St. Brendan's Memories:
The First Twenty-Five Years, 1987 - 2012
Written by Tom Waseleski, Senior Warden
From the beginning, it was all about a journey. For Brendan the Navigator of Ireland in 530 A.D. and for the founders of Saint Brendan’s Episcopal Church 14 centuries later it was about acting boldly, taking a risk and stepping out in faith.
Saint Brendan did it, legend has it, to find an earthly paradise in the “Isles of the Blessed.” What he discovered, long before the great explorers, may have been the shores of modern-day Iceland and Greenland.
The founders of Saint Brendan’s did it in 1987 to extend the reach of the Episcopal Church into Pittsburgh’s northern suburbs and to bring more people to God. Their mission was simple, yet powerful: the realization of fullness of life through worship of God, service to the world, active concern for each other and education to expand the mind and spirit. Even in the early years, there were several choirs – senior, youth and chime; a food and fun fest called Soup, Salad & Song once every Advent; a summertime road rally; and an Adopt-a-Highway chapter, which earned Saint Brendan’s a sign with its name along I-279, the interstate that had triggered the idea for starting the parish.
Christ Episcopal Church, Ross Township. The church that gave birth to St. Brendan's Episcopal Church
Heritage Presbyterian Church, Franklin Park. Our original borrowed worship site.
“I remember the day Pat Carnahan came into my office with the idea of a mission,” Rev. Rodge Wood recounted in the diocesan newsletter, not long after Saint Brendan’s was founded. Rodge, who is now retired and a member of Saint Brendan’s, was the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Ross. “Pat had just come from seeing some of our people at Suburban General Hospital in Bellevue. ‘Boss! We have to do something about the new highway,’ she said.” She was referring to the construction of Interstate 279, a highway link with downtown Pittsburgh that was about to trigger a housing boom in the outer northern suburbs. Pat told Rodge, “We have to provide a place for all those people to worship. Those communities are going to fill up with people, and we have to be there.”
Rev. Carnahan was associate rector at Christ Church and only the third woman to be ordained in the Pittsburgh diocese. In June 1987, she and 16 others left their mother parish to launch Saint Brendan’s – without a building and without even a sign by the road. Pat was the first female priest to lead a church in the diocese. Heritage Presbyterian Church on Rochester Road in Franklin Park was one of Saint Brendan’s earliest and staunchest allies; it donated worship space to the fledgling congregation on Saturdays at 5 p.m.
As for a church office, the group rented a few rooms in a modest frame building on West Ingomar Road. Affectionately dubbed “The Little White House,” it was the place where much of the hard work of church formation occurred. Pat and Betty Tatlock, Saint Brendan’s first parish coordinator, worked there full-time. On Wednesdays, members had an evening service and education program. On Sundays it was Morning Prayer, coffee and sweets, plus Chime Choir practice. Along the way, a strong sense of community was built.
Although Saint Brendan’s pilgrims were delighted to have Heritage Presbyterian as the place for its Saturday service while raising funds for their own building, the time slot posed some challenges. In a newspaper interview, Pat said, “Saturday at 5 p.m. is a terrible time for worship for families. That’s right at dinner time, it’s the end of a soccer game. It’s just not a good time for young families. … They want to go home and eat.” Regardless, that weekly worship window enabled Saint Brendan’s to function as a real church from the start. In its first year, the faithful could offer not only a weekend Eucharist service, but also Sunday School and a youth group, a chime choir, a Thanksgiving service and the Festival of Lessons and Carols in Advent. It sold mince meat pies to support the youth group, collected Christmas gifts for the needy, sponsored a car wash run by the teenagers, held a church picnic and launched a unique commitment called CRIES Advocacy to devote 10 percent of all parish contributions to outreach.
Pat described CRIES this way: “Ten percent of our income goes out the door. Over our young life, we have distributed over $16,000 [by 1993]. We’ve done this all along because we wanted to make sure we were a church in the true sense, even if we didn’t have walls or a building.”
A year after its founding, Saint Brendan’s purchased four acres of land at the corner of Rochester and McAleer roads for possible development as a church. By 1990, despite weekly services still on Saturdays at Heritage, Saint Brendan’s had 125 members. The congregation had $300,000 in cash and pledges and needed $360,000 more to start building. In the meantime, the young parish was establishing its identity.
“People expect a non-traditional congregation when it’s led by a woman,” Pat said in an interview then. “We look traditional, but I think we are on the cutting edge in what we’re doing. We feel that the church doesn’t exist for itself – it exists for the world. It’s about making real what we pray, what we teach and preach. For us it means to see Jesus as a liberating spirit and all the things that brings with it, whether it’s poverty, physical abuse, or drug and alcohol abuse – all the things that mar the face of man.”
In September 1990, the diocesan board of trustees approved the start of construction for Saint Brendan’s, saying the congregation had demonstrated strong growth and had secured enough funds and pledges to begin building. Two parishioners oversaw the project: Ellen Groves was the site development chair and Gail Gagnon ran the capital campaign, raising more than $600,000. The following May 8, ground was broken. Ralph Alster of Shadyside was the architect and Horn Brothers the contractor of the anticipated one-story brick and stucco structure.
One year later, on May 16, 1992, Bishop Alden Hathaway consecrated the new basilica-style, 140-seat church with worship space, offices and classrooms. It was the 76th church in the 11-county diocese. Cost of construction was $750,000. Besides parishioner contributions, Christ Church had donated $45,000 toward the groundbreaking and $40,000 toward construction, the diocese gave $100,000 and Heritage Presbyterian contributed $1,000. Membership hovered around 150 and the weekly worship time had finally gone conventional: Sundays at 10 a.m.
Not so conventional were the adornments in the nave, some of which came from 137-year-old Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church in Oakland, which had just been decommissioned and scheduled for demolition. From Saint Peter’s came a white marble altar with gold mosaics and fleur de lis pattern, a wood and brass pulpit, a wood and brass altar rail and a processional cross. From Trinity Cathedral came a brass eagle lectern. And from Saint Mary the Virgin Church in East Stoke, Dorset, England, came a 700-year-old stone baptismal font acquired by parishioners Sylvia and Bob Affleck through family members and the Diocese of Salisbury.
In the next few years, Saint Brendan’s grew and unique ministries shaped the personality of the parish. Parishioner Dorsey Doddroe made a generous donation to establish Saint Brendan’s Scholarships, grants to young members designed to encourage their participation in church life. Teen parishioner Lane Shadgett developed Saint Brendan’s Peace Garden in 1993 as his Eagle Scout project, including benches, landscaping and a peace pole with the inscription “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in six languages -- English, Swahili, Chinese, Arabic, Hindi and Seneca.
Even in the early years, there were several choirs – senior, youth and chime; a food and fun fest called Soup, Salad & Song once every Advent; a summertime road rally; and an Adopt-a-Highway chapter, which earned Saint Brendan’s a sign with its name along I-279, the interstate that had triggered the idea for starting the parish.
From its earliest days, Saint Brendan’s developed a knack for raising funds for its mission. One year after its founding, the parish held the first annual Unique Boutique (in the Little White House). No one was calling it the Holiday Happening or Holiday Craft Show, and the Cookie Walk had yet to be conceived, but the initial homemade crafts sale raised $2,200 for the first building fund. Likewise, the youth group held a flea market in August 1991 at a 7-Eleven – not yet Pittsburgh’s Classiest Yard Sale, but the notion had been planted that Saint Brendan’s someday could raise big money from people’s donated goods.
In 1997, with one decade under the church’s belt, Rev. Dr. Pat Carnahan stepped down as Saint Brendan’s rector to move on to a new chapter in life. The parish was on the move, with talk and plans to expand the size of the building. Saint Brendan’s congregation was also about to be tested on what it believed and where it wanted to go.
Newly built St. Brendan's Worship Site
The older Sanctuary is now the Social Hall across from our Main Sanctuary
The Lecturn from Trinity Cathedral
The Baptismal font acquired from the Diocese of Salisbury.