The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

August 10, 2012

Church preservation efforts earn award

— Efforts to save three historic Cambria City churches have received statewide recognition.

The Steeples Project, which seeks to conserve and find sustainable reuses for three former Roman Catholic churches, is the recipient of a 2012 Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Award.

The awards are presented by Preservation Pennsylvania, a private statewide nonprofit organization.

The Steeples Project received the theme award, “William Penn’s Legacy: Religious and Spiritual Diversity.”

The award recognizes a coalition of groups whose combined resources and volunteer efforts led to the buildings’ acquisition by a Jennerstown-based nonprofit corporation, 1901 Church Inc., late last year.

“We are honored and pleased to be receiving this award from Preservation Pennsylvania,” Teresa Marafino, president of 1901 Church, said. “It brings deserved recognition to individuals and organizations that made The Steeples Project possible.”

Several organizations and volunteers had a hand in the preservation efforts.

Save Our Steeples was formed following the decision in 2008 by the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown to consolidate five parishes, closing three: SS. Casimir and Emerich, St. Columba and Immaculate Conception.

Rose Howarth, co-founder of Save Our Steeples, said she was gratified to see their hard work was not in vain.

“We will continue to focus on the future of these former churches,” she said.

Now known as Friends of The Steeples Project, the group continues to support efforts to care for and develop the buildings.

Johnstown Area Heritage Association helped with funding and obtained the services of Partners for Sacred Places, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that assists with the preservation of vintage church buildings.

Lift Johnstown and Community Foundation of the Alleghenies also assisted in efforts to preserve the churches.

The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown arranged for a property exchange that was manageable by 1901 Church.

“The entire community has responded in a positive way to this situation and deserves to share in this award,” said Brad Clemenson, a coordinator for Lift Johnstown and a member of the 1901 Church board of directors. “Everyone wants to see these buildings saved because they define this historic, ethnic neighborhood so distinctly.”

Although there are ideas and plans for using the buildings, Marafino said the structures have not yet been saved.

“There’s a lot of redevelopment work that must be done – and a lot of money that must be raised to pay for it – before sustainability is achieved for these beautiful spaces,” she said.


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