to shepherd them properly. Moreover, so many lived at such great
distances from St. Philomena's Church and School that attendance became
a serious problem for both adults and children. At length, when the
German Catholics of the various localities were able to erect their own
churches and schools, they obtained permission from the Bishop to
undertake the task. First' to break away from the mother church in 1846
was St. Michael's on the Southside. St. Mary's in Allegheny followed in
1848, and Holy Trinity in Riceville in 1857. The next in order was St.
Augustine's whose story we are about to relate.
It has been said that one of the proudest distinctions of the
early German Catholics in the United States was their staunch devotion
to the parochial school. Experience in the Fatherland had taught them
that a Catholic child must grow up in a Catholic school and that the
first act of the day must be the Mass. The German Catholics of
Lawrenceville were eloquent exponents of this noble tradition. Indeed,
while the origin of the average parish is ordinarily associated with
the building of a church, St. Augustine's Parish has the distinction of
beginning with the establishment of a school.
About the year 1850 we find a goodly number of German Catholics
scattered throughout Lawrenceville, a neighboring town of Pittsburgh,
then rapidly developing into an outstanding industrial city of the
world. These Germans were faithful members of St. Philomena's Parish on
Fourteenth Street. Some of their children attended the school of the
English-speaking parish on Forty-sixth Street, but most of them went to
St. Philomena's. With the old-fashioned schoolbag thrown knapsack-like
over their shoulders, these latter children trudged many a weary mile
to worship at the shrine of learning. But in the fall of 1854 a seed
was sown and destined to strike root and grow and develop into both
educational and religious advantages for the children of many
Midway between St. Philomena's and Sharpsburg there lived
at 4807-4809, Butler Street, a pious German family by name of Helbling.
Franz Xaver Helbling and his wife, Mary Teresa Knipschield, were of
sturdy German stock and at that time the parents of eleven bustling
children. Mr. Helbling was a butcher by trade and had a stand in the
city market. Few, if any of our present parishioners passing the double
house still standing opposite the Allegheny Cemetery, appreciate the
important part that house played in the history of their parish. Here
it was that the first school, the forerunner of St. Augustine's School,
was opened for the German Catholic children of Lawrenceville. It came
about in this way.
The Redemptorist Fathers of St. Philomena's were well acquainted
with the Helbling family. Indeed, the home of this hospitable couple
was a welcome haven for them, especially in unfavorable weather and
when travelling to and from Sharpsburg. Doubtless, as these grateful
Fathers broke bread at the Helbling table, they discussed with their
genial host's the hardships of the children on their long way to St.
Philomena's school. What prospects were there to better the children's
lot? The fall of 1854 brought the answer when Father John Hotz,
C.SS.R.,(9) called at the Helbling home and asked the hostess if she
would be willing to board a teacher who in return would teach her
children and spare them the long walk to St. Philomena's. Mrs. Helbling
replied that she would first consult her husband. This done, the offer
was accepted and a room on the second floor was set aside to serve as a
school. Shortly after this arrangement, the teacher arrived.
In the beginning the only pupils were nine of the eleven
Helbling children. Their names were: Elizabeth Barbara, Francis X.,
William, Philomena Rosana, Catherine Josephine, Mary Sophia, John
Baptist, Joseph Anthony, and sometimes Bertha Louise who was but two or
three years old. The teacher, tall, thin and middle-
(9) Born Aug. 28, 1818, at Baar, Switzerland. Came to the United States
on Jan. 8, 1844. Ordained Aug. 24, 1844. Curate at St. Philomena's from
1815-1848, and again from July 15, 1851-Aug., 1855. Rector of St.
Philomena's, 1855-1862. Attached to St. Peter's, Philadelphia,
1862-Aug. 21, 1893, when he died. Cf. Beck, op. cit., pp. 216-227. Cf.
Enzlberger. Schematismus der
Katholischen Geistlichkeit Deutscher Zunge
in den Vereinigten Staaten Amerikas, Milwaukee, 1892, p. 232.
Hoffmann's Catholic Directory,
aged, was a peculiar man whose main occupation seemed to be to pray
before a picture of Our Lady of Gaudelupe and to teach the children
prayers. He never left the house save on Sundays when he went to Mass
and then he wore a long black robe like a priest or brother. He was
eccentric, very abstemious, spoke little and wore a cingulum. Mrs.
Helbling thought he might be a priest but on asking Father Hotz, was
assured that he was no priest. Strange as it may seem, the teacher's
name was never revealed and the family simply addressed him as
"Teacher". The teacher's knowledge of English was meagre as can be
gathered from the following instance. One day Mrs. Helbling sent Bertha
Louise to fetch some corn-cobs from the yard and on returning the child
said to her mother: "I got them." The teacher, associating this remark
with a well-known curse word, was horrified and said: "Bertha Louise is
surely going to hell."
Little wonder that the Helbling children soon disliked and
feared their stern, austere teacher. Indeed, the elder Helblings, too,
became ill at ease in his presence. Finally, after some months, Mrs.
Helbling, dreading that the teacher might lose his mind, asked Father
Hotz to dismiss him from her home. Accordingly, Father Hotz transferred
the teacher to a school in Sharpsburg. Here the unfortunate man
actually did lose his mind and had to be removed. From that time on
nothing more is heard of the teacher. The Redemptorist chronicle
records no item on this "nameless" teacher but everything seems to
point to the fact that he was or perhaps had been a Redemptorist lay
With the passing of the "nameless" teacher the school was not
abandoned but efforts for its continuation became stronger. Father Hotz
provided another teacher in the person of Mr. George Ruland, an able
man who also boarded at the Helbling home. By this time news of the
primitive school had spread and many parents applied for the admission
of their children. The room, however, was too small to accommodate all
who applied, hence, like the good soul he was, Mr. Helbling fitted out
his unused storeroom for a school room. A goodly number of pupils
attended especially children by the family name of Kalchthaler, Stein,
Bischoff, Fleckenstein, Burckhardt and others. The first scholastic
year might have started a little late in the fall of 1854 and had but a
short interruption between the departure of the first teacher and the
arrival of the second. On the third Sunday after Easter, April 29,
1855, the following announcement was made in St. Philomena's church:
Some months ago a Catholic
school was opened in the home of Xaver Helbling, near the cemetery
(Allegheny) in Lawrenceyille. Since a larger and more suitable
accommodation has been now provided by the same Mr. Helbling, we
admonish all the parents of Lawrenceville and the neighborhood who have
children of school age, to send them to this school so that they may be
trained to be good Christians. We ourselves shall take interest in this
school and shall visit it from time to time.(11)
The second school year began probably at the usual time in
September, 1855, as we learn from another announcement at St.
Philomena's: "Since the Catholic school of Lawrenceville has already
commenced and a good opportunity is offered the children of school age
to acquire virtue and knowledge, the parents living there are requested
to send their children as soon as possible."(12) However, with the
opening of the second school-year the "Helbling School" was abandoned
for Squire Nickle's Mansion, a larger and more centrally located
building at 4016 Butler Street. This building, sometimes called the
"Nickle's School" and "Old Town Hall" was used as a house of worship by
some of the sects and also as a meeting place for political groups. It
was a two-story stone mansion standing on a high plateau about eighty
feet from Butler Street. The first floor was adapted for school
purposes while the second floor was used for a hall, external steps
leading thereto from the front of the building. During the time of
Teacher Ruland some people referred to
(10) St. Augustinus
1921, pp. 1-3. Hereafter
abbreviated St. Aug
in Seraphischer Kinderfreund
(11) St. Aug
. Oct., 1921, p.
this school as
"Ruland Hall". Later,
however, it was dignified by the pretentious title of "The
Why was the school transferred from the Helbling home? There
were various reasons for the transfer. First of all, the Helbling
School was too far for many of the smaller children. Then the Helbling
store had no provision for heating and the school room was too cold in
winter. Finally, the storeroom was too small for the increasing number
of pupils. These reasons seem cogent enough to explain the change of
location. Teacher Ruland did not continue long as teacher in the new
school. He resigned most probably in 1856. Rumor had it that his
resignation hinged upon disappointed matrimonial aspirations to the
hand of one of Mr. Helbling's daughters.
The next teacher was a lady whose name we could not ascertain.
The lady was probably an Alsatian for she spoke both German and French.
During her teaching term she boarded with Mr. Alexander Wirth on Willow
Street. How long she remained is not known but very probably she held
the post for some months until the arrival of Teacher Mertz sometime in
Teacher Mertz was of small stature and in the thirties and is
said to have limped. He had crossed the ocean in the company of his
sister who died on ship. He kept her jewelry and was fond of displaying
it. The report we have of him is not very flattering. He was neglectful
of personal appearance, his hair and beard not used to the comb or
brush. He was fond of playing cards and drinking beer. Hence he was
seldom fit to teach and when he fell asleep during class periods the
pupils had a jolly recess. He was no disciplinarian and the pupils soon
realized this for on the occasion of an altercation between the teacher
and an older pupil, the latter forcefully ejected the teacher from the
room. Undoubtedly, Teacher Mertz had been reprimanded for his
misconduct but instead of reforming he became defiant and ultimately
refused to teach the catechism or to give religious instruction in any
form. Indeed, he finally succeeded in wrecking the Lawrenceville
Academy for a time, as we learn from the Announcement Book of St.
Since the former German Catholic
teacher of Lawrenceville intends to start a private school, saying that
he leaves the religious instruction and catechism to the priests and
parents while he teaches the other branches, we consider it our duty to
tell you that we cannot recommend such a school and that Catholic
parents of Lawrenceville and of the neighborhood must send their
children of school age either to the English school of Father Gibbs or
here to Bayardstown until another Catholic school can be provided. (13)
Accordingly, the German Catholics withdrew their children from
the Lawrenceville Academy and sent them either to St. Mary's on
Forty-sixth Street or down to St. Philomena's. This condition prevailed
for about a year and a half.
At length new interest awakened, due to the efforts of the
Redemptorist Fathers. On August 22, 1858, the following announcement
was made in St. Philomena's:
Since the roads in fall and
winter are especially bad for the children of Lawrenceville, it is
certainly necessary that a school be established there. Hence we
request the men of the Lawrenceville district to meet this afternoon at
four o'clock in the old school near the residence of Mr.
Fleckenstein—4012 Butler Street—to discuss the school question.
The outcome of this meeting was the opening of another school in
Robinson Hall at 4121 Butler Street. Here a spacious room on the second
floor was engaged for a school room. Again the Redemptorist Fathers
appealed to the parents of Lawrenceville to send their children to this
Since the schools in Sligo and
Lawrenceville are established again, the respective parents are urged
to send their children to these schools, and to contribute to their
support. Without a good Catholic school little good may be expected in
life either from the children or from the parents.(14)
The teacher hired for this school was Mr. John Beck. He was
tall, of swarthy complexion and of affable manners. He was forty-five
years old and married. Unfortunately for the school, he fell ill and
died on February 6, 1859, some months after beginning his work, and was
(13) Announcement Book
11, 1857. Bayardstown, i.e.,
the district of St. Philomena's Parish, Fourteenth Street and
., Oct. 3,
18S8. Sligo was the local name of the
section settled by the Catholic Irish, i.e., Forty-sixth Street and the
Church on February 10.
Again the Lawrenceville school was in a precarious condition and to
prevent its failure a meeting was called for February 13, 1859. The
Announcement Book says:
Since the teacher, died last
Sunday, we request all the men of Lawrenceville to meet this afternoon
at four o'clock in the school. The purpose of this meeting is to take
steps to prevent the discontinuing of the school.(15)
The record of this meeting has not come down to us. It seems,
however, that some Sisters, probably from St. Philomena's, came daily
to prepare the children for first Communion and to teach during the
remainder of the term. The St.
records the testimony of
Mr. John Wirth, then one of the oldest members of the parish, that the
Know-nothings and other bigots ridiculed the Sisters and spread
caricatures representing the Sisters maltreating the children. The
Sisters must have discontinued their work at the end of the school term
of 1859. The next teacher, Mr. T. Feaux, was engaged for the fall term
of 1859. We know nothing more of him than that he taught until sometime
in 1860 or 1861.
At this point a digression seems in place. The ever-recurring
difficulties with the school proved the necessity of one thing— a
better and more permanent organization of the German Catholics under
competent leadership. This was all the more necessary since the
population was growing, as is evident from the fact that in 1860 no
less than seventy houses were built in the district and Butler Street
was paved. Accordingly, the more energetic men of the German colony
effected an organization of the German Catholics and called it a
or congregation. In
thorough-going fashion they drew up a
constitution called: Constitution
der Deutsch Römisch Catholisch.
Gemeinde zu Lawrenceville
. This happened toward the end of 1859
the beginning of 1860, when the school problem had become acute.
What was the specific object of this organization? Evidently to
take definite steps in the way of establishing a school and a church—a
or parish for the
German Catholics of Lawrenceville. To this
end they selected three men of sterling character, Messrs. August
Hoeveler, Alexander Wirth and Louis Unverzagt, and entrusted them with
the task of securing suitable property.
From the very outset Mr. August Hoeveler was the leader and
director of the organization. John W. Jordan(17) furnishes the
following incomplete biography of this interesting character. He was
the youngest son of William and Clara Hoeveler and was born in Ankum,
in the kingdom of Hanover, Germany, in 1820, and came to the United
States when he was seventeen years old. Here he married Elizabeth
O'Leary, daughter of William O'Leary, a glass manufacturer. Eight
children were born from this marriage. The brothers of August went into
the grocery business and soon increased the number of their stores to
three. August, too, became a member of the firm and took charge of the
wagon routes. Later he became sole owner of the store located in
Bayardstown. In 1850 he abandoned the store and undertook the
manufacture of glue, soap and candles. Together with Messrs. Edward
Frauenheim and Leopold Vilsack he helped to establish the Iron City
Brewing Company of Pittsburgh and was also associated with the German
National Bank of Pittsburgh. Later he engaged extensively in the real
August Hoeveler was a shrewd business man and a pioneer in
laying out suburban property. His plan was to buy large tracts of
unimproved land in desirable locations, divide it into building lots
and sell it on reasonable terms. He was sagacious in his locations and
the sites he chose soon developed into important sections of the city.
He was a member of the borough council of Lawrenceville and when the
borough was annexed to Pittsburgh he was elected to the City Council
but died on December 20, 1868, before he could be initiated into the
Entrusted by the Gemeinde
to secure property, Hoeveler as head
of the committee of three accomplished the task with marvellous
dispatch. For, on April 20, 1860, by deed made between Robert Wray and
(15) St. Aug
., Oct. 1921, p.
(17) A Century and a Half of
Pittsburgh and Her People
, The Lewis Co.,
1908, vol. Ill, pp. 236-237.
Elizabeth Teese, parties of the first part, and August Hoeveler,
Alexander Wirth and Louis Unverzagt, parties of the second part, all
the land between Butler and Bandera Streets, Thirty-sixth and
Thirty-seventh Streets(18) became the property of the German Gemeinde
of Lawrenceville. The Committee paid $7,350.00 for this property. The
committee, further, selected the most suitable portion of the property
facing Butler Street between Thirty-sixth and Thirty-seventh Streets
for church, school and pastoral residence. The remaining land was laid
out in twenty-two lots and sold.
The plot reserved for parish property comprised more or less the
central portion facing Butler Street between Thirty-sixth and
Thirty-seventh Streets. The flanking lots and also the six large lot's
facing Bandera Street in the rear of the parish plot were sold. On the
parish plot there stood a small frame house badly in need of repairs.
At first it was suggested to repair this house and use it for a school,
but later the idea was abandoned. All the property was held in the name
of the committee and not in trust because the Gemeinde had no priest
and no official standing.
It is interesting to know how the committee raised the
funds for this extensive purchase. They had three sources of income:
they contracted loans to the extent of $6,750.00 between April 21, 1860
and December 22, 1862 ;(19) they sold the superfluous lots, twenty-two
in all, and when the purchaser was unable to pay in full the committee
retained a mortgage at six percent interest; they held a picnic
probably on the newly acquired property on July 4, 1860. The old
Organization Book still
preserved in the parish archives contains the
minutes of three interesting meetings held in preparation for the
picnic. To show how detailed and formal were the preparations for the
picnic, we shall give here the minutes of these three meetings.
FIRST MEETING, JUNE 7, 1860
The committee for the German Roman Catholic
picnic has decided that:
1. Mr. August Hoeveler be the president of this society.
2. Teacher T. Feaux be the secretary.
3. Mr. Benjamin Schmidt be the treasurer.
4. The dinner and supper tickets be each twenty-five cents.
5. Everybody pay ten cents at the entrance.
6. Dancing be permitted July 4-.
7. For three dances, everybody, be they German or
English, pay ten cents.
8. The president engage from four to six musicians.
9. The secretary advertize this picnic in all
German papers and send out invitations to all German Catholic societies.
10. Two constables be engaged.
11. The following men be appointed to keep order: A. Hoeveler,
Louis Unverzagt, Aug. Sterer, Anthon Barth, Alex
Wirth, and Matthew Bader.
12. John Elsesser and George Engelking collect tickets and money for
13. Aug. Hoeveler and Frank Hawk provide all beverages.
14. The following men attend the bar: John Wirth, John Fleckenstein,
Xaver Helbling, Heinrich Engel, Xaver Burkhart, Jos. Brentner, Joseph
Helbling, Alex Ouoczalla, Michael
Helbling, Xaver Loeffler and Frank Hawk.
15. Mr. B. Schmidt have the supervision of the
16. Messrs. Engel. T. Wirth. and Engelking arrange with the women for
the fortune-wheels (Glückschafen).
17. Aug. Hoeveler and Alex Wirth look after the booths and
18. Frank Link and Albert Wirth collect the entrance money.
19. All members turn in the proceeds to the treasurer for a receipt.
20. Mr. Schmidt procure the prizes.
(18) In those days Bandera Street was called Bank Street;
Thirty-sixth Street was Sycamore Street, and Thirty-seventh Street was
(19) John Wirth. $300 on April 21, 1860; Andreas Greilich, $700 on Feb.
Xavier Loeffler, $1400 on July 21, 1862; Xavier Helbling, $500 on
July 25, 1862; Fred, Mary and Joseph Genth, $820 on Aug. 4,
$200 on Oct. 14, 1862: Michael Stiebich, $600 on Sept.
18, 1862; Heinrich Rettmann. $710 on Oct. 8, 1862; Gottlieb
Wirth, $300 on Oct. 9, 1862; Johann Buetner, $200 on Oct. 14, 1862:
Junker, $100 on Oct. 25, 1862; Melchoir Koffeler, $470 on Nov. 28,
1862; Peter Blimling, $400 on Dec. 2, 1862; Nickolaus Hay, $50 on
1862. Cf. St. Aug., 1921, p. 6.
21. The picnic committee meet again in
the school next Sunday at seven
o'clock. (Signed) June 7, 1860.
The next meeting took place on June 14, 1860. It was ordered
that John Wirth get the ticket's from the president and distribute
them; that after the picnic, the money be turned over to the treasurer
for a receipt and that they meet again two weeks later. The third
meeting was held on July 1, 1860 and passed the following
1. Mr. Aug. Hoeveler have the right to appoint the men who are to keep
order on the dancing floor.
2. Xaver Burkhart serve as butler and retail the beverages to the
bartenders for cash payment.
3. Xaver Burkhart distribute the Deidesheimer wine to the bartenders
for twenty-five cents and the Markgrãfler wine for twenty cents.
4. The teacher shall examine every article delivered and give a receipt
5. Xaver Burkhart and J. Helbling collect all things for the picnic and
haul them with their own teams to the grounds. Frank Helbling,
Johann Kalchthaler, Fred Kalb cut meat for the tables.
6. Anton Bischof provide lemonade.
The proceeds of this much-heralded picnic are given as $403.41.
From now on picnics and festivals were held periodically, for the
organization was live and energetic. Rivalry among the workers was
common. We are told, for instance, that the custom prevailed that the
workers who were first on the grounds might select any stand they
desired. Enthusiasm and rivalry ran so high on one occasion that some
of the workers were on the picnic grounds as early as two o'clock in
the morning so as to secure the stand of their choice. (20)
But while busy with picnics and other money-making amusements to
pay off the property debt, the Germans did not fail to struggle ahead
with their school. In 1860 or 1861 they withdrew from the old Robinson
Hall on Butler Street and placed the pupils in what was called the
"Alley School" located in the alley between Thirty-sixth and
Thirty-seventh Streets. At that time the Alley was a much used
thoroughfare since Thirty-sixth Street was in bad condition. The
building used for school now stood on the fifth lot from Bandera Street
and was owned by Mr. Patrick McCabe. There was nothing attractive about
the location of this "Alley School". All along the lots there was a
precipice due to a great washout of the past. The rear room facing
Thirty-sixth Street rested on posts and the entire building was lower
than the alley level. The main entrance faced the alley. The corner of
the present Church Alley and Thirty-sixth Street seems to correspond
with its location.
The first teacher in the "Alley School" was Mr. T. Feaux who had
taught in Robinson Hall. His successor was Maximilian Werder. For some
unknown reason he was discharged and again the school had to close for
some weeks until the new teacher, Mr. John Kraus. appeared on the
scene. The "Alley School" reopened and continued to operate till
January, 1862 when a new school was built.
In recounting the story thus far we must not fail to pay a
well-merited tribute to the Redemptorist Fathers of St. Philomena's. It
was they who started the school and fostered its development during the
first seven years of the parish history. With true missionary zeal they
worked' quietly and persistently in the spiritual vineyard they had
planted in Lawrenceville. While the records of heaven contain adequate
details of their apostolic activity, their own chronicle records only
the following few items of this period:
As to our
activity—it is about
the same as in the foregoing years. Most of the German Catholics of
Lawrenceville attend St. Philomena's Church, but some worship either at
Sharpsburg or at the English Church in Lawrenceville . .The schools of
Pittsburgh were visited by two priests twice a week. Once every week a
Father visited the school at Sligo, and returning from Sharpsburg, he
would visit the Lawrenceville school to impart religious instruction.
But unlike the school at Sligo, the Lawrenceville school was not
without frequent interruption owing to the frequent changes of teachers.
With the organization and determination of the Germans to obtain
their own independent parish, the active interest of the Redemptorists
seems to have ended. Report had it that while they did not oppose the
move for an independent parish in Lawrenceville, they did not
countenance it with favor, and so far as the writer could ascertain,
their name is nowhere mentioned in connection with the parish property.
In 1861, an altogether new name appears in the records—that of Reverend
George Kircher. His part in the further development of the parish we
must now relate.
(20) St. Aug., Nov., 1921,
pp. 7, 12.
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