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As the first Roman Catholic church in the Pittsburgh area for Black Catholics, St. Benedict the Moor, which sits across the street from Freedom Corner in the Hill District, was successfully organized more than 130 years ago on the third attempt to form a parish for Black parishioners, according to Greta Stokes Tucker, a longtime member of St. Benedict the Moor. She said the first attempt was prior to the Civil War. It was on Heldman Street, in the Hill District, on July 28, 1889, that the Diocese of Pittsburgh established St. Benedict the Moor under the leadership of Patrick McDermott, C.S.Sp., a member of the Holy Ghost Fathers at Duquesne University. It was after Fr. McDermott’s meeting with local Black Catholics and his attending the Black Catholic Lay Congress, in Washington, D.C., in January of 1889, that the cries of local Black Catholics were heard.
In its earlier years, St. Benedict merged with several other parishes — Saint Brigid, Holy Trinity and Saint Richard Churches — and in 1962, after the demolition of St. Brigid, the parish relocated to the former Holy Trinity building, which sits on the corner of Crawford Street and Centre Avenue, and is where St. Benedict the Moor serves the community today.
It was in 1968 that Bishop John J. Wright dedicated the sacred landmark of the 18-foot-tall statue of the Saint Benedict the Moor, a Black saint, which sits on the very top of the church and can be seen from miles away. Also, a couple years later, according to the church’s website , Fr. Augustus Taylor, Jr., was installed as the first Black pastor in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh and was assigned to what was then being called Saint Brigid-Saint Benedict the Moor Church. Years later, after another re-consolidation, the church was re-established as St. Benedict the Moor.
In an effort to continue meeting the needs of the community, especially its educational needs, through the church, in 1973, Hill District Catholic School was formed and later renamed to what is now known as St. Benedict the Moor School, located on Watt Street.
More recently, in July of 2020, Bishop David Zubik established St. Benedict as a personal parish for the Black Catholic community in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. While all are welcome, a personal parish is one that responds to specific spiritual needs often related to a particular culture or an extraordinary need, in this case the Black community. Tucker said, through its history, St. Benedict the Moor has a connection throughout the Hill, in one form or another, and hopes that with its new honor, it will remain a “beacon” in the Hill, as well as throughout the six counties that comprise the Diocese.
“The church is very dear to me; I’ve grown up seeing what the church does in the community. In Pittsburgh, specifically, some of the churches we work with are the backbone of the community,” said Genevieve Oduor, a PHLF board member and chair of the Historic Religious Properties Grant Program committee. “Churches have stood in the gap for the committee…I can’t imagine where we would be without the Black church.”