In its heyday, St Basil the Great Church was one of the largest parishes in the Pittsburgh Diocese. Time has changed that, yet St Basil Church continues to play its role in the Carrick community.
The bells still ring from the church tower at noon and 6:00 PM, and at the masses, including weddings and funerals.
Mass is said at 4:00 PM on Saturdays and 10:00 AM on Sundays. Before the coronavirus pandemic, 200 people attended each mass, according to Father Stephen Kresak, who prefers to be called Father Steve. He is Pastor of Blessed Trinity Parish, which St Basil is part of. That attendance was with a limited parking lot, he added.
The Catholic population of Carrick is older. Many funeral masses are said at St Basil, along with a good number of baptisms and weddings, “because a lot of people are still rooted in Carrick,” Father Steve said. Confession is offered from 11:00 AM until noon Saturdays. A decent number of people say their confession each week.
When the pandemic arrived, public gatherings were halted. St Basil was silent for several months. When the church reopened, they were expected to provide hand sanitizer, masks were required and the facility was cleaned regularly. Social distancing was promoted. With an older membership, not as many people went inside the church as before the pandemic.
St Basil is constructed of brick. Its architecture is Byzantine. It is beautiful inside. It has been called majestic. The Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper referred to it as one of the purest types of basilica in Pennsylvania, according to the Carrick-Overbrook Historical Society, which adds that the stained glass windows fill the church with glorious color. It has a beautiful pipe organ. The church building has been well maintained and renovated through the years. “In my opinion it continues to be a beacon of hope in that community, and the presence of Christ in the community. Its doors are open to anyone and everyone,” Father Steve said.
Blessed Trinity Parish’s social ministry provides outreach to Carrick through St Basil. Early in the pandemic, they handed out free lunches. In June, 2020, they did a free dinner giveaway. Providing the meals right out of the church followed Centers For Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.
St Basil works with the Society of St Vincent de Paul, a well-organized group of volunteers who give material help to people who need it. The local society provides furniture, housewares and linens out of St Basil. “We work hand in hand with them and we have a lot of product down there for immediate needs,” Father Steve said.
A diaper bank is held at St Basil Church Hall on the second Saturday of the month from 9:00 AM until 11:00 AM. The church hall is in the basement of the church. Diapers for babies and toddlers three years old and under are distributed to those in need. A limited number of adult diapers are available.
When St Basil Parish was created in the early 1900s, Americans had large families. Six to nine children in a family was common. “Back then, children were considered an economic asset: with enough kids, parents could rest assured that at least some would survive and care for them in old age,” the news website Quartz wrote. By 1920, family sizes had peaked and grew a little smaller each decade.
Until St Basil was created, St. Wendelin Church was the only Catholic parish in the area, In those years, not every family owned a car. For the growing population of Catholics with large families who lived along Brownsville Road, travel to St Wendelin could be burdensome. The current church building was dedicated in the 1920s. A school was constructed as the Catholic population of Carrick grew. When smaller families and movement to the suburbs shrunk the size of the Catholic community in the neighborhood, the school closed. In 2007, St Basil Parish celebrated its 100th anniversary. Ten years later, the St. Basil’s School building was declared unsafe and torn down.
For more than sixty years, St Basil promoted a summer festival. It drew large crowds. It raised money for the church. It was a highlight of the year in Carrick. The festival was shortened in 2015. The crowds grew larger and overflowed onto Brownsville Road. When officials determined that the festival was too crowded to be safe, police dispersed everyone. Fighting broke out. Things became chaotic. After that, the summer festival was combined with and held at St. Albert the Great Church. Before the pandemic, it did well as a fundraiser and even better at building community in the new parish. It was canceled for two years running during the pandemic.
In the late 2010s, St Basil Parish was merged with St Wendelin, St Norbert’s and St Albert parishes to create Holy Apostles, which in turn was merged with other parishes to create Blessed Trinity Parish. Four ordained priests rotate among five churches.
Today, the former rectory of St Basil the Great Church is gone. It was demolished and so was the church office. The only remaining buildings are the church and the parking lot, which is being expanded. There aren’t as many priests. Before the mid-2010s, five masses were said every week at St Basil – now there are two masses each week, because “the Catholic population in Carrick is shrinking,” Father Steve said.
St Basil Church is located at 1735 Brownsville Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15210.