Our History | Ascension Parish
Ascension Church can trace its humble beginnings back to autumn 1914. A beginning not only humble, but really and truly spartan.
One cannot sketch the first days of the Ascension Church without emphasizing the noble efforts of its original pastor, Benedictine Father Benedict Ingenito. Back then, Farther Ingenito was serving as assistant pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Jeannette.
In those days, European immigrants were pouring into the United States, particularly at this time, from southern and eastern sections of the continent. A sizeable number of those newcomers came from Italy, and many settled in the Jeannette area.
With the language barrier a major factor, it was only a matter of time before these new Americans desired a church of their own.
At this point, Father Ingenito, aware of the demands of the Italian immigrants, persuaded his superiors to establish a mission, and grant him permission to celebrate Mass in the southside area of our city where many of the immigrants had settled.
So it was that Ascension Church was established in Jeannette in an unused storeroom on South Sixth Street, now the site of the Excel Glass Company.
For months Father Ingenito said Mass from this storeroom church, and it was here that Alfonso Tocco and Philomena Teti were married January 8, 1917, thereby holding the distinction of being the first newlyweds in the newly established parish.
According to parish records, Albert Gagliardi was the first to be baptized, May 21, 1916.
Sometime during those storeroom church days, Elizabeth Thomas of Jeannette, donated land on Division Street to the Ascension Parish so the community could construct a church building of their own. Accordingly, the cornerstone was set September 14, 1916, under the direction of Father Ingenito, and was assisted by Farther Nicolo Fusco.
The bell in the original tower, which is still there, was purchased from Sears and Roebuck.
Seeing the steady growth in numbers of parishioners at the storeroom church, the landlady informed Father Ingenito that she was going to increase the rent from $10 to $15 per month.
This notice did not sit well with father, and a bit perturbed, he decided to move to the new church on Division Street, despite the fact that it was unfinished.
Since the parish house was not yet erected, the pioneer pastor slept on a cot in the sacristy.
Needless to say, Father Ingenito endured many hardships under these circumstances, but he was not a complainer and performed his duties happily.
In keeping with his calling, father continually donated food, clothing and money, not only to the poor of the parish, but to other members of the community. It is said that his greatest joy was his love of the children of the parish.
Without a doubt, Father Ingenito made a powerful and lasting impact on his beloved Ascension Parish. He gave everything he had, especially spiritually, paving a road of enduring success.
Ironically, although of Italian descent, he could not speak the language with any degree of fluency. On special occasions Father Fusco, who spoke the Italian language, assisted Father Ingenito.
Father Ingenito's most worthy successor, Benedictine Father Francis Mersinger, of German extraction, spoke Italian like a native and gave bilingual sermons for decades in his fiery and emotional style.
Father Mersinger was later assigned to Ascension Parish in August 1922. Those who grew up under Father Mersinger soon came to the realization that the relationship between the hard-working and perpetually smiling pastor, and his parishioners, quickly developed into a mutual admiration society.
Father Mersinger served as pastor of Ascension Parish for 31 years, by far the longest tenure of any pastor in the history of the parish.
Despite the fact that many of those years of his pastorate were served during the Great Depression, he nevertheless had the foresight to anticipate rapid growth of the parish. He began to purchase properties on South Sixth Street, properties that serve us well today.
Along spiritual lines, one of Father Mersinger's most notable accomplishments was the formation of the Holy Name Society, an organization that is extremely active and helpful to our church community.
Perhaps some vital statistics can relate the length and breadth of his stewardship: 2,984 baptisms, 898 marriages and 736 burials.
In July 1953, Father Mersinger left his Ascension flock and was transferred to St. Bede Parish in Bovard. He left an indelible legacy.
Another Benedictine priest, Benedictine Father Angelus Klug followed the dearly loved and respected Father Mersinger to our parish. From the time of his appointment to the day of his death in October 1957, Father Klug was a tireless and forceful priest determined to win souls back into the church, and beautify the house of God.
On both counts, he was successful. In fact, all new furnishings were purchased with generous donations made by the parishioners. In addition, Father Klug introduced into our parish a census file card system and weekly envelope plan. Under the latter, offerings increased substantially.
Our first appointed assistance came to Ascension Church during Father Klug's pastorate. Benedictine Father Daniel Wolfel, a masterful orator, consistently delivered marvelous sermons during his entire stay here.
When Father Klug passed away in 1957, Ascension Parish welcomed its new pastor, Benedictine Father James Imhof in November of the same year.
This gentle man is remembered for his endeavors in having the old homes alongside the church torn down, making way for space needed to enlarge the church. The growing need for a larger church was most evident as the number of families had grown from 1,000 to nearly 3,000 individuals.
Permission was given by the late Bishop William G. Connare, second bishop of the Diocese of Greensburg, for an addition to be built.
Groundbreaking ceremonies were held September 18, 1960, and construction began the following week.
On November 27, 1960, Bishop Connare officiated at the blessing and laying of the cornerstone.
The new bells of the church were consecrated April 8, 1961, and hoisted to the tower two days later. Collectively, the three bells weigh over a ton and operate electrically.
On May 11, 1961, Bishop Connare blessed and dedicated the new addition with a Pontifical Mass.
Ascension Parish continued to grow and participate in the young Diocese of Greensburg, which was established in 1951.
Following the death of Father Imhof, October 23, 1963, Bishop Connare appointed the Father Joseph Pernatozzi as pastor, January 24, 1964.
He was the first diocesan priest to serve Ascension Parish. Father Joseph A. Yowler was also named assistant pastor.
In addition to being a sincere man of the cloth, Father Pernatozzi also possessed a keen business sense, an important attribute in managing a church. Under his guidance, the much needed parish rectory was erected. Ground was broken on April 4, 1965.
Parishioner Arthur Panichella of Grapeville was the general contractor for this beautiful building, which was occupied for the first time in January 1966.
Father Pernatozzi headed Ascension Parish for five years until June 1969, and was then succeeded by Father Nicholas J. Thomas who transferred to the community from St. Therese, Little Flower of Jesus Parish in Uniontown. Father Thomas served here on an interim basis for only one year.
Father Francis Pirulli, a cheerful, cherubic, diminutive priest with a delightful Italian accent, then succeeded Father Thomas.
Father Piruli achieved a long and impressive record of accomplishments. He was assigned here June 24, 1970, and in less than eight years, he proved to be a dynamo.
In summer 1970, in conjunction with Betty Sandella-Wertz, Father Pirulli inaugurated the Italian Festival.
It has been a roaring success and over the years has attracted thousands of out of towners, especially those who wish to savor old country delicacies.
The social hall in the church basement was converted into six attractive classrooms for the Confraternity of Christine Doctrine (CCD) program. The church was fully carpeted for the first time, and in keeping with church modernization, the altar was placed to face the congregation.
The choir section was moved from its loft to church level, and the crowning point of Father Pirulli's stay here was the construction of Mersinger Hall. Without a doubt, Father Pirulli had fore sight. He certainly was a doer in the truest sense of the word.
Father Pirulli's successor was Msgr. Nicolas A. Mitolo, who was assigned to Ascension Parish in June 1978, thereby continuing the parish’s fateful destiny in having a succession of outstanding pastors.
List the necessary qualities of a good priest and monsignor certainly possessed them all. He was dedicated to his vocation; showed leadership and love of his flock; had hard-hitting homilies; sound fiscal management; a receptive ear, etc.
Msgr. Mitolo came to us from St. Rita Parish in Connellsville, where he served the parish community for over nine years. As evidence of the aforementioned fiscal management attribute, Msgr. Mitolo arrived at Ascension Parish facing an indebtedness of $85,000. It was systematically wiped out and today our parish is in the black.
Furthermore, he has carried on with improving the various church properties that make up the fine Ascension complex, comprising one-half city block. Specifically, he added a garage, arranged for the construction of an entrance ramp, had the CCD center upgraded, replaced the old marquee and recarpeted both wings.
But his most notable accomplishment concerning the physical plant were the kitchen and cooler additions to Mersinger Hall in 1981.
In spiritual matters, Msgr. Mitolo directed Deanery III Westmoreland West, consisting of 17 area churches, a duty which calls for finding solutions to problems in those parishes.
Moreover, he served as Priest Counsel to Bishop Anthony G. Bosco, third bishop of Greensburg.
One year after his arrival here, Msgr. Mitolo helped organize the Ascension Senior Citizens Club. Sixty-two people attended the first meeting.
In recognition for his more than three decades of meritorious service to his vocation of Holy Orders, Msgr. Mitolo was elevated to monsignor, an appointment made by his holiness Pope John Paul II, January 7, 1986.
In 1989, the parish celebrated its 75th anniversary. Bishop Bosco observed the event with Msgr. Mitolo.
Upon Msgr. Mitolo’s retirement, Father John M. Foriska was appointed pastor of Ascension Parish. Father Foriska, a native of Shoaf, PA, a small coal mining town in Fayette County, was ordained May 9, 1970, after completion of his studies at Saint Vincent College and Seminary in Latrobe.
Father Foriska has admirably carried on the improvement and maintenance of Ascension Church’s excellent physical properties, including the following projects: new roofs for both the church and Mersinger Hall; extensive plastering and painting of the entire interior of the church; new boilers and central air conditioning of the church. He accomplished all of this without incurring a dollar of debt.
Most important however, was Father Foriska's major role in initiating and overseeing the restoration of the entire church basement and assistance to our neighboring families after the major flood that devastated the south side of Jeannette.
In spite of these outstanding achievements, Father Foriska's greatest challenge was probably one that every priest dreads and prays he will never have to do, and that is the closing of a church.
Shortly after St. Boniface Church in Penn and Ascension Church were named as partner parishes, and after working tirelessly to meld these two congregations together, father was given the devastating news that the Diocese of Greensburg planned to close St. Boniface Church.
The burden of informing the parishioners of St. Boniface, and implementing the closing fell squarely on his shoulders. Of course, he performed this most unfortunate duty in the most compassionate and understanding manner possible.
At the same time, it was announced that Ascension and Sacred Heart parishes were to become partnered. With all his other duties and responsibilities, he continues to work diligently in uniting these two parishes together into a strong and vibrant faith community in the city of Jeannette.
Originally, Ascension Parish was established as a national parish to accommodate people of Italian descent. However, the doors of the parish have always been open to all others.
Everyone is certainly welcome and encouraged to become an Ascension parishioner and participate in our family as we approach our centennial with unbounded optimism and enthusiasm.
Thanks be to God!