Meandering around the grounds of St. Alphonsus Church and School is a lesson in history, religion and education.
A shrine to St. Alphonsus de Liguori, the parish’s patron saint, greets you as you ascend the driveway to the brick church that is named in his honor. The 1889 date inscribed in the keystone above the front doors is the date this church building—the third—was erected on the Wexford site.
The gift of the property in the 1800s is a testament to the Catholic faith of Wexford’s early settlers—mostly farmers of Irish and German descent. Ambrose Schaffer (also spelled Schaeffer) of Germany, a leading citizen and merchant, donated the land. His gravestone still stands in the St. Alphonsus cemetery on the north side of the church.
Schaffer and Martin Byrne of Ireland were instrumental in getting missionary priests from the Redemptorist order, which was founded by St. Alphonsus de Liguori, to travel to the area. Byrne’s log cabin is believed to be the site of the first Mass here in 1832.
A statue of one of those priests—Father John Neumann—stands in the back of the “old side” of the church. Father Neumann traveled frequently to our parish in 1840 and 1841. He later became pastor of St. Philomena in Pittsburgh and bishop of Philadelphia. He was canonized as St. John Neumann in 1977.
Beside the statue is a portrait of one of his assistants—Father Francis Seelos. He served the St. Alphonsus parish from 1847 to 1850 and his signature is recorded in the parish’s sacramental records. Father Seelos became Blessed Francis Seelos in 2000 when Pope John Paul II beatified him.
On either side of the “old side” are stained glass windows depicting Jesus, Mary, St. Joseph, St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Peter, St. John the Baptist, St. John the Evangelist and St. Paul.
In the altar area, four windows symbolize the evangelists and taken together represent the mystery of Christ’s life. The human, ox, lion and eagle recall Jesus’ birth (human), sacrifice (ox) resurrection (lion) and ascension (eagle).
Throughout the church building and grounds are shrines, statues, stained glass windows and artwork that illustrate the rich history of the Catholic Church and St. Alphonsus parish.
Artwork on the Church’s New Side
The size of the historic church building doubled in 1968 when a “new side” was added onto the west end of the church to accommodate the growing North Hills population. The beauty and history of the “old side’s” stained glass windows were mirrored on the “new side” with stained glass windows designed by artist Eugene N. Rutkowski. The newer windows incorporate liturgical symbolism to honor St. Alphonsus, St. Peter, St. Patrick, St. Joseph, Christ the King and Our Lady of Olives.
At the center of the expanded church is the altar with a brass crown suspended above it, artistically pulling the new and old sides together with the Holy Spirit imagery of doves and tongues of fire.
Artist Nicholas Parrendo of Hunt Stained Glass Studios in Pittsburgh designed the crown. He also designed stone reliefs of the Baptism of Christ and the Holy Family that are placed over the baptistry and side altar. A relief of the Resurrection is in the rear alcove of the new side.
In the back of the new side of the church is an artistic devotional of Our Lady of Sorrows that was dedicated in 2012. At the center is a charcoal sketch of the Sorrowful Mother produced by Parrendo years earlier when he was designing a stained glass window for a convent.
The artwork surrounding that centerpiece came to St. Alphonsus through Father Jerry Laba, rector of St. Paul’s Monastery and Retreat House in South Side. He salvaged the old prints from one of the monastery locations.
Under the direction of Father Ferdinand H. Angel, renovation of the church’s land facing Church Road began in 1937. Father Angel laid much of the stone forming the front wall and supervised the construction of six outdoor shrines.
In October of that year, Father Angel officiated at the formal dedication of three shrines built in the Old World style of native stone. They shelter terra cotta statues imported from Italy honoring Our Lady of Olives, St. Kateri Tekakwitha and Saint Expedite.
The three remaining shrines—St. Christopher, St. Clare of Assisi and St. Matilda—were dedicated in 1940. The St. Christopher statue was moved to the Knights of Columbus garden on Swinderman Road in Wexford, which made way for the St. Alphonsus statue that currently fills the center shrine facing the driveway.
Beside the church is Blessed Francis Seelos Academy (formerly St. Alphonsus School), which was established in 1889 as a one-room schoolhouse. It was moved in 1897 to an area behind the church and another room was added. (This is the area where the new side of the church is located now.)
Those two classrooms were still in use in 1955 when the “new” St. Alphonsus School was dedicated. This is the wing that currently houses classrooms, the library and cafeteria.
Behind the school is the Father Schroeder Schoolhouse, a small white building that originally housed the kindergarten class.
Growth continued and in 2002 ground was broken for a new wing that now serves as the official entrance for the school. It houses classrooms, a computer lab, offices, a faculty room and a workroom. In 2004 a state-of-the-art gymnasium/auditorium with a stage was dedicated and named the Ryan Center.
The addition of this new wing not only enhanced the offerings of St. Alphonsus School but made the campus complete.
St. Alphonsus School was merged with Saint Alexis School in 2017 to form Blessed Francis Seelos Academy. Grades K-8 are housed on the Saint Alphonsus campus; preschool is on the Saint Alexis campus.
Cemetery and Mausoleum
In the parish cemetery, sandstone grave markers dating back to the 1800s tell the story of a community founded by immigrants of Irish and German descent. When the cemetery reached capacity in the late 1900s, a rose granite “Mausoleum of the Apostles” was dedicated in 1981. It is embellished with the figures of the four evangelists.