-by Kelsey Shea
In 1986, when Historic Deutschtown resident Ed Graf returned home after a trip to London, his wife greeted him at the airport with some significant news.
“We bought a church. Now what do you want to do?,” Mary Ann Graf asked her husband.
Twenty five years later, the old church on Pressley Street that the Grafs bought in 1986 is now the Northside staple, The Priory Hotel.
The Grafs and about 150 other community members and partners celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Priory on November 26 with a party for the hotel and event venue’s silver anniversary.
The Priory Hotel is a boutique hotel in Historic Deutschtown in the former St. Mary’s German Catholic Church. Since the hotel and grand hall opened in 1987, there have been more than 215,000 overnight guests and 650 weddings hosted there.
The anniversary party was attended by Jeanne Caliguiri, wife of the late Mayor of Pittsburgh Richard Caliguiri, former Mayor Tom Murphy and current Mayor Luke Ravenstahl all of whom played roles in the revitalization of the Priory.
Ed and Mary Ann’s son and business partner John Graf gave special thanks to Mayor Richard Caliguiri’s widow and son who were in attendance for the effort the late mayor made to ensure the Priory had a parking lot and the resources they needed to open.
The Priory’s catering service provided the food and Central Northsider Tom Roberts played music as well as Pittsburgh musician Jeff Jimerson.
The event was free, but there was a suggested donation of $25 that went towards the National Aviary and the Homeless Children’s Education Fund.
Passing the microphone back and forth, Mary Ann and Ed told the story of how they came to purchase the building and open their business.
In the’80s, the plan for the construction of 279 would have run the highway right through where the Priory Hotel now stands, but community advocates, including Ed and Mary Ann, convinced PennDOT to reconsider the plan, thus saving the then abandoned but historic St. Mary’s Church and St. Boniface.
After the Church fell in an out of the hands of a group of investors, it went for up for auction, which is when Mary Ann and Ed bought the church.
The business started as a 25 room hotel before the Grafs restored the grand hall in 1995. In 2004, The Priory Hospitality Group opened a bakery on East Ohio Street, and in 2009 the Grafs built a 17-room addition in 2009.
East Allegheny Community Council member and Deutschtown resident Nick Kyriazi recalled walking into the church when the Grafs first purchased it and seeing holes in the ceiling and pigeons flying around inside.
“This is our neighborhood’s crown jewel,” said Kyriazi. “They’ve done a great job here.”