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Many of the first generation Greek immigrants of Pittsburgh lacked financial means, a formal education, or a working command of the English language, but these pioneers dedicated themselves to building a church on the North Side – an area that had become heavily populated with Greek Orthodox people. As a result, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox church came into being in 1923.
When St. Nicholas Church, the only Greek church in Pittsburgh, was moved from Wiley Avenue downtown to the then distant Oakland district, the establishment of another Greek Orthodox Church in the densely Hellenic populated area of North Side, was necessitated. As a result, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church was established on at the corner of Sandusky Street and Stockton Avenue. Rev. Nicholas Papavasilis performed the first church services in April 1923. Shortly thereafter, the community was moved to the second floor of a building on the corner of Sandusky and Lacock Streets, before moving to 606 Sandusky Street in 1931. The contributions of all parishioners reflect Holy Trinity’s present brilliance. During the early years, the parishioners, primarily made up of first generation immigrants, struggled in many ways, but especially financially. Somehow, though, they found the means to sustain our Holy Orthodox faith.
During one period, a commissioned “dues” collector, many will remember Peter Angelakos, went door-to-door to all of the Greek Orthodox households in the community to collect the contributions for the coming Sunday’s liturgical needs, including candles and utilities. The monthly dues were 25-cents per month. Men would go to the nearby Ohio River to gather sand for the candle stands. Others would cook a meal for the community priest, who in the early days, many times did not have a regular salary.
On a regular basis, the men and women of the Holy Trinity drama troupe would put on Greek plays and comedies, with the proceeds going to the church treasury. One man, Mr. John Athas, in the heart of the Depression, assumed the financial responsibility of the Church, and in his tenure of five years as president of Holy Trinity, was responsible for the complete amortization of the Church’s indebtedness.
The spiritual life at Holy Trinity has been led for 85 years by many priests, bishops and archbishops. They have been the shepherds of Orthodoxy on the North Side. In the early years, many came to Holy Trinity as volunteer priests with little formal training. An older priest would take a young man and train him on his own. When the time was right, the new priest would take on the liturgical responsibilities of the community.
As Renaissance I and II was dramatically altering the skyline of downtown Pittsburgh and the construction of the Allegheny Center shopping mall drew near, Holy Trinity’s parishioners became inspired to find a new and larger home for the community which had out grown the Sandusky Street location. Thus, the idea for a new church at a different location was borne. Many parishioners were active in raising the monies necessary to purchase the new property and build the new church. A Women’s Auxiliary was organized to raise funds for the new facility. This group, led by Alexandra Beckas and Fr. John Pitses, held rummage sales, bake sales, fashion shows, and other events with all proceeds going to the new building fund. Everyone made sacrifices so that the community’s dreams could be realized.
In November 1958, a memorable ground-breaking ceremony took place just a few blocks away from the church, at 302 West North Avenue. The new church’s design, although not a typical Byzantine style, and its architect, James Mitchell (who also designed the Pittsburgh Mellon Arena), were touted in several national architectural shows for excellence in concrete structures. The cost of the new church was $217,000.
On Palm Sunday, April 17, 1960, the first service was held, even though the interior of the church was incomplete. The parishioners felt that there was no better way to glorify God than by inaugurating services for Holy Week. A long awaited dream had become a reality! A year after the groundbreaking, with His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos officiating, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Pittsburgh was consecrated. The festivities commenced on Saturday, April 29, 1961, as the Archbishop arrived with the Icon of the Weeping Theotokos and held Vespers that evening. The following day, the official consecration took place with 20 priests assisting the Archbishop. Also participating was Mr. William Anastos, the chairman of the new building committee, as well as the “Godfather” of the new church. During those two days, thousands of people passed in and around our new church to view its beauty.
Over the years there have been many parishioners who have contributed much to Holy Trinity, not only financially but through their labor. From ‘Barba’ Jim Retatagos who served as long time neokoros, psalti, lawn-keeper and in whatever role the church needed him; to Charles Petredis, with his large white mustache, who served as a psalti for 47 years; to John W. Chapas, who served on the parish council for many years and was instrumental in the sale of the Sandusky Street property and the building of the West North Avenue church and hall; to Bill Phaturos who was the church’s long-time caterer and helped to start the Greek Food Festival and Wednesday Lunches. These forefathers, and many others, have built the foundation upon which our community’s future is based.
Holy Trinity has also laid a foundation in this period, by focusing on the children of the parish. A thriving H.O.P.E., J.O.Y., G.O.Y.A. and Y.A.M. have been organized to provide a place for our youth to gather and celebrate their Greek Orthodox faith and come together for fun. Holy Trinity has also expanded opportunities for religious education to its parishioners. The Three Hierarchs Bookstore, the Church School, St. Lydia’s Orthodox Women’s Study, St. Nikodemos Men’s Fellowship and the Orthodox Studies Forum all provide avenues for parishioners of all ages to learn more about our Holy Orthodox faith.
Since the community has grown and its needs have expanded, a “Vision Committee” was established in 1999 to address the future of Holy Trinity. After much debate, thought, work and prayer, it was agreed that Holy Trinity should once again move. In 2008, ten acres of property in McCandless Township were purchased for $1,050,000 as the site of the new Holy Trinity church. Groundbreaking is planned for late 2009 or early 2010.
As Holy Trinity enters this next chapter in its history, the foundation that has been laid thus far will allow the community to continue to flourish and to be a place of refuge for all who enter her doors.
A Timeline of Holy Trinity History