Saturday, October 6, 2018


This column first appeared in the October 2018 issue of "GreeneSPEAK!"

The Waynesburg Semi-Weekly Messenger published this view of St. Ann Church in 1903.

Since the founding of Waynesburg more than 200 years ago, one lot has always had the same owner, St. Ann Roman Catholic Church. The southeast corner of High and Cumberland Streets was called Lot #136 in the original surveyor’s plan. Purchased in November 1799 by Rev. Patrick Lonergan, a missionary priest from County Donegal, Ireland, it has never been sold.

Father Lonergan had a dream of establishing a colony for Irish Catholics in southwestern Pennsylvania. After crossing the mountains from eastern Pennsylvania, he arrived in June 1795 at the first Catholic settlement in this corner of the state, a chapel in Westmoreland County now known as St. Vincent’s Arch Abbey.

According to early church histories, he did not stay long.  With a few Irish families, he went first to Donegal Township in Washington County where he bought several thousand acres. He asked the Bishop in Baltimore, John Carroll, to direct Irish Catholic settlers to him “as they would enjoy all the benefits of religion.” 

Soon thereafter disappointed with the quality of the land, he adjusted his sights to Waynesburg where for $217 he bought four lots on Greene Street plus the church lot on High Street.  

At this time, there were few Roman Catholics living in southwestern Pennsylvania, the closest chapel being the Jacob’s Creek colony near Connellsville, Fayette County. 

Accompanied by his sister, a nun, Father Lonergan planned to build a chapel in Waynesburg for his Franciscan order and a convent.  

It was fascinating for this writer to discover that from 1799 to 1801, Waynesburg had a resident priest who ministered to a scattered flock as far away as Pittsburgh and Butler County while Pittsburgh did not have a resident priest until 1808.

A letter in the Greene County Deed Book No. 1 explains what happened to Father Lonergan after he failed to build a chapel or convent in Waynesburg. In September 1801, he wrote to Bishop Carroll that although he had previously committed to staying in “Pittsburg,” he was now compelled by “extreme distress” to abandon his design, and planned to return to Europe with a friend. He sent the deeds to the five Waynesburg lots to Bishop Carroll. They were never recorded in Bishop Carroll’s name, but the letter was and the property continues today to be owned by the Roman Catholic Church.

Father Lonergan did not go to Europe. Instead, after a brief stay at the Catholic colony in Donegal Township, Butler County, he travelled down the Mississippi to a parish assignment in the Red River Valley of Louisiana. He died in New Orleans in 1804, at the age of 52. 

No record exists of what his followers did next, but it’s doubtful they stayed in Waynesburg.  In 1816, a visiting priest wrote: “There is scarcely a Catholic in Waynesburg and very few in the neighboring county.”

Father Lonergan’s attraction to Waynesburg may be explained by what happened 30 years earlier. One of my ancestors, Felix Hughes, led four Catholic families to Greene County, settling near Carmichaels.  As early as 1771, they petitioned the Bishop for pastoral care, but no traveling priest was available. There’s no doubt they would have been supportive of Father Lonergan’s plan and disappointed when it failed.
Next month, I’ll write about the buildings of St. Ann.

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