Founding of a Church

Saints John & Paul Parish began its “life” on February 12, 1994. With a decree from Bishop Donald Wuerl of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and a Diocesan gift of 12 acres in the Borough of Franklin Park, newly assigned pastor, Monsignor Daniel DiNardo, embarked upon the task of building a new Catholic “community of believers.” Securing meeting space for Masses was his first concern – and it wasn’t easy! He finally found space available in the rear lower level of the Spectra Office Building on Route 910.

With seating for approximately 280 and two small offices, the Spectra site was immediately stretched beyond its capacity. At that time, CCD classes were being held at St. Alphonsus School and in individual homes of parishioners. Due to lease restrictions, liturgies and meetings were limited to times outside normal business hours. With the 280 capacity, Palm Sunday, Easter, and Christmas Masses had to be held in a standing room only Marshall Middle School! Clearly, the construction of a larger facility was a priority. Msgr. DiNardo (affectionately known as “Father Dan”), and a 60 member Site Development Committee moved as quickly as possible to construct our present multi-purpose building – The weather though did not cooperate! After several delays, we celebrated First Holy Communion for second graders in our new multi-purpose building on May 18, 1996, and our first weekend Mass at 5:00 PM on June 1, 1996. On June 16, 1996 the Most Reverend Donald Wuerl, Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, blessed our building at the 11:00 AM liturgy. The multi-purpose building has been designed to be used for worship, classes, meetings, and an apartment for the Pastor, initially. It is currently used as a parish hall now that the permanent church has been built.

All Catholics residing within a specific area encompassing portions of Franklin Park and Marshall Township were assigned to the new parish. These parishioners came from St. John Neumann, St. Alphonsus, St. Ferdinand, St. Mary, and St. James parishes. We started with about 650 families. People gravitated to Father Dan and the newly established parish very quickly. Father Dan had many gifts and would probably someday be entrusted with greater responsibilities. Few people, however, expected that “someday” to come so soon! After only three years as pastor, Father Dan moved on from being a first-time pastor to becoming a bishop.

In 1997, Monsignor DiNardo was named Bishop of Sioux City, Iowa, later to become the Cardinal Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. With his departure, Father Albert Semler was named pastor and served until 2002. Father Al worked to pay off the parish debt and grow the parish and its programs, particularly focusing on the needs of the many young families registering in the parish. Father Al’s legacy is a “children’s blessing” that we continue to do following every Eucharistic celebration. This is a beautiful tradition where, following Holy Communion, all of the children under the age of receiving Communion come forward for their own special blessing.

With each passing year, the parish continued to grow; and it became quite apparent that work needed to be done to plan and construct the permanent church. Father Al, recognizing his gifts being elsewhere, requested of the bishop that someone else be appointed to build the new church. On June 24, 2002, Father Joseph McCaffrey became the new pastor.

After interviewing eight architects, it was determined quite early on that the original twelve acres, on which the parish was established, would not be sufficient to provide for the parish’s growth. Father Mac, together with a marvelous group of parishioners, began a diligent effort to acquire additional property. This was an enormously difficult task given the limited available acreage within the boundaries of the parish. Over the course of several years, an extremely unique deal was forged. The New Heights Church of God owned twelve acres adjacent to our original property and agreed to “swap” these acres for another nearby parcel of land on which we would build a new church for them.

This effort built a wonderful ecumenical relationship between a Catholic Parish and a Protestant Church. It also provided an opportunity for these two different, yet Christian congregations, to work together in such a mutually beneficial way that we must certainly have pleased God!

Bishop David Zubik blessed the ground on June 14, 2008. On April 28, 2009, as the floor was being poured, Fr. Mac set four St. Benedict medals at the four corners of the altar area. A St. Benedict medal is often placed in the foundation of buildings to call down God’s blessing and the protection of St. Benedict. One side of the medal depicts St. Benedict holding the cross in one hand and the Holy Rule in the other. The reverse side shows a cross with the letters C.S.P.B., signifying “Cross of the holy Father Benedict.” The letters on the cross itself have this meaning: “May the holy Cross be my light; let not the dragon be my guide.”

The Dedication and First Mass in the newly built church was on Sunday, May 2 at 2:30 PM. Over 1,500 people attended the historic, three-hour liturgy. It is the first ceremony Bishop Zubik celebrated following his back surgery.

The parish of Saints John and Paul is not its buildings but its people and the families that gather here. Currently over 2,400 families are registered and the parish is still growing. The people of Saints John and Paul have distinguished themselves by their exceptional generosity in terms of both time and financial resources. Newcomers to the parish will find a warm and vital example of faith in action, and will find it easy to become involved in any aspect of parish life to which they feel called. Saints John and Paul parish combines very orthodox church teaching with a very contemporary, committed and involved laity. The results have been inspiring! Today we continue to grow, adding ten to fifteen new families each month. It is a welcoming, young and enthusiastic community of believers.