From the banks of the Allegheny River, extending westward along the highway of Route 68, lies the scattered community of Brady’s Bend. In the early 19th century, this was a thriving community of nearly 5,000 people.
Looking back, the history of St. Patrick Church reveals that it is more than your average parish community. In addition to the present church in Brady’s Bend, the parish operates its original log cabin church in Sugar Creek, which was built by Irish immigrants in 1806.
The historical log cabin church still stands as the oldest church west of the Allegheny Mountains, and joined the National Registrar of Historic Places as a state historic shrine in 1977.
Beginning in 1929, the parish community also operated a church in Sugarcreek Township, which was used as a mission church for St. Patrick Parish until becoming a chapel of convenience.
The mission church to St. Patrick was located near the historic log structure, and is still referred to as the first Roman Catholic Church west of the Alleghenies. Unfortunately, due to a decline in the number of priests, Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt, the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Greensburg, closed St. Patrick Chapel in January 2007.
When reviewing the history of St. Patrick Parish, Brady’s Bend, the first settlers to the area arrived from Germany, Belgium and Ireland. By 1864, more than 200 Catholics resided in and near the small town.
At that time, Catholics traveled two miles to SS. Peter and Paul Church in nearby Queenstown to attend Mass. Priests from neighboring towns served the parish community, and the late Father Thomas Walsh, the first resident pastor in Queenstown, saw the need for a church in Brady’s Bend.
He obtained a lot on the north bank of Sugar Creek, and before long a church with a seating capacity for 600 was erected.
The cornerstone as blessed July 19, 1864, by the late Bishop Domenec of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and later dedicated July 29, 1864, under the patronage of St. Patrick. Due to the ceasing of Brady’s Bend Iron Company’s operation, the population of Brady’s Bend progressively dropped to only 30 families.
By 1897, and after four pastors served the community, the parish was reduced to the status of a mission and served by priests from the Diocese of Erie. In the mid-1930s, Brady’s Bend made a major industrial comeback with the opening of coal mines, brick manufacturing plants and the Pittsburgh Limestone Company’s quarry. By 1935, the late Bishop Hugh C. Boyle of Pittsburgh reclaimed the parish and named the late Father Clifford, a pastor from nearby Murrinsville, the priest in charge.
By July 14, 1935, the late Father Thomas McPherson was appointed pastor of St. Patrick, and its mission, St. James, in Petrolia.
Under Father McPherson’s guidance, the vacant rectory across the street from the church was renovated. The late Father James A. Bryne, who was welcomed by the community in October 1942, then redecorated the church interior, remodeled the altars and laid a new floor in the church.
Drawing of St. Patrick ParishIn 1949, the Father Byrne was succeeded by the late Father Albert P. Ackerman. Father Ackerman saw Brady’s Bend join the newly formed Diocese of Greensburg in 1951, and also became pastor of the Chapel of St. Patrick, Sugar Creek, which now served as a mission church.
In September 1960, the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, across from the church, was dedicated and a capsule in the cornerstone lists the names of those who contributed to the project.
Under the direction of the late Father Curry and late Father P. Lino Ramellini plans for a new church and rectory came to fruition. Both the Etzell and Nagnani properties were purchased, and the ground breaking ceremony for the new St. Patrick Church waShrine of Our Lady of Lourdess held November 3, 1968.
The parish community concluded construction of their new church in Brady’s Bend in 1969. It was dedicated November 2 of that same year. Total cost for the new church (54 feet by 105 feet) was estimated at $163,000 and seated 350 people.
The Romanesque sandstone structured church in Sugar Creek became a chapel once the new church in Brady’s Bend was completed, and remained open until the early 2000s.
The new rectory was finished two years later in 1971, and soon after a new church hall was constructed.
On August 14, 1980, Brady’s Bend was hard hit when a flash flood caused extensive damage to the church and hall (see inset below).
Father ChesterJ. Raimer was appointed pastor in 1986. He organized a church choir; saw an addition built on the existing social hall; and renovated the cemetery. He also organized a chapter of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
A shrine was beautified and rededicated in 1987, and the log cabin church in Sugar Creek was restored during this time as well.
The flood of 1980
A flood devastated the community of Brady’s Bend in Armstrong County on the day before the Feast of the Assumption in August 1980. Nine people were the victims of the flood’s raging waters.
St. Patrick’s social hall served as a primary relief center, where residents of the town joined together for food and water. However, St. Patrick Church still had substantial damages to its own structure despite the social hall and church serving as a safe haven for individuals whose personal belongings were swept away by the flood.
The late Father Henry J. Murphy, pastor during the time of the flood, counted three stained glass windows demolished from water pressure, as well as two other side windows that were damaged from the water. “Water was up to the foot of the altar. The garage was half full of water, and the two automobiles inside were completely destroyed,” Father Murphy told The Catholic Accent in the August 21, 1980, issue following the flood.
Overall, the church sustained $100,000 in damage from the flood. The region’s total damage was estimated at $42 million. Ten homes were destroyed entirely.
The parish community celebrated its 25th anniversary October 29, 1994, with its current and many additional former pastors. Several renovations to the church included cleaning and varnishing the church pews; recarpeting the aisles and sanctuary area; and placing vinyl seamless carpeting underneath the pews.
Today, the log cabin structure in Sugar Creek, still serves as an icon for Catholic heritage in Armstrong County, and a common site for pilgrimages of faith. The church is home to over 200 families, which make up roughly 515 Catholics in the area.