et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur.
O Sacred Banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of his passion recalled,
and a pledge of future glory is given to us.
Panis angelicus fit panis hominum; dat panis caelicus figuris terminum;
O res mirabilis: manducat Dominum pauper, servus et humilis.
The bread of angels is become the bread of men; this heavenly bread does away with symbols;
O what a wonderful thing, that a poor and humble servant may consume his Lord.