Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Scrapbooks Share Pittsburgh's Subterranean Secrets

Beneath a longstanding Strip District church, visitors could once descend into catacombs.




 

In the spring of 1974, my mother and I were on a train heading for the Pyrenees when she told me that she had been baptized with water from Lourdes, the French spring purported to have been revealed by an apparition of the Virgin Mary.

She and my father were born and raised in Hazelwood. She knew that a popular local priest had made a pilgrimage to France in the mid-1920s and brought back some holy water from the spring at Lourdes. Some of that water was poured over her forehead when she, as a baby, received the holy sacrament at St. Stephen Catholic Church.

Years later, in 1990, when I was making a video documentary, “Holy Pittsburgh!”, I learned about Father James Cox, a popular priest who had been pastor at Old St. Patrick’s Church in the Strip District in the 1920s and ’30s. He was most famous for leading a march of the poor and unemployed in Washington, D.C., in 1932. He appeared on WJAS radio, he claimed to be the first priest to say Mass on an airplane — and he made frequent pilgrimages to Lourdes. He was probably the priest who brought the holy water in which my mother was baptized, I concluded.
 


 

He also built a sort of holy roadside attraction under his church building in the Strip. The Old St. Patrick’s building was much bigger than the church that stands on Liberty Avenue at 17th Street today; Father Cox opened some of the church’s basement and underground foundation passageways as Pittsburgh’s own Catacombs.

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Dennis Wodzinski, director of the archives and record center for the Diocese of Pittsburgh. He was researching Cox’s Catacombs after the diocese received two vintage scrapbooks that included several photographs from inside the underground passageways.

The photos are great, with rocky narrow hallways, a few religious statues and a small chapel where Cox occasionally celebrated Mass. The pictures were in two scrapbooks that belonged to Andrew Krupnick, a Catholic Brother and secretary to Cox. He accompanied Cox on several European pilgrimages and kept photos of his travels.
 


 

Wodzinski told me the scrapbooks (and one of Cox’s metal suitcases) were donated by the artist Johno Prascak — Krupnick’s great-nephew. Prascak told me that he and his siblings decided the scrapbooks needed to be preserved; the Diocese’s archives seemed like the best place for them. He never knew his great-uncle, but he knew that Krupnick was from Hazelwood, where he and his mother lived on Flowers Avenue.

I laughed and said, “They went to St. Stephen’s.” Of course. It was probably Krupnick who delivered the Lourdes water that a priest in Hazelwood used to baptize my mom. It was a wonderful example of a purely Pittsburgh moment, when we start to see how we are all connected and how small this city can be.

“I know that my great-grandmother, Anna Krupnick, was also a fabulous cook — and always made pierogies for Father Cox,” added Prascak.

Of course.  

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

What Are You Doing to be Like Mister Rogers on 1-4-3 Day?

Pennsylvania names May 23 as 1-4-3 Day to celebrate its favorite neighbor.

The 400-Word Review: Aladdin

Disney's live-action remake of the '90s hit stars Will Smith as the iconic Genie.

Sharing Knives Grows into Sharing Farms

For its third season, the collaborative dinner series at Ace Hotel will celebrate the region’s growers.

A Slice of Pizza Kept Sean McDowell Going in the Early Days

After 41 years in the business, the legendary rock DJ on WDVE has announced his retirement.

This New App Will Help You Track Upcoming Cicada Swarm

Follow Brood VIII, which is expected to have three species of periodical cicadas emerging from the soil as early as this month, on the Cicada Safari App.

Best Restaurants in Pittsburgh in 2019

Our annual roundup of Pittsburgh's Best Restaurants covers a lot of ground. The list of 30 includes everything from fine dining at a resort hotel to a scrappy, farm-to-table breakfast and lunch counter in Bloomfield.

This Restless Pair are Pittsburgh Restaurateurs of the Year

Together, Richard DeShantz and Tolga Sevdik of the Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group form the Pittsburgh restaurant world's most dynamic duo.

Our 50 Years: The Best Restaurants of 1999

Twenty years later, nearly everything about our best restaurants list is different. But our picks for the best of 1999 hint at the great leap forward that was on the horizon.

How Pittsburgh's Homeless Teens Escape the Mean Streets

For homeless Youth, living on the street can end up being worse than what they’re running from. Gaining their trust and guiding them to safety is a long and painful process, but local agencies are making progress.

Announcing our Scenic Photo Contest Winner

There were 682 photos submitted to our Scenic Vistas photo contest, which ran during the month of April. Art Director Chuck Beard picked a winner and two runners-up.

Braddock Brewery Brew Gentlemen Turns Five

A deliberately slow fermentation has the young brewers primed for a big expansion.

Claudy Pierre is Non Stop

The owner of Arnold’s Tea spends his time connecting communities and working to empower a new generation of Pittsburghers.

Daytripping: Enjoy Comedy History 3 Hours from Pittsburgh

The national comedy center in Jamestown, N.Y. takes the whole comedy thing kinda seriously (just kidding)

Remembering Some of Mister Rogers' Famous Houseguests

A world renowned French pantomime artist, an astronaut, a TV news anchor and a beloved chef are among the notable visitors to Mister Rogers' neighborhood.

Perspectives: Call of the Wild

Award-winning journalist Sally Wiggin explains the evolving role of zoos, including the Pittsburgh zoo, to save endangered species from extinction.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


What Are You Doing to be Like Mister Rogers on 1-4-3 Day?

What Are You Doing to be Like Mister Rogers on 1-4-3 Day?

Pennsylvania names May 23 as 1-4-3 Day to celebrate its favorite neighbor.

Comments

A Slice of Pizza Kept Sean McDowell Going in the Early Days

A Slice of Pizza Kept Sean McDowell Going in the Early Days

After 41 years in the business, the legendary rock DJ on WDVE has announced his retirement.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Sharing Knives Grows into Sharing Farms

Sharing Knives Grows into Sharing Farms

For its third season, the collaborative dinner series at Ace Hotel will celebrate the region’s growers.

Comments

A Look at the Latest Restaurant Openings in Pittsburgh

A Look at the Latest Restaurant Openings in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh says hello (again) to Dish Osteria, Cinderlands Warehouse, Pizzeria Davide and more.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
5 Best Spots to Hang Out with Your Dog

5 Best Spots to Hang Out with Your Dog

For those who can’t stand the idea of leaving their dogs home alone on a beautiful day, these dog-friendly stores, restaurants and bars in the Pittsburgh area welcome humans and canines alike.

Comments

5 Races You (Yes, You) Can Run This Year

5 Races You (Yes, You) Can Run This Year

Even novice runners can work their way up to these fun and (mildly) challenging races.

Comments


The Funhouse at Mr. Smalls is a Treasure

The Funhouse at Mr. Smalls is a Treasure

The small, second venue above the Millvale hall is one of the city's best rooms for live music.

Comments

Unleash Your Inner Pinball Wizard at Kickback

Unleash Your Inner Pinball Wizard at Kickback

The Lawrenceville pinball cafe offers new and classic games for you to play solo, or (as we were surprised to learn) in competition with a friend.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pirates’ First Quarter Record Defies Logic if Not Description

Pirates’ First Quarter Record Defies Logic if Not Description

The 21-19 record the Bucs took to San Diego doesn’t add up given all they’ve had to overcome. Perhaps there’s more to this team than meets the eye.

Comments

Steelers' Rookie Impressions Destined to Excite If Not Convince

Steelers' Rookie Impressions Destined to Excite If Not Convince

“Football in shorts” won't solve the Steelers' kicking woes, but for a team on the rebound, the rookie workouts are an opportunity to take another step in the right direction.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Aladdin

The 400-Word Review: Aladdin

Disney's live-action remake of the '90s hit stars Will Smith as the iconic Genie.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum

The 400-Word Review: John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum

Keanu Reeves returns, and Halle Berry arrives, as the action series broadens its scope.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
This Wedding Had a Guest List Unlike Any Other

This Wedding Had a Guest List Unlike Any Other

Brendan Renne and Thais Canedo wanted a penguin at their wedding. They ended up with a menagerie.

Comments

You’ll #ShalieveInLove After Seeing Ryan Shazier's Wedding Photos

You’ll #ShalieveInLove After Seeing Ryan Shazier's Wedding Photos

Pittsburgh Steeler Ryan Shazier danced at his wedding Friday 18 months after a serious spinal injury.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
New Tour Gives Insider Look at Pittsburgh’s Ethnic Neighborhoods

New Tour Gives Insider Look at Pittsburgh’s Ethnic Neighborhoods

With stops in Bloomfield and Polish Hill, the event from DOORS OPEN Pittsburgh celebrates the contributions immigrants made when they settled here more than a century ago.

Comments

Three North Side Garden Tours (And One on the South Side) You'll Want to Explore

Three North Side Garden Tours (And One on the South Side) You'll Want to Explore

Here’s your chance to explore some the city’s most beautiful historic (and new) homes and outdoor spaces.

Comments