Rain fell on the site of the former St. Nicholas R.C. Croatian Church along Route 28 in Troy Hill during the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Dedication June 20 as if the Heavens too mourned the loss of America’s first Croatian Catholic congregation.
The church was completely demolished in 2014 as part of Route 28 construction after plans to open a National Immigration Museum at the site never came to fruition.
“This is a day of great joy because we’re all together, but I feel a little bittersweet today,” Mark Masterson, executive director of the Northside Community Development Fund, said. “We all had such high hopes for the conversion of the church in to the National Immigration Museum. We spent a lot of money. We had a feasibility study that frankly I didn’t think it would be feasible, but it actually was very feasible.”
Masterson, along with the Northside Leadership Conference, worked with the Preserve Croatian Heritage Foundation (PCHF) to try to save the church for almost 10 years.
Now, the historical marker that’s along a new bike and walking trail that connects to the North Shore trail is the only remembrance of the ornately distinctive church.
“St. Nicholas never leaves if it never leaves our hearts,” Mayor Bill Peduto said. “(The Croatian immigrants) didn’t build it to be a building. They built it to be a community. A little part of Croatia.
“As long as you’re willing to say you’re proud of where you’re from then you’re living their dream. I’m here today not to remember a building, but to remember them.”
The Croatian ambassador, Josko Paro echoed the mayor’s sentiments.
“A marker is a token of memory,” Paro said. “I think it’s a good reminder and I urge you to keep this memory alive.”
Dozens of residents and former parishioners took temporary cover under umbrellas as remarks were also made by Croatian Fraternal Union president Edward Pazo, PCHF corresponding secretary Susan Petrick and PennDOT District 11 executive Dan Cessna, amongst others.
PCHF co-chairman Stephen Willing concluded the ceremony by unveiling the navy blue marker.
Photo by Justin Criado
Mayor Bill Peduto addresses the crowd at St. Nicholas R. C. Croatian Church on Saturday.