St. Benedict the Moor 120 years and still saving souls

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For 120 years St. Benedict the Moor Church in the Hill District has been a pillar in the Black community not only for its work in giving the Word and saving souls, but for giving back to the community in which it serves. The church began in 1889 in a small house on Heldman Street in the Hill District. In 1966 the church moved to its current location on the corner of Crawford Street and Centre Avenue, and now serves more than 1,025 members.

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TEAMED UP—From left, Father Carmen D’Amico and Father Tom Sparacino, stand together at the altar of St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church. Together they lead and minister three churches.

“I believe the success of the church for the last 120 years is due to the determination of the parish’s members to the church and to keep the Catholic faith alive in the community,” said Father Carmen A. D’Amico, head of the parish who has been there for 18 years. He also added that the parish’s continued work in the community is another reason.

Although there is a notion that there are not many African-American Catholics, that is not the case. Said Father D’Amico, “(Contrary to what many think), African-Americans in the Catholic Church are not something new. All over the world there are many African-American Catholics, it’s just not as prevalent in this region.”

He also said that in 1968 Bishop John Wright put the statue of St. Benedict the Moor, a Black man, on the top of the church as a symbol to show that African-Americans are welcome and are very much part of the faith.

Saint Benedict has about 15 ministries that are focused on helping the community liturgically, educationally and socially. Some of them include the Food Pantry, which serves food to more than 80 families from their parish and the community; the Christian Mothers/Women’s Guild, which provides scholarships for students to go to Catholic schools and their Social Service Ministry, which works in conjunction with St. Vincent De Paul to help needy families get housing, clothing, jobs, etc.

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PIECE OF HISTORY—St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church at the corner of Crawford Street and Centre Avenue in the Hill District has been a part of the community for 120 years.

“Community work is very important, it is why we exist and why God put us here. It is not only our job (as a church) to recruit members, but also to meet the needs of the community (around us),” Father D’Amico said. “And what we cannot do, we refer them to the proper people that can.”

Along with its ministries, the church founded a non-profit organization called the Acculturation for Justice, Access and Peace Outreach. The goal of the organization is to link the African and African-Caribbean refugees that come to the city of Pittsburgh, with the African-American community.

“We work with different organizations to get them what they need and to help them navigate their way through the city. Because, (as one would expect), things are different here than where they are from,” he said. The program helps refugees adjust in order to lead productive lives.

The church also has a school, St. Benedict the Moor, also located in the Hill District. It is a Catholic-based school which educates students from all over the city from kindergarten to eighth grade, both catholic and non-catholic. About 75 percent of the students enrolled in the school are non-Catholic.

Although Father D’Amico has been the leader of the church for many years, about a-year-and-a-half ago he gained some assistance from Father Tom Sparacino. Together they formed a ministering team and run also run St. Benedict, Epiphany Catholic Church on Centre Avenue and St. Mary of Mercy Church, Downtown.

“We work as a team and pastor all three. It is not something new, but is rarely used in the Catholic Church,” Father D’Amico said. “It requires a lot of communication.” He added that the three congregations do not have plans to merge, but will cooperate if it comes to that. Though they are separate, they do combine their resources when necessary. “We resist the idea that we can do things by ourselves, and show that we can work together.”

Father Sparacino said, “Our focus is that of most parishes and that is to keep on spreading the gospel of Jesus.”

Father D’Amico stressed that it’s important for a church to be involved in the community and said he sees that with many of the churches in the Hill District. He is proud of how many of the churches in the Hill do work together. “I am impressed with the other pastors and their congregations.”

As far as St. Benedict and their future, he said he wants to see the church continue to grow and spread more awareness of its faith and to also better serve the community.

Father Sparacino agrees and says he hopes that for the future the church will continue to strengthen and revitalize the ministries they have.

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