Nestled among the emerald green foothills of the Laurel Ridge Mountains of Southwestern Pennsylvania, at a place called Saint Vincent, there
is to be found a jewel of human achievement and architectural wonder, in praise of God: the Saint Vincent Archabbey Basilica. The story of this grand church is situated within the stories of the many immigrant peoples who first came to Pennsylvania beginning in the mid-eighteenth century. It was the determination, zeal, and dedication of these peoples that formed the spiritual foundation of this sacred space. Thus, to understand the significance of this noble structure, it is necessary to understand the significance of the events around which this place called Saint Vincent came to be.
The tale of Saint Vincent begins in 1766—three years following the turbulent end of the French and Indian War. King George III of England granted a gentleman by the name of John Fraser some three hundred acres of land for development. Subsequently, Mr. Fraser sold the tract of land to a man named James Hunter, who, after having built a small log cabin on the land, named it Sportsman’s Hall. In January 1790, a Franciscan friar from Holland, Father Theodore Brouwers,
O.F.M, sailed to America to become a missionary. At the behest of Bishop John Carroll, Father Brouwers came to Southwestern Pennsylvania and purchased the property from Hunter. It was here that he established—in the log cabin—a Roman Catholic parish. The parish was first called “Sportsman’s Hall Parish,” then later Saint Vincent. In 1835 the growing congregation built a brick church. It stood behind the present-day basilica. When it came time to bless the church, the people of this parish wrote to the Bishop of Philadelphia, Bishop Kendrick. The Bishop’s custom was to name the church for whatever saint’s day it happened to be when he arrived at a church. He arrived at this parish on the feast of Saint Vincent de Paul. Today, 215 years later, this vibrant parish seeks to serve God and neighbor as the oldest Catholic parish west of the Allegheny Mountains.
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