In May 1961, Bishop (and later Cardinal) John Wright announced the formation of a new parish to be located in the South Hills. It was established on May 25, 1961 and, reflecting a devotion Bishop Wright had to French saints, it would be named “St. Louise de Marillac.” Six days after the new parish was formed, Bishop Wright appointed its first pastor, Father John H. Schonhardt.
Fr. Schonhardt knew that his new parish needed a place of its own for worship, as well as a school building for Catholic education. Undaunted by the challenges he faced, and armed with the 10 acres of land that had been acquired, he launched a pledge drive in early 1962. The people of the parish responded and, on October 21, 1962, a little more than a year after St. Louise was founded, Fr. Schonhardt presided over a groundbreaking ceremony for a new church and school.
The groundbreaking was held on a crisp, fall Sunday late in October. With a brisk wind rising over the ridge, Fr. Schonhardt stood in the open field with his right hand on a shovel and his voice echoing over the make-shift PA system. Gathered before him, at his insistence, was a large circle of men and women and especially children of all ages who would soon come to these grounds for education, recreation and instruction in faith. On that day, Fr. Schonhardt marked the event with the words from John’s Gospel that he would repeat often and that would later be inscribed into glass on the front panel of the building: “If you love me, keep my commandments.”
Less than a year after the groundbreaking, the school opened for students in September 1963. At the time, there was room for three classes, one each in first, second and third grade. Fr. Schonhardt was determined to open the school on time for the school year, even though the grounds were not completely finished. The parking lots were still being paved and, on the first day, the students were without chairs for their desks. The inconveniences were minor and the important event of providing a school for religious education had been accomplished.
With the building constructed, St. Louise now had a place of its own for Mass. However, with efforts concentrated on getting the school ready for the Fall 1963 opening, the church itself was not yet done. Masses were held on a temporary basis in the cafeteria and all-purpose room on the bottom floor.
The Dedication of the new church and school was held on May 17, 1964. Bishop John Wright presided. In attendance also was Auxiliary Bishop Vincent Leonard. The Dedication Mass was described in the program as a “Pontifical Low Mass” and the homily was given by Father Eloy I. Grundler. Father John Schonhardt was visibly and understandably proud — of the building he had helped make happen and of the people of his still infant parish.
The enthusiasm and work of the young parish and its vibrant pastor did not end with the building of the school and church. Just a year after the church and school were opened, in 1964, work began on an expansion to the school that was completed in 1966. With the addition, the school was able to add students each year, and soon had two classes in each of the first, second and third grades and eight grades in all. The school expansion also allowed the addition of a music room and a science lab that was among the best in the area. In 1969, the school graduated its first eighth grade class and two years later, in 1971, the first class to begin first grade and finish all 8 years at St. Louise graduated.
Over the years, improvements and upgrades have been made to maintain the facilities in order to provide an outstanding education to all St. Louise students. Over $1 million has been invested in the school in the last four years to allow for a new computer lab, completely renovated cafeteria, science lab, library, and art room, remodeled classrooms, and new technology for the students. We look forward to the next 50 years of educating tomorrow’s leaders at St. Louise de Marillac School.