God works in wonderful and mysterious ways to bring his people together around his altar.
For the people of St. Gertrude Parish, it began many generations ago with three men--an industrialist from Ireland, a priest from Bohemia, and an architect from the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg--who settled in Western Pennsylvania. These three used their time, talents and treasures in ways which continue to affect us even today.
The industrialist, George G. McMurty, moved to the Apollo Iron and Steel Company downriver to a railroad whistle stop known as Townsend Station. Here, in 1895, he envisioned and built one of America's first fully planned industrial towns, Vandergrift. As the mill prospered and continued to expand, so did the town's population. Soon after, a small, newly-formed congregation of Catholics moved from Apollo to this town and became the community of St. Gertrude Parish, in 1898.
The late Bishop Richard Phelan of the Diocese of Pittsburgh dedicated a small brick church on Aug. 7, of that year; however, parishioners of St. Gertrude celebrated their first Mass on Easter Sunday, April 10, 1898, with Benedictine Father Boniface Wirtner. During that service, Father Wirtner preformed the first baptism of the parish, on two children, Thomas and Elizabeth Cook. The first confirmation class, in 1898, included 65 people. Father Wirtner celebrated the first marriage of Henry O'Shoa and Elizabeth Moore on April 28, 1898. The first funeral was held for John Moloney on June 7, 1899.
Benedictine Father Martin Singer was appointed the second pastor of the parish in 1899, and Emma Ossley was the first person to be buried in St. Gertrude Cemetery on May 16, 1902.
Ten years after his appointment, the young parish had grown to over 2,000 souls, and Father Singer recognized the need for a larger building. On July 7, 1909, the late Bishop Regis Canevin of the Diocese of Pittsburgh granted permission for a new church building.
The architect, John Theordore Comes, Luxembourg's most famous architect and builder of cathedrals, was commissioned by Father Singer to design the present day St. Gertrude Church. It was completed for $50,000 and was blessed by Bishop Canevin on Mar. 26, 1911.
Benedictine Father Sigismund Szydlowski was appointed assistant pastor on June 20, 1913. He was responsible for the care of Slovak, Polish and Lithuanian speaking parishioners.
The Holy Name Society was established on Jan. 26, 1913, and the Young Ladies Blessed Virgin Sodality was canonically established on April 18, 1916. A new rectory was constructed in 1921.
By 1922, the need for a school grew large enough for St. Gertrude to acquire a school building. Taught by the Benedictine Sisters, the school opened its doors in September 1924. Unfortunately the school was closed in 1932, as a result of the Great Depression; however, it reopened in 1947, and an addition was added in 1953.
The Rosary Society was formed on March 9, 1939, and was later canonically established on Oct. 20, 1940.
Father Paschal Kneip arrived at the parish on Aug. 15, 1951, to serve as its first permanent assistant pastor. On Aug. 31, 1953, the first issue of the parish bulletin was produced.
The year 1955 welcomed major repairs and renovations to St. Gertrude Church. The following year, the shrine of Our Lady of Grace was donated by the Young Ladies Sodality. The late Msgr. Cyril J. Vogel, then diocesan chancellor, blessed the shrine on Nov. 1, 1956. A new organ was installed in the church on March 10, 1959, and new church bells and carillons were blessed in 1961, by the late Bishop William G. Connare of the Diocese of Greensburg.
Again, in 1972, the church underwent extensive renovations. Over a decade later, on Sept. 23, 1983, St. Gertrude Church, a Romanesque-inspired structure was inducted into the Pennsylvania Inventory of Historical Places. The side exits were closed permanently in 1983, and tinted glass windows were installed.
In 1986, a second statue of the Blessed Mother was dedicated at St. Gertrude Church. The new statue--Mary, Mother of Peace--was blessed during a special liturgy on the Feast of the Assumption, Aug. 28. Two years later, then-Bishop Anthony G. Bosco blessed a new altar at the church on June 12, 1988.
The parish celebrated its centennial anniversary in 1998.
Today, we too, like the good steward, continue to use our time, talents and treasures to help carry out God's plan, with gratitude for those who have gone before us to build our church's foundation, and with sincere appreciation as we thank God.
In February 2014, Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt, fourth bishop of the diocese, made a statement in response to the needs of Christ the King Parish, Leechburg, that employed a model of parish staffing and structuring that has proven to be effective within the diocese. He announced, after consultation with Archabbot Doughlas Nowicki of St. Vincent Archabbey, that on Feb. 12, 2014, Christ the King Parish in Leechburg and St. Gertrude parish were to be partnered. Father James Loew, OSB, continued his appointment as the pastor of St. Gertrude Parish and also served as the new administrator of Christ the King Parish.