The History of Ascension Parish
Many of the families today have ancestry back to the origin of Ascension Church. Reflection needs to be given to the roots of our parish and the sacrifices of all those who have worked together to build and maintain the vibrant and Catholic parish we attend today.
In the early 1900’s, European immigrants were entering the United States in great numbers. Many families settled in the Jeannette area. A strong faith based community welcomed them, but the language barrier was a great struggle for many and they wanted a church of their own to celebrate their customs.
A young Benedictine priest, Father Benedict Ingenito serving as an assistant at Sacred Heart Church, saw the need to serve these Italian families; and with the approval of his superiors he reached out to many of the families. A new parish was formed.
The first Mass was said in 1914 in an unused storeroom located on South Sixth Street near the creek. Mass was said there for a time until a church could be built. The land was generously donated by Elizabeth Thomas who lived on South Fifth Street. The Corner Stone was laid on September 14, 1916. It is said that the owner of the storeroom increased the rent. So rather than pay the additional $5 a month, Father Benedict moved into the new church. As the rectory was not complete, he lived in the sacristy of the church, sleeping on a cot and cooking his meals on a hot plate in the basement of the church.
We celebrate the many firsts in our parish and many are familiar names, even today. The first marriage actually occurred in the storeroom on Sixth Street between Alphonso Tocco and Philomena Teti on January 8, 1917. The first marriage in the new church was between Emilio Caruso and Ann DeNunzio on May 10, 1917. The first Baptism occurred on May 21, 1916, for Albert Gagliardi. The first funeral was on January 7, 1919, for Pelligrino Pisana who was only 22 years of age.
In the beginning the church was poor and needed funding. As so many do today, the congregation volunteered their time and energy. In order to raise the much-needed funds for the parish, they held bazaars, card parties, and began the tradition of those amazing spaghetti suppers.
There was an Italian school, music and plays in the basement of the church. The first church bell was purchased from Sears and Roebuck and still remains in the original tower.
Father Benedict had great support from his parishioners. His sister, Margaret Ingenito, was a great asset. She helped teach music and catechism, played the organ, and acted as housekeeper in the first years of the parish.
In keeping with his calling, Father Benedict 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. He made a powerful and lasting impact on his beloved Ascension Parish. He gave everything he had, especially spiritually, paving a road of enduring success. Father Benedict remained at Ascension Parish until August 13, 1922. He went on to build a new church in Louisville, Colorado. He passed away February 13, 1947 and is buried at Holy Cross Abbey in Canon City, Colorado.
Succeeding Father Benedict was Benedictine Father Francis Mersinger. Father Francis served as pastor of Ascension Church for 31 years. Although these years experienced great hardships of the Great Depression and poverty, the church continued to grow. Father Francis was looking toward the future and began slowly purchasing property around the church.
In addition to expanding property, of which our buildings and parking currently reside, Father Francis formed the Holy Name Society. As it is today, the Holy Name Society is extremely active and so very helpful to our church. Father Francis served our parish with great energy and love until he was transferred to the former St. Bede Church in Bovard in 1953.
Replacing Father Francis was Benedictine Father Angelus Klug. From the time of his appointment to the day of his death in October 1957, Father Angelus was a tireless, energetic and vibrant priest whose sole interest was to win souls back into the church and beautify the house of God. During his tenure, the church was repainted, the interior decorated and entire new furnishings purchased; all of the cost was donated by the parishioners.
Many activities and organizations were also formed such as the revival of Our Lady of Fatima Sodality, which brought the beautiful May Crowning’s and the first “Snowflake Ball.” Italian classes resumed and the first Children of Mary group was formed. These in addition to the spaghetti dinners, church festivals and card parties all brought the people and pastor together to beautify their church and form good fellowship.
Another accomplishment initiated by Father Angelus was the weekly envelope system and Census File Card System. Using the weekly envelopes the offerings jumped from the usual $230 to $678.95. Father said “it was the finest “silent” collection he ever heard!” The death of Father Angelus on October 19, 1957 left a void in the hearts of the parishioners and he was sadly missed.
Benedictine Father James Imhof was then appointed to succeed Father Angelus in November 1957. Father James continued paving the way for a growing parish. He began tearing down the old homes on the parish property and adding parking spaces. It was evident by the number of members that additional church space was needed. Permission was granted for an addition to the church and ground breaking ceremonies were held Sunday, September 18, 1960. The late Bishop William G. Connare, second bishop of the Diocese of Greensburg, officiated at the blessing and laying of the cornerstone.
If you ever wondered why we have such a unique “L” shaped design, you can thank the parishioners of the parish. They vetoed the plans to tear down the old church and build a new larger one. Instead they wanted to keep their beautiful church and add an identical wing on the other side.
(The new bells of Ascension were consecrated April 8, 1961. Each of the three new bells was given a name; “St. William” after the late Bishop William G. Connare, “St. Denis” named after the late Benedictine Archabbot Denis Strittmatter, and “St. James the Greater” named after the late Benedictine Father James Imhof. All bells were donated by members of the parish).
Following the death of Father James in October, 1963, Bishop Connare appointed the first diocesan priest to the parish. Father Joseph Pernatozzi became pastor of Ascension Church in January 1964 with Father Joseph A. Yowler appointed as Assistant Pastor.
Father Pernatozzi worked to build the new parish house, which was completed in 1966. The purchase of the Americanization Hall was completed and converted into the Ascension Center.
Father Pernatozzi also had a mind for business, which was extremely helpful in managing the growing parish. He headed Ascension for five years until June 1969. He was succeeded by Father Nicholas J. Thomas who served Ascension on an interim basis for one year.
Father Father Francis D. Pirulli was appointed pastor to the church on June 24, 1970. He is fondly remembered as a cheerful, cherubic, diminutive priest with a delightful Italian accent. Father Pirulli achieved a long and impressive record of accomplishments. Of note, he inaugurated the First Italian Festival. The success of our annual Italian Festival continues today.
Father also converted the basement of the church into classrooms for the former Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) program. The church was carpeted for the first time, and the altar was placed to face the congregation. Construction of Mersinger Hall was another great achievement. Father Pirulli served our parish until his transfer in 1978.
Msgr. Nicholas A. Mitolo succeeded and was appointed pastor in 1978. Many parishioners will remember Msgr. Mitolo as he served the parish for 24 years until his retirement in 2002. Msgr. Mitolo arrived at the parish facing an indebtedness of $85,000. He immediately established a Debt Reduction Committee and within five years the parish was debt free.
He continued with improvements to the parish and Ascension complex properties and guided the parish to becoming one of the most active and recognized parishes in the diocese at that time. Msgr. Mitolo was extremely dedicated to his vocation. His homilies hit home and he had a talent for listening. It is said he would keep an eye out of the kitchen window and if he saw any neighboring young ladies strolling their babies, he would immediately run out to the parking lot and ask if the child was baptized. If they were not, he would offer that service on the spot. In recognition for his service to his vocation of Holy Orders, he was elevated to monsignor, an appointment made by his holiness Pope John Paul II, January 7, 1986.
Father John M. Foriska was then appointed pastor of our parish in 2002 following Msgr. Mitolo’s retirement. Father John and Msgr. Mitolo were very good friends and you may have spotted them having dinner occasionally. Father Foriska carried on the improvement and maintenance of the parish to include replacing the roofs of both the church and Mersinger Hall. Father also restored the entire basement of the church following a devastating flood on the south side of Jeannette.
In 2008, Ascension Parish merged with St. Boniface Church in Penn and were named partner parishes. It was not long after the partnership that Father John received the news from the Diocese of Greensburg that St. Boniface Church would have to close. Father held the burden of having to inform the parishioners of this news. Although an extremely complicated and difficult task, Father John could not have been more compassionate and understanding during the process.
Soon after, it was announced that Ascension and Sacred Heart parishes would partner and Father John worked in uniting our two parishes together, building relationships and uniting our faith community. Father John was then transferred to Holy Trinity Parish in Ligonier in 2013, but remains a valued member of our faith community and may be spotted at many of our valued traditional functions such as the annual Spaghetti Dinners and Italian Festivals.
Father Joseph L. Sredzinski was then assigned to our faith community and assisted with the pastoral responsibilities for both parishes. Shortly after, Father Paul A. Lisik was appointed administrator of Ascension Parish and pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in 2013. Assisting with the duties of both parishes, Deacon William Newhouse, a permanent deacon of the diocese, was also appointed to our community.
Father Paul was known for his powerful homilies, leaving his congregation spiritually fulfilled. Many times, he used props to emphasize his message. Father moved across the front of the church engaging parishioners seated in both wings of the church. He continued the work of improving both parishes and uniting our faith communities. He encouraged participation in all events, always letting us know how delicious the food will taste. Father Paul was instrumental in celebrating not only Ascension’s 100 year anniversary, but also the 125th anniversary of Sacred Heart Parish.
In November 2019, Father Michael Sikon became pastor of both Ascension and Sacred Heart parishes, in addition to remaining as pastor of St. Barbara Church in Harrison City. Along with the arrival of Father Michael came Father Alvin Alberion, a newly arrived international priest from the Philippines, who was named Parochial Vicar with his residence at the Ascension rectory.