MONONGAHELA (KDKA) – The final Mass was held Saturday afternoon at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Monongahela.
The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh announced, back in March, that the building would close its doors.
However, more than 35 parishioners refused to leave after the 4 p.m. service, protesting the bishop’s decision. Police and private security guards were called.
“Until a judge or the District Attorney tells me to remove them, I’m not going to remove them,” Monongahela Police Chief Brian Tempest told KDKA. “I’m not going to drag anybody out of church. A lot of people need drug into church.”
No additional people were allowed back into the church to join the members who were holding vigil inside.
No additional items were permitted to be delivered, though our crew did see a child carry a bag of medicine inside to one of the people.
Several elderly people left voluntarily, saying they simply couldn’t stay overnight.
Joe Ravasio talked to KDKA through one of the windows. He said the group inside was in constant prayer.
“We’re praying for God to lead us for the continuation that this church stays open,” said Ravasio. “There’s been 42 Catholic churches reopened in the last two-and-a-half years and our prayer is this is going be number 43.”
The spokesman for the Diocese, Fr. Ron Lengwin, told KDKA, “Some of the people I met a couple of times, they came to Pittsburgh to demonstrate…. were very good people, and I respect them very much and I understand how people feel, but there comes a time when you need to move on.”
In 2011, the Diocese merged St. Anthony and Transfiguration parishes into one parish, renaming it St. Damien of Molokai.
Three people were still remaining in the church Sunday morning, but eventually left. A prayer service was held Sunday night outside of the church, which is now officially closed.
Members of the congregation are welcomed to continue worshiping at Transfiguration Church, which is located in the center of Monongahela.
Lynne Hayes-Freeland reports: