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Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church

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1904–1905, William P. Ginther. 3058 Brereton St., Polish Hill
  • (Photograph by Matthew Aungst)
  • (Photograph by Matthew Aungst)
  • (Photograph by Matthew Aungst)
  • (Photograph by Matthew Aungst)

This church enjoys the best scenographic placement of any in the city, but not without cost. Its location high on Polish Hill affords it prominence both from Bigelow Boulevard above and from a wide sweep of the Allegheny below; but had the church burrowed headlong into the hillside, as it appears to, its apse would have been shrouded in darkness. Instead, William P. Ginther (1858–1933), of Akron, Ohio, set the church parallel to the hillside and designed a fake facade for one of the building's long sides. The moment worshippers cross the threshold they must make a 90-degree turn to enter the nave.

The original church was a small, wooden frame structure at the base of Polish Hill near the railroad tracks. In 1899, Polish immigrant millworkers gathered $10,300 to purchase property at the crest of Brereton and Dobson streets, just below the newly announced site of Bigelow Boulevard. Having resolved the problem of straddling the church across the brow of Polish Hill, Ginther appropriated various European precedents for his design. Francesco Borromini's S. Agnese on Piazza Navona in Rome appears to have contributed the high domed towers and the central dome (reaching almost one hundred feet in height on the interior), while the high attic with its prominent square windows and their flared moldings—so important for the dramatic effect on motorists on Bigelow Boulevard—is closely patterned after Michelangelo's St. Peter's in Rome.

Writing Credits

Lu Donnelly et al.


What's Nearby


Lu Donnelly et al., "Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church", [Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of PA vol 1

Buildings of Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania, Lu Donnelly, H. David Brumble IV, and Franklin Toker. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010, 104-105.

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