As bells pealed Wednesday in Cambria City, it must have sounded much as it did 100 years ago as parishioners were called to Sunday worship.
The neighborhood, now a National Historic District, once was a bustling community of diverse ethnic groups, each of whom had a church to call their own. Now, only a few of those often-magnificent structures remain open. But an effort to save three of the neighborhood’s historic Roman Catholic churches took a giant step forward in a ceremony that transferred ownership of the former SS. Casimir & Emerich, St. Columba and Immaculate Conception to a nonprofit corporation.
The churches were closed in July 2009 after a merger with two other churches to form the consolidated Resurrection Parish.
At least 100 people gathered in Immaculate Conception Church as the papers were signed to turn the properties over from the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown and Resurrection Parish to 1901 Church Inc.
A development campaign called The Steeples Project will oversee the care of the three buildings and raise funds to redevelop the properties. With a goal of raising $265,000 in the next two years, The Steeples Project will be led by a local board of directors. Dave Hurst will serve as project manager.
Teresa Stoughton Marafino, president of 1901 Church and producer of Mountain Playhouse in Jennerstown, initially got involved with the closed Cambria City churches when she was brought in as a theater consultant.
After learning of her role in saving an old church in Jennerstown, Stoughton Marafino’s nonprofit was chosen to oversee the three Cambria City churches.
“Seemed as if it was meant to be,” Stoughton Marafino, who will chair the board, said. “The plans for the three churches are exciting.”
Those plans include:
• St. Columba will be transformed into a professional theater venue to house a new historical dramatization of Johnstown’s immigration story. The Institute of Outdoor Drama will produce a business plan and a professional playwright will create the drama.
• Immaculate Conception is slated to become a music and special events space.
The structure can be used for weddings and other functions. Cambria City businesses, such as Ace’s and Cambria City Flowers, hope to partner with The Steeples Project to use the space for special events.
• SS. Casimir and Emerich’s options include use of the full basement and commercial-sized kitchen for a food-based business venture.
Wednesday’s ceremony brought together former parishioners, neighbors, community leaders and many who have worked to save the buildings.
To take part
The Community Foundation has established the Steeples Project Fund and is administering the fund drive on behalf of 1901 Church Inc. To donate, go to www.cfalleghenies.org or call 536-7741.
To volunteer, contact Dave Hurst at
For additional information, go to www.steeplesproject.org.
To read this story in its entirety, visit one of these links: