In the 1800s, the Connellsville area was considered to be the world’s capital of coal-coke production. Because of the abundance of work in the industry, many immigrants were drawn to this region.
Among these were a group of newly arrived families from the Spis and Saris regions of Slovakia who brought with them a strong belief in Christ and a long commitment to the Catholic faith. Upon their arrival they sought to establish a church with a Slovak pastor and petitioned the bishop in 1891. Their prayers were finally answered September 19, 1895 when Bishop Phelan appointed Father Raymond Widner, the president of the first Catholic Slovak Union as pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish.
The first church building of the new parish was purchased from a Protestant group, but it was evident from the very beginning the building was too small. A decision was made to build a larger church, which was completed in 1899 at a cost of approximately $14,000 with room for 533 people.
In the basement of the church, classrooms were constructed and for many years functioned as a school. The first church that was originally purchased was sold to a Polish immigrant community and was renamed Holy Trinity Parish in 1903. The new church was blessed by Benedictine Father Nepomucene Jaeger, November 26, 1900.
To house the pastors of the Slovak faith community, two row houses were moved near the church from an abandoned mining community. They were joined together and remodeled into the priest’s rectory. A cemetery was added with purchases of land in 1895 and 1907. A new brick school was built in 1924, along with a convent that housed Vincentian Sisters of Charity that came to teach in 1925. This building served the parish needs until 1966 when the school was combined with six other local schools to form Conn-Area Catholic School. The building was not used after 1968 and was demolished in 1979.
Father Stanislaus Moravek , the ninth pastor of the parish, served the longest period of time from 1918-54. He shepherded the parish through two world wars, the depression and the decline of the coke and mining industries in the area. Through these difficult times improvements were made to the church as they were able to be accomplished. Often these came about through the volunteer labor of parishioners.
In the 1960s, the old rectory was razed and the convent vacated by the sisters became the new rectory for the pastor. Improvements continued to be made to the church until in 1984 under the leadership of Father Leonard Stoviak, and extensive renovation of the parish plant was begun.
The beautiful stain glass windows of the church were refurbished along with the installation of new lighting, air conditioning, a sound system as well as painting and carpeting improvements. The social hall was also remodeled with an updated kitchen, a new tile floor and other improvements.
The next major change in the life of parish community would occur in 2007 when St John the Evangelist Parish would be partnered with St. Rita Parish under the leadership of Father Ron Cyktor. In 2009, both parishes would be further partnered with Immaculate Conception Parish under the leadership of Father Joseph Bonafed.
The parish that survived so many difficult times in the past continues to meet the needs of Catholics of the Connellsville area. The people of the parish can be very proud of the legacy of faith they have inherited to pass onto future generations.