In 1889 the first National Congress of Black Catholics convened in Washington, D.C. to cry out for greater recognition in the church and to demand an end to racism. Fr. Patrick McDermott of the Holy Ghost Order was inspired by this movement and thus encouraged his superiors to establish a Black mission in Pittsburgh. Holy Ghost College, presently known as Duquesne University, responded by establishing Saint Benedict the Moor Parish on July 28, 1889. The Parish’s vision was continuously focused on serving Black Catholics, encompassing a full range of struggles and triumphs.
Today Saint Benedict the Moor Parish is a merger of four parishes, which includes the former Saint Brigid, Holy Trinity, and Saint Richard Churches. In 1962, when the Saint Brigid Church building was demolished, the parish was relocated to the Holy Trinity building on the corner of Crawford Street and Centre Avenue, Holy Trinity Parish having been suppressed in 1958. Six years later, the Saint Benedict building was also demolished. Based on a shift in membership and economic considerations, Saint Brigid-Saint Benedict the Moor united under the pastorship of Fr. Paul Bassompierre. On November 24, 1968, as a result of a monumental effort on the part of the parish, Bishop John J. Wright dedicated the famous landmark statue of Saint Benedict the Moor designed by the noted artist Frederick Shrady. In 1970, Fr. Augustus Taylor, Jr. was installed as the first African-American pastor in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh and was assigned to Saint Brigid-Saint Benedict the Moor. In 1997, Saint Richard Church joined the Saint Brigid-Saint Benedict the Moor consolidation, re-establishing the current Saint Benedict the Moor Parish. In 1981, Fr. Louis Vallone, Jr. was assigned as the pastor of the parish. He continued the strong spiritual leadership and helped the parish to get on a firm financial footing. The neighborhood was blessed over the years with the service of several communities of religious women. The first community to serve the religious educational needs of the parish was the Sisters of Mercy. They started a day school in 1889. The Sisters of Charity were assigned to work with the people of the parish in 1942. They taught religion and visited homes along with many other outreach efforts. The Divine Providence Sisters taught in the Holy Trinity School from 1877 to 1957. The Sisters of Saint Joseph, who have been a presence in the Hill for 95 years, began by teaching at Saint Richard’s in 1907 in the building they still occupy today at 2900 Bedford Avenue. In 1973 a new school was formed in the Saint Richard building and was called the Hill District Catholic School, was renamed Saint Benedict the Moor School.
In 1991 Fr. Carmen D’Amico was named pastor of the parish. Under his pastoral leadership, Saint Benedict the Moor grew and lived the faith fully by actively sharing Christ, our African-American heritage and our openness to other cultures. For over 121 years, by the grace of God, our church family looks to the future as ambassadors for Christ in the Hill District neighborhood.
In 2008, Saint Benedict the Moor became part of the Center-City Catholic Churches, along with the neighboring parishes of the Church of the Epiphany (Uptown) and St. Mary of Mercy (Downtown).
In the summer of 2011, Fr. John McKenna was assigned as pastor of the Church of the Epiphany (Uptown) and St. Mary of Mercy (Downtown) and Fr. Richard J. Zelik, OFM Cap was assigned as the pastor of St. Benedict the Moor Church. The parishes still cooperate in some administrative ways and some ministerial ways but they operate under separate pastors as part of Vicariate I in the Diocese. Saint Benedict the Moor was a Franciscan Friar and with the assignment of a Capuchin Franciscan as pastor, the parish can explore more fully the blessings of its Franciscan patron.