St. Stephen Roman Catholic Magyar Church of McKeesport was a beautiful and beloved place, and still is today. Its heartbreaking closure was documented by the local media as 103 years of tradition came to a tearful end.
St. Stephen Magyar was built in 1900 to serve the Mon Valley’s Hungarian immigrant families. To add an elementary school in 1931, parishioners dismantled a recently closed local school and reassembled it on their property, which is kind of amazing. The school was open until 1967. At its peak after WWII, about 300 families were part of the congregation and the Niederberger writes that many Sundays around those years were standing room only. Younger families, though, started choosing churches for proximity rather than tradition, and numbers began to dwindle in the second half of the twentieth century. In 103 years, it had only four pastors.
St. Stephen and a handful of other ethnic churches were announced to be closed in 1993. Although it lost parish status and merged with another congregation, Father Kato asked the Bishop Wuerl to keep the doors open as long as he was able to give mass, which bought it another eight years. The church closed to a tearful farewell in 2002, shortly after Father Kato’s death. Parishioner Doris Stipkovitz told Niederberger that the hardest part of the closure would be padlocks on the doors. For years, Father Kato never locked them, even at night.
The article was written before the fates of the holy artifacts brought over from Hungary were known, but the pews (some inscribed with parishioners’ names) and altar were still there during our visit, fourteen years after it was written. I highly doubt the city silhouette behind the altar was present originally, and graffiti has overtaken many of the walls. Still, the elaborate vaulted ceilings, name plates on the pews, rosettes, and arches are absolutely stunning. It was a sorrowful end to place where, in some cases, five generations of families held their baptisms, marriages, and funerals, but its ornate, Gothic beauty still holds a commanding presence today.