It was no accident that the first thing artist Michael Pilato painted when creating the four-story “Inspiration Mural” in downtown Pittston, was a faux arch through which viewers could see the twin steeples of St. John the Evangelist Church.
It was no surprise either.
Since St. John’s was completed in 1893, after four years of construction, its steeples have punctuated Pittston’s skyline and drawn the attention of new visitors to the city and, as am I, lifelong residents alike. For as long as I can remember, whenever I’ve travel around the city, whether gazing out the back window of the ’49 Chevy my dad was driving when I was 4 years old, or stopped at the red light at the corner of South Main and Columbus Avenue, as I was as recently as yesterday, I cannot take my eyes off the steeples of St. John’s.
That view from South Main, near the statue of Christopher Columbus, The Gramercy Restaurant, and Rock Street Music was captured by photographer Diane Cosgrove and is hanging on a wall of my home just over my shoulder as I write. I pause to enjoy it every day.
I also enjoy looking at the St. John’s steeples as I drive over the Dale Kridlo Memorial Bridge from West Pittston. Off to my right, they poke up over the tree tops, appearing slightly different depending on the time of day. My favorite, I think, is the way they catch the early morning sunlight.
I enjoyed a similar view from a different perspective several years ago when my friend Jan Lokuta, the best friend the Susquehanna River has ever had, invited me to kayak with him from Harding to West Pittston. As we came around a bend just north of the city, Pittston appeared on the horizon to our left as no less than nine steeples stretching from St. Michael the Archangel on North Main Street to St. Rocco’s on Tompkins Street with the 152-foot twin spires of St. John’s towering above the rest right in the middle. It’s a view you can only see from the river. I recommend you not deprive yourself of it.
But by far my favorite view of St. John’s — indeed, one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen — is St. John the Evangelist at night, bathe in the warm glow of floodlights as seen when driving down Church Street from the Butler Street intersection near the former St. Casimir’s Church. If you are able to slow your vehicle to a crawl, provided no one is behind you leaning on a horn, St. John’s, from steps to steeples, reveals itself as though on stage with a curtain gradually opening.
The sight is so breathtaking, I’ve often driven around the block again and again just to enjoy it one more time. If there were a fee for this pleasure, I’d gladly pay it.
I once had the opportunity to walk with Sen. Bob Casey from the Russell Senate Office Building to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., and could not help asking if all the majesty around us had become old-hat for him, a type of white noise. He paused, took in the Capitol, and said, “You mean the wow factor? No. That never goes away.”
I feel the same about St. John’s. And if “wow factor” applies to the exterior of St. John’s, it is even more fitting to describe the interior. I’ve been “wowed” by the art of St. John’s since I was a child and I still am.
Only recently did I learn about the artists who created the work I’ve been admiring for almost 70 years.
The painting of the Crucifixion above the altar and that of the Annunciation to one side and the Nativity to the other, are by Lorenzo Scattaglia. Born in Italy in 1846, he operated a studio in Philadelphia until his death in 1931. Of him, Archbishop P.J. Ryan of Philadelphia said, “He cannot but please people of cultivated tastes for the beautiful.”
Scattaglia called his Crucifixion at St. John’s his “masterpiece.”
Other artwork in the church, including the partly gilded ornamentation, is by famed artist Professor Gonippo Raggi, a graduate of St. Luke’s Royal Academy in Rome.
I mention all of this today because the art adorning the interior of St. John the Evangelist is in dire need of cleaning and the ornamentation of refurbishing, and the Rev. Joseph Elston, pastor, has launched a campaign to raise the $450,000 to get the job done.
The Rev. Elston has reached out to his parishioners and the response to this point, he tells me, has been gratifying. But St. John’s belongs to more than its parishioners. St. John’s, particularly the art of St. John’s, belongs of all of us in Greater Pittston and, indeed, all of us in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
At the church’s dedication in May 1893, Bishop William O’Hara called St. John the Evangelist “the jewel of the diocese.”
It remains so to this day. And its care is in our hands.
To get involved, call Father Elston at 570-654-0053.
But even if not, be sure to take that slow ride down Church Street after dark.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.