St. Paul Roman Catholic Church in Erie, Pa is located at 1617 Walnut Street in the heart of Little Italy. St. Paul Roman Catholic Church was founded in 1891 to serve the many Italians of Erie, Pa.
It was on a Sunday afternoon in May 1891, at a christening, in the rear of Thomas Rossi's fruit store in Little Italy, that the first Italian church was organized. It was on this occasion that each male guest present pledged $100 for the purpose of erecting a church, $1,800 being subscribed. From this humble beginning emerged St. Paul Roman Catholic Church, Erie, Pennsylvania.
A few months later the Italian congregation of the newly formed parish bought what was the former Chestnut St Presbyterian Church located at Seventeenth and Chestnut Streets. As soon as the new Presbyterian Church was completed, the Catholic parishioners took on quite a task of moving the old wooden structure to the Walnut Street location, a distance of a block and a half, but the enthusiasm of the new congregation ran rampant, for they were finally going to worship in their own church.
The parishioners totally remodeled the Interior of the structure and prepared it for the dedication. The church was named St. Paul Roman Catholic Church, named for the Apostle Paul who dedicated his life preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world. The priest involved in the organization of St. Paul was Fr. Francis Beccherini, the first pastor of our first church, He remained with his flock until July 1894, In December 1894, St. Paul had its second pastor, Rev. Francis J. Bender. Within four years he was succeeded by the Rev. Raphaele Agresti. Fr. Agresti directed the parochial affairs of the church for the following twelve years until his retirement in 1908.
Rev. Louis A. Marino became the new and fourth priest to be assigned to St. Paul, and he held that position for the next fifty-seven years until his death in 1965.
When Fr. Marino assumed the pastorship of his new tenure, a heavy debt on the church confronted him. Due to the untiring zeal of this new pastor, the congregation was soon able to erase all financial obligations and they began to meet their monthly expenses. As things were approaching the bright side, the religious life of the parishioners was quickened, and a popular movement was soon organized to raise funds for the building of a new house of worship.
Fr. Marino, assisted by Fr. Marinaro, of Butler, Pennsylvania, and by the priests of a neighboring church, blessed the site on the corner of Sixteenth and Walnut Streets, and broke ground for the new parish on August 19,1928, amid a huge gathering of parishioners and friends.
The present church was designed by the architect, G. Wesley Stickle. The style presented was of Romanesque design, and the interior had reflections of Umbrian origin. Due to the economic conditions and the scarcity of the dollar, the exterior shell of the new church was finished with stones from the discarded curbing of the Erie streets. The city, at that time was in the process of remodeling the streets.
The Italian workmen from the parish were hired to put their skills to the task of refashioning the huge blocks of stone and reshaping them into the expanding building. The results of their never ending desire stands today, the challenge and the ingenuity that confronted the talented stonecutters.
The work on the new church progressed until Sunday, October 5,1929. Then at the impressive ceremony, His Excellency, John Mark Gannon, Bishop of Erie, presided at the laying of the cornerstone. But an unforeseen condition arose to alter the plans of finishing the construction of the edifice.
At the beginning of the economic recession in 1929, work ceased on the building as the last tile was placed on the roof of the church. Because of lack of funds the church remained untouched for the next five years, in the fall of 1933, Rev. Edward P McManaman became interested in the project. He helped the parishioners rally and found many and diverse means for raising the necessary funds: theatrical productions, fetes, bazaars, festivals, card parties, and suppers of all kinds. Finally, Fr. Marino went before the Bishop Gannon, requesting a date for the dedication of the new church. The date given was March 17, 1935.
Nine years later, and with added zeal, Monsignor Marino and an active building committee spearheaded the building of a new rectory. Ground was immediately broken September 1954 and this edifice stands as a monument of our Monsignor’s productivity.
A story is told that when the rectory was completed and the associate pastor, Fr. John Murray and Fr. Marino were ready to move into their new home, our elder Pastor refused to leave the old quarters. As the story goes, Bishop John Mark Gannon had given Fr. Murray strict orders to get the pastor out of the old rectory and into the new building. The younger Fr. Murray had to come up with a plan to send Fr. Marino on a mission so that he would have enough time to transfer his furniture and clothing. This he successfully accomplished. A few days later Fr. Murray called the Erie Fire Dept. and had the old rectory torched.
Again, with an ambitious parish, ground was broken in 1956 for the new St. Paul School. In the fall of 1957, with the closing of St. Michael School decided upon, the new school opened its dorm with grades 1 and 2 to both parishes for the next 27 years. Monsignor Marino was the pastor assisted by Rev. John Murray. The first principal was Sr. Agnes Glare Krepcho SSJ, and serving as first president of the PTA was Mrs. Daniel Cianflocco. In 1958 grades 3 to 8 were added to give the school the full compliment of grades. The first class graduated in June 1959.
With the graduation of the last class in June 1984, the school closed its doors. At the helm at the time were Fr. John Santor and assistant Fr. Robert Craig. Sr. Marcella Dugan SSJ was the last principal.
Since the closing of the school, the building has been renamed the St. Paul Center. It is currently being used for bingo, parish meetings and senior and junior youth group meetings, showers and wedding receptions, along with many other affairs.
Throughout the years, St. Paul was the center for all religious and social celebrations for the majority of Erie’s Italian community. Although many of the congregation, who received their sacraments at this church have moved away from this community to the various parts of the City, they have not forgotten their roots, their parish from “Little ltaly’~ On many occasions they have returned for Sunday Mass, or to attend a wedding, a funeral, or some social function. No matter how far or in what direction we travel to our homes, our hearts and memories are still wrapped with the name, St. Paul.