DuBOIS — The former St. Joseph Catholic Church, located on the corner of State Street and South Avenue in DuBois, will remain a house of worship now that the local St. Nicholas Orthodox Church has just purchased the 127-year-old structure from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Erie.
“The story goes,” said Father Mark Meholick of St. Nicholas Church, “even before it (St. Joseph) was for sale officially, there were some people that were former parishioners there, and some of my parishioners here, that said, ‘You know, that church might be up for sale. We should look into it.’”
Once St. Joseph was officially for sale, Meholick said he contacted Rev. Msgr. Richard R. Siefer, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena and St. Michael the Archangel parishes in DuBois, and he confirmed the church was for sale.
Siefer put Meholick in touch with the realtor, Carol Foltz of Coldwell Banker.
“I called and got the price, and presented it to the congregation,” said Meholick. “Most of them liked the idea, some were trepidatious.”
“’That’s a big property, Father,’” Meholick recalled some parishoners expressing. “And I said, ‘Well, it’s really up to the congregation and it’s up to our Bishop, of course.’”
Meholick said the reason St. Nicholas became interested in the former St. Joseph Church was not because their present church, located at 108 N. Third St., DuBois, is too small for their congregation of approximately 55 people.
Rather the issue was too many steps, said Meholick, noting that they are often a barrier for some parishioners.
The main driving force behind the decision to purchase the property is because the new location will provide improved accessibility to both the sanctuary and the church hall, he said.
“We did a study with an architect, I think it was about 14 years ago, to renovate the church to be accessible, including the parking,” said Meholick. “It was going to cost us much more than we could afford. It was something like $330,000.”
The former St. Joseph property has an ample parking lot with both entrances, and to the church proper are totally accessible.
“That was a big selling point for us,” said Meholick.
The St. Nicholas Parish Council held several meetings to discuss the potential purchase and then met with the Archdiocese Council, the Orthodox Church in America, which offered them an interest-free loan to purchase the church.
“So we’ll be paying that off monthly, but it’s nice because it’s interest-free,” said Meholick.
St. Nicholas Parish Council President Kristin Carnahan concurred that the current location is quite restrictive for those with physical limitations.
“This relocation will make our Divine Services accessible to everyone, and it will also put us in a much better position to support our local community,” said Carnahan. “We were sorry to see the doors of St. Joseph’s close, but we’re very excited to bring worship and life back into it again.”
The Third Street St. Nicholas Church will be maintained as a chapel, said Meholick. Also, as an iconographer, which is a church artist, Meholick said he will still be working on his iconography there.
“We’ll also be using the space in the basement for some carpentry work,” said Meholick. “But the chapel will remain upstairs, and there are smaller weekday services, where in the wintertime we don’t want to heat up the larger church, we’ll just have services there, unless we need the accessibility, then we’ll of course have it at the new church.”
The St. Nicholas Parish also plans to continue the outreach programs held at the former St. Joseph building, such as the free dinners every other Friday night, as well as expand on them.
While at the Third Street location, Meholick said he was contacted frequently by the American Red Cross to use the church as a location for blood donations. However, that was not possible since it is not accessible.
“Now we’ll be able to do much more volunteer work for the community, which is really nice to be able to do that,” said Meholick.
Carnahan said the St. Nicholas Parish plans to begin holding services at their new location once some minor renovations are completed, and the pandemic situation will safely allow for a congregation.
The St. Joseph Parish was founded under the name St. Mary in September 1893 by Father Adam Szymkiewicz to serve primarily the spiritual needs of the Lithuanians, according to information provided by DuBois resident Gene Aravich, also a former member of St. Joseph Parish. Szymkiewicz had been assistant at Punxsutawney — DeLancey for three months prior to taking on the assignment to begin St. Joseph Parish. He erected the original church and rectory for St. Joseph Parish in 1894, one year following his ordination to the priesthood for the Diocese of Erie. The first Mass at St. Joseph was held on May 3, 1894.
In April 2016 Bishop Lawrence T. Persico announced his preliminary proposals for parishes in the diocese’s Pastoral Plan, Aravich said. The reasons for the diocesan plan were declining numbers. St. Catherine of Siena Parish, just a block away from St. Joseph, was merged with St. Joseph Parish. The parish church was St. Catherine, with St. Joseph named as the secondary church, meaning it did not have regular weekend Masses.
On Dec. 1, 2019, St. Joseph Parish officially closed and was for sale by early March of this year.
“In one sense, the whole affair is sad,” said Siefer about the sale of the former St. Joseph Church. “But it’s the reality that we’re dealing with today and I’m pleased, as is Bishop Persico, that it will remain a church with the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church community now taking possession of it. And that’s probably the best result that we could have asked for.”
“I’m just grateful that it will continue to be a church,” said Aravich. “I look forward to stopping in and seeing it once it reopens. Statues or no statues, I’m curious to visit it when it opens.”
“It’s so apparent that the members of St. Joseph Parish were really dedicated and loved their church,” said Meholick. “They took such good care of it, and we’re happy to continue that legacy, if you will, to keep it as a House of God, and we’re appreciative of that whole congregation.”