The Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd is a parish family placed under the title of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Our Mission is to continually work and pray to be one united flock. With the guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit, we will achieve this through the Sacraments and God’s Holy Word: an inviting atmosphere extending to all people of the community, a desire to serve others, a recognition that we are on a journey toward the kingdom and a sincere effort to represent Christ to all.
The Catholic presence in our parish territory pre-dates the founding of the Diocese of Greensburg in 1951 by many years. During the time when this area was still part of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, the boom in the local coal industry and other related job opportunities at the turn of the century brought to this region of Indiana County a large number of Catholic immigrants. Like many areas of Southwestern Pennsylvania, small towns and communities began to dot the landscape of this resource-rich region of the United States. This diverse patchwork of immigrant communities with vibrant cultures, languages, customs, and traditions was held together and sustained by a common factor: a deep and abiding faith. Through Indiana County, the rich coal reserves brought a demand for laborers. That was fulfilled by immigrant workers searching for work positions in the United States.
Most of the immigrant families in our present parish territory came from Central and Eastern Europe - from the countries of Italy, Poland, Slovakia, and the Ukraine. Working in the early coal mines was dangerous, demanding, and difficult. Many of these early laborers lived and worked in unsafe conditions. They struggled from month-to-month and day-to-day to earn a living, always aware of the power and strength of the coal and iron police, the company store, doctor, and boss.
These small communities became more than just a place to live, work, and raise a family. Supported by common values, customs, and languages, these local neighborhoods and villages became home for hundreds of people. It was only natural that the Church, which was the central point in the life (like in Europe), should have a place of respect, dignity, and prominence in each of these communities. After all, it was their faith that supported these immigrant families, making their life in a new land a little more comfortable. In these local environments, our predecessors were able to raise and educate their children through hard work and sacrifice. Our founding fathers and mothers offered to their children the opportunity for a fulfilled American Dream.
The Rochester & Pittsburgh Coal and Iron Company, headed by the Iselin family of New York, dominate the coal industry of this region. While history will judge these large companies and their treatment of immigrant laborers, many of our parishioners speak of the generosity and respect this company showed in its early days to the Church. The Iselin family was Catholic and in the communities of Iselin, McIntyre, and Aultman donated land for the establishment of parish churches and missions.
In 1904, the spiritual needs of the people of the region were brought to the attention of the Bishop. Fr. McNelis, from St. Bernard Church in Indiana, PA would arrive in Iselin on Saturday night to celebrate Sunday Mass at the home of Pat Carroll. The first Catholic parish erected in our territory was Holy Cross Church in Iselin (established in 1908). Fr. Francis Wieczorek was appointed the first pastor. The rectory in Iselin was built in 1912. A new church was built in 1918 after the first church and rectory burned down. Holy Cross served the sacramental needs of the people in Iselin, McIntyre, Coal Run, Aultman, and the surrounding area. Mass was also offered in McIntyre in house #51, where the Michael Gacek family lived. Mass was also offered in Aultman in house #307, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Martin Fronczak. It was not long until the mission churches of St. Gertrude (name after the patron saint of Mr. Iselin's daughter, Gertrude) in McIntyre and St. Anthony in Aultman were established in 1918.
In 1947, St. Gertrude was established as a parish of its own with St. Anthony as its mission. Throughout the century with all of the ups and downs of the coal industry, with the Great Depression and two World Wars, these two parishes were the centers of faith life for the first, second, and third generation American Catholics. After many years, the changing population trends, work opportunities and availability of priestly vocations challenged these communities to move into the future in a way which would be true to their past, and would respect the spirit of their ancestors. Their challenge was to preserve, insure, and promote a lasting Catholic presence in this region of Indiana County for the future generations.
After much prayer, discernment, and discussion, the people of Holy Cross, St. Gertrude, and St. Anthony came together into one church community. On October 16, 1989, Bishop Anthony G. Bosco, the third Bishop of Greensburg, established the Church of the Good Shepherd. Fr. Michael W. Matusak was named as the first pastor of this church and commissioned to work with the people of the parish in the building of a new parish physical plant. St. Anthony Church was closed during the two-year construction of the new church. Mass and sacraments were administered at Iselin and McIntyre. An interim Parish Council was formed and the parish administration was temporarily run out of McIntyre. Property in Black Lick Township, formerly known as the Jewel Farm, was purchased by the Diocese of Greensburg and donated to the new parish of Good Shepherd.
After much planning, hard work, and sacrifice by the people of these communities, a new church and parish administration center/rectory was dedicated on April 26, 1992. John Timko and Associates were the architects and Steflo Builders was the general contractor. The cost for the new structure was over $2.2 million. The men of the parish physically built the rectory and parish administration center to help defray costs, which significantly saved the parish a large amount of money. The women of the parish would cook meals daily for those working on the rectory project. The results of all this hard work and many sacrifices was a beautiful new parish church, rectory, and office.
While everyone in the local communities mourned the loss of neighborhood churches, the spirit of unity and working or the common good has brought a closeness and warmth to this parish which to this day is its hallmark. Trusting in God, the people of this church have been able to enter the new century with a deep sense of pride as we remember the past, work in the present, and hope for the future.