Outside Pittsburgh, in a small, blue-collar suburb, St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Parish sits as the first Croatian church in the United States.
But the Croatian parish isn’t the only historical value. Inside the Roman Catholic church, visitors can view the masterpieces of murals created by Croatian artist Maxo Vanka.
As the only murals created by Vanka, church leaders are fundraising financial support to continue restoring the delicate artwork created in the early 1900s.
The tempera artwork by Maxo Vanka tells the story of the immigrant Croatian and his/her family. Murals are definitive in showing the industrial life the Croatian peasant has built in the United States, abandoning the Motherland.
The murals were completed in several visits, in 1937 and 1941. With artistic freedom, Vanka shows emotional, political and dramatic scenery of the typical Croatian life in the United States.
Established in 1894, St. Nicholas was designed to served the recent immigrants of Serbia and Bosnia, who was originally recruited to work in the milling industry of Pennsylvania. The church served as a way to preserve the Croatian customs and culture through religious affiliation.
Building the church cost $24,000 back then. Only 192 parishioners were registered in the Catholic church.
Service is celebrated in English. With a limited time schedule, check the website for mass times.
The church was named after the Bishop of Syria. The legends of Santa Claus is based on this Bishop’s life and acclaimed generosity. He drew controversy to himself during the First Ecumenical Council.
Demographic of Parishioner
During the early 1900s, the Croatian community required two churches to serve the growing population. With the onset of 1970s, most of the Croatian community have moved away from the suburbs of Pittsburgh. The Croatian community is declining in size.
Church tours are offered after Sunday service. Private tours are arranged by calling the rectory for information. The website will contain the latest resources available. In addition, check the website for legitimate sources to donate to the ongoing preservation efforts of the church. Scams have used the name of the church to funnel money to their personal interest, outside of the church’s preservation funds.
A DVD is sold to share the story of murals. It is part of the church’s effort to raise more funds for the preservation project.
St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Parish
24 Maryland Avenue
Millvale, PA 15209
Tip #1: Attend a mass. Church tours are offered after mass service.
Tip #2: Donate to the preservation fund of this church to be part of history.
Tip #3: Make sure your camera is ready to photograph the numerous places inside the church by checking film and battery life.