An Orbit Obit: Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Duquesne

interior of former Holy Trinity Catholic church with spray paint graffiti and sky visible through the roof, Duquesne, PA

Before the fall. Holy Trinity’s chancel and still (barely) intact roof

The term ruin porn makes it sound so dirty. The Orbit likes to consider its mission[1] a noble one: peek into special, disappearing, fantastic places; record, document, and tell their tales–especially the ones that won’t be around that long.

But there’s a nebby, morbid, and yes, prurient curiosity too. How did things get this way? What’s going to happen next? Why isn’t anyone paying attention here? If I were a citizen of Duquesne, or any of its struggling sister boros, would I be resentful of some ne’er-do-well blogger poking his bicycle-riding picture-taking schnoz into my town’s business? I don’t know, but yeah…maybe.

interior of former Holy Trinity Catholic church with spray paint graffiti and sky visible through the roof, Duquesne, PA

Holy Trinity’s nave, viewed from the second floor alley window

The news came just this week that Monday’s huge thunderstorm had finally collapsed the roof and several wall sections of the century-old former Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Duquesne. The church is so close to catastrophe that nearby residents have been relocated and the city is expediting plans to demolish what remains out of safety concerns.

The Orbit had the good fortune–or, at least, good timing–to stumble upon and check out Holy Trinity mere weeks before the walls literally came tumbling down. We captured a few final images of the church, its threadbare, about-to-drop ceiling, and the sad beauty of a kind of old world liturgical construction that we’ll surely never see created anew.

exterior of former Holy Trinity Catholic church, Duquesne, PA missing windows and trees growing over front steps

Exterior, from South 1st Street

Pittsburgh is littered with beautiful, old churches. Many of the ones that no longer function as houses of worship have been repurposed into any manner of creative second lives. Performance halls, community centers, art studios, living spaces, a hookah lounge, and even a brewery have been reborn from sacred bones. Last year we got all dewey-eyed drooling over the potential of the former St. George’s Syrian Orthodox Church in the lower Hill. This blogger’s co-worker is still trying to figure out what to do with the combined church and school he bought in Tarentum for the price of a suped-up SUV earlier this year.

Holy Trinity - mural Moses

Chancel mural

So it’s worth remembering that despite metro Pittsburgh’s relative urban health–verging on full-on priced-out gentrification in some necks of the wood–places like Duquesne exist just a couple miles down the river…any of the rivers. They’re dying (quite literally) for any investment.

In Duquesne, according to the WTAE report, city managers can’t even find the owner of the old church. Twenty years ago–maybe not even that long–the former Holy Trinity, abandoned by its congregation in 1970, was probably still in a state where it could have been saved, loved, and re-used. Now, we’ve not just lost the potential of preserving something unique and beautiful, but that very thing has become a safety hazard to even leave around as standing ruins. Sigh.

Holy Trinity - mural lamb

Chancel mural

Mrs. The Orbit and I sometimes squabble about what the changes to Pittsburgh’s fortunes will really amount to. Will the Lawrencevillianization of the East End spill across the rivers and turn the city into another place where, you know, “real people” can’t afford to live any more? Or do we just have way too much available space[2] and cheap housing with nowhere near the curb appeal of a New York or a San Francisco?[3]

This optimist tends to believe the latter. But if, by some crazy twist of socio-economic happenstance, every looking-for-a-change young person really does decide to turn Pittsburgh into the “next Portland”, hopefully it will mean a breath of life to the immediate industry towns just outside city limits which will inevitably absorb some of the overflow. If we could see good things come to Ambridge, New Kensington, McKeesport, and, yes, Duquesne, well, that might make it all worthwhile. Let’s just hope it happens before all the roofs collapse.

view through broken glass block window in shape of a cross to dark interior of former Holy Trinity Catholic church, Duquesne, PA

View through (replacement) second floor rear window (from Oak Alley)

All photos taken July 25, 2016 just a month prior to the roof and wall collapse on August 29.

Also: Lost Monongahela has a nice write-up with some great photos on the history of Holy Trinity and the congregation’s decision to build a brand new church in nearby West Mifflin and abandon their original home in Duquesne.

[1] At least, one of its missions.
[2] Pittsburgh’s current city population is around 325,000–just about half of what it was in the 1960 census–there is a lot of vacant land here.
[3] Not to mention the sunshine and no-snow climate of a Charlotte, Miami, or Los Angeles.

7 thoughts on “An Orbit Obit: Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Duquesne

  1. Hipstre says:

    ha ha ha… the church owns the church. When it comes time to spend a million dollars tearing it down, what are they doing? Spending $100,000,000 on a party canonizing Mother Theresa.


  2. Denise says:

    Thanks for the good read! I live in Duquesne (not near the church) and have always wanted to explore this church. Thanks for the pictures. I wonder what it looks like now. I didn’t realize it has sat abandoned for so long!


  3. John Kulha says:

    I returned to Pittsburgh in June for my Aunt and Uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary; they were married in Holy Trinity RC Church. None of my family living in the area has been to the church for years. My grandmother, as the story goes, was the first child baptized in that church in 1904. I have pics of my father at the school, in the choir and acting in plays. So two days before their anniversary, I convinced a friend to go with me and see the church. The dual steeples slowly being covered with vines were beautiful against the blue sky. We dodged the poison ivy on the front steps and entered the now “church of the drug users”. It was amazingly sad to see the transformed interior. All the religious artifacts had been removed but not the icon-style paintings above the graffiti-covered altar area. Trash bags, needles, fallen pieces of the ceiling, small fire remnants, and other unidentifiable and unmentionable items were everywhere. We took lots of pics and some video. The stairway down to the underlying halls looked accessible, but we decided to avoid that journey into some unknown hell. We also avoided the stairs up into the choir loft (where my father sang in the 1930’s); that looked even more dangerous. The roof to the left of the altar had been burned, and only charred thin slats remained. You could see the sky through there, so It was no surprise that during the September windstorm the remains of the roof collapsed. So this once magnificent house of worship was abandoned/sold in 1970 and not a thing was done by the Diocese or the city to either restore or demolish it. Why was nothing ever done? And now the city is “rushing” to devise a plan to demolish the church. When will that happen? Maybe they can sell the bricks to whomever remains of the old parishioners, or to the ones who now worship at the new church. I hope someone saves the cornerstone and opens it to see if anything survived. RIP “Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Slavish Church, Founded October 16, 1904, Duquesne, PA”.


    • Stephanie Bialobok says:

      John, are you related to Anna Marie Kulha, Holy Trinity Grade School Class of 1968?
      The Class of 1968 or the Class of 1969 was the last class to be affiliated with the old church.


      • John Kulha says:

        I found your email buried in my inbox. Yes, I am related to Anna Marie Kulha (her father was my uncle George). I’ve not heard anything since the early 1980’s (I believe that George died in July 1984). What is your relationship?


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