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Old St. Michael's Church - Elizabeth, PA

When I was home in PA for Christmas. I took some photos of my old church, St. Michael's. The old church was closed in 1987 while a new church was being built in Elizabeth Township. Here are some photos and the entry I wrote about the church in my personal blog. All of the photos are at my flickr site.

Well, on Christmas Eve I took a drive around the area...it started gloomy but lo and behold the sun came out later in the afternoon today.

Started by going into Elizabeth, specifically to the old St. Michael's Church. The area still has the dirt and grime of winter...the soot of past ice and snows...the piles of leaves from empty homes a lifeless brown.

A lot of town is empty...the old community library is gone...and all that is left is the Red Lion, more than enough pizza shops to feed the area four times over, and not much else. Old businesses I remember are long gone...many with empty storefronts showcasing whatever dusty old leftovers were there when they closed up.

I headed up Bayard St. to the old church. I was baptized here, I had my first communion here, my family worked the old fair here. The church was condemned in 1987 (if I recall correctly). Amazingly, everything has been left in place since that day. There are still yellowed out missilette and song books. A lot of the old ornamental items (at least what I could see through a few doors) were there. In some cases, the kneelers on the pews were still down. What's different is the plaster is starting to fall off.

Someone, perhaps the current parish staff, or a resident of the neighborhood, or perhaps someone else, has put wreathes up at the old doors to the church...and a small manger scene at the church headstone. (which still lists the mass schedule from 1987).

Our parish was founded in 1851. I can't remember when the old church was built. I could have sworn that there was an old corner stone showing the year of construction, but I couldn't locate it. Maybe the headstone was what I was thinking of.

Nothing says Merry Christmas, than a wreath covering up a master lock padlock and chains shutting the doors of the old church shut. I stood in the courtyard/school playground and remembered some memories of St. Michael's when growing up.

The cold of Christmas in 1983 when it was -10 below zero. Parking on the neighborhood streets to walk to mass. The church fair which really was a town festival and was more alive than any of the other's at the new church since. The lack of A/C and Fr. George skipping a homily when it was too hot. People standing down the sides during the holidays or during a special mass. The choir in the balcony above the church.

I'm not overly religious of a person..and i don't go to mass as often as I should now. But that old church still has a special part of my growing up. My younger brother was one of the last to be baptized there in the Summer of 1987. Not that long after...we had to go to Sisters of the Divine Redeemer (a nunnery) while the new church was being completed.

The closing of the old church didn't go without a fight. I was only 10 then and I wonder if it was condemned to end the squabble over it. The new church is big and is still very modern even though it is now 20 years old. But there is still something missing about going to church within a small community vs. an open field in the township.

The saddest part was the statue of St. Michael that stood above the entrance to the church..which many hope would have moved to the new church...has started to deteriorate and fall apart.

The condition of the church...looks sound from a distance...but the little glimpses you can see...from the glass doors...showing the crumbing walls and the yellowed hymnals...to the rotting wood fascia and soffit and door trim. It's easy to see how 20 years of neglect can wear down a once elegant yet simple church.

Comments

MAG said…
Yes, Adam I grew up in Forward Township (EF Class of '81) and was a member of Saint Michael's parish. My father's family was from Bunola and they grew up in the church before me, often having to hitch a ride or walk to Elizabeth. I was at Penn St. when the church was condemned and don't remember much about the fight. However, a few years ago I returned for a visit to Elizabeth and was saddened at the condition of the church. I do not understand why nothing was removed from the church for use in the new building or another parish. At the very least maybe the stuff could have been sold to raise money for charity.
An interesting story was told to me by my aunt. She used to help clean the church and one Saturday was helping to prepare for a wedding. she went home for a short time and returned to find the building padlocked. Apparently the bride and groom had to find a new venue on very short notice. I believe the story based on what I could see through the windows.
MissH said…
It's so sad - the church is gone now. Town Hill doesn't look right without that church sitting there - even from across the river coming down Large Hill. They quietly demolished it in October - alot of people didn't even know it was being torn down until they came by and saw half of the building gone. I had to pull my car over and just stare... It really broke my heart - I had my 1st Communion and Confirmation there (EF class of '87). My mom died in 1986, but I remember her and I going to midnight mass for Christmas in 1976, we sat in the little side addition closest to the school (I was 7 and kept running to the door watching the sky asking her where Santa was :). I miss that church almost as much as I miss her. I went to St. Michael's School too, and it was closed except for CCD (my daughter goes there for that now) this year, so I can't help but wonder how long it will be until it falls victim to the wreckingball too...
Anonymous said…
Wow... was this a great and nostalgic post. I too grew up and St. Michael's was a major part of my life. I went from 2nd grade through 8th grade (got out in 1964) and graduated from Divine Redeemer in 1968... I was married in that church in 1973. I remember so many good things about the community and St. Michaels.

I drove past in May of 2008 and saw pretty much the same as the picture that you took... I returned again to Elizabeth this year and almost cried when I discovered that they had taken the church down...

Thanks so much for the memories.
KATHY M said…
I too belonged to St Michaels and went to school there from 1st thru 5th grade (1962-1966). Lay teachers were just starting to be used instead of nuns. I remember Sr Agnes in 2nd grade. She was a mean one. I remember Sr Georgine in 3rd grade who was so nice. I remember when President Kennedy was shot and the whole school prayed for him. My best friend's (Melanie) mother used to clean the school and we used to run wild when the nuns weren't there. Even peeked into the boys bathrooms. Scandolous. All 3 of my brothers and myself were bapitized, made our first confession and Holy Communion there. Yes, it was a good family church and very sad it is no longer there. Puts a lump in my throat...
PM said…
I attended the school in second & third grades, celebrated First Communion there. Although I now live in VA, every time I came back to visit relatives, I would swing by the (by then abandoned) church. Heartbreaking! As I child I especially loved the statue of St. Michael, and I could not help crying when I saw its condition. When I was back home this summer, I was shocked to see that the church had been torn down. Does anyone know if the statue was rescued or was it tossed aside in a landfill?
Anonymous said…
Shadowslands haunted places website has a paragraph about this chruch.
Anonymous said…
I was baptized, had my first Holy Communion at the Old St. Michaels (had my Confirmation and got married in the new church). It makes me wonder how or why it closed soo suddenly, without notice, due to safety issues. But when it came down to tearing it down slew of people were able to go through it to rip the pews up and more to come in and buy them with no regards to safety...it was kinda frer-for-all. I miss the old building and the family-ness that was connected to the old St. Michaels, the new is nice but not nearly the same close family feel that made me love going to church. A little side note - of all the abandoned building that got/get vandelized in Elizabeth... St. Michael's Church was NEVER TOUCHED in the decades it sat empty and abandoned.
Anonymous said…
Thank you for sharing those pictures of the Old St Michaels Church. I attended the school when the church shut down, and was too young to understand what was going on. People were protesting outside the doors, Mass was being held in the cafeteria of the school. I moved away shortly after, but i moved back here in 2008. It was sad to watch the old church come down, but i was able to get 4 bricks from the church (not wo getting a little hell from the construction workers!) and i used them in the corners of a walkway i made. Those bricks are a nice memory to have n to hold.
Anonymous said…
Looking for a phone number for St. Michael's church I came across this site and was interested in the comments. I was a member for over 20 years, made my first communion, confirmation, and married in this church, sang in the junior choir and 8 years at the school. I too had Sister Agnes in second grade and Sister Georgine in third. I know who Melanie is but I am sorry to say I can't remember who Kathy M is. I think I know but not sure. I watched the demolition every week as I still go to Elizabeth to care for my elderly mother. I wish I knew what was going on with the wall and sidewalk on the Fifth Street side. I was surprised by these photos to see the rotted condition of the interior as I remember the masses and Forty Hours services. It was a wonderful hometown church in its day.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for the pictures! I went to St. Michaels School for a few years until we moved. I was in Sister Agnes's second grade the year that President Kennedy was assassinated. Sister Agnes could be cruel but she was sometimes very nice. I remember that she was particularly mean to the CCDS kids who came in to practice for First Communion. I was one of the shortest kids in second grade and was seated next to the priest in pictures. I thought at the time that he smelled like alcohol so bad and I would try to hold my breath sitting there for pictures!

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