In November of 1830, Bishop Francis Patrick Kenrick appointed as pastor of Sportsman’s Hall Parish Father James A. Stillinger, and a new and renowned era of the parish began. Father Stillinger arrived at his new assignment on November 18, 1930, and noted in his own handwriting that he began “the discharge of the duties of holy ministry” on the First Sunday in Advent, November 28, 1830. but in the era of missionary labor Father Stillinger’s field of pastoral ministry was more broad than the Sportsman’s Hall Parish. In fact Bishop Kenrick had appointed him, at the same time, to be the first pastor of the recently organized Saints Simon and Jude Parish in Blairsville, a borough that had been incorporated in 1825 and that was approximately fifteen miles to the northeast of Sportsman’s Hall in Indiana County.
There was also an understanding with Bishop Kenrick that the Catholics residing in all of Westmoreland County were in Father Stillinger’s care. And, in 1832, he was directed by Bishop Kenrick to visit, when possible, the few Catholics residing east of the Allegheny River as far north as the New York State line, a distance of 110 miles. One of the reasons that such a great and expansive pastoral burden had been placed on the shoulders of Father Stillinger was the small number of priests that were officiating in Pennsylvania west of the Allegheny Mountains at that time – Father Stillinger said that there were only three plus himself. Another reason why this large burden was given to Father Stillinger was the fact that he was twenty-nine years of age and had been a priest for only nine months at the time of this 1830 assignment, and thus was filled with youthful vigor.
When Father Stillinger took charge of the Sportsman’s Hall Parish on November 25, 1830, he found that the parish buildings and lands – in fact both tracts, “Sportsman’s Hall” and “O’Neill’s Victory” – were in the hands of the board of trustees that had been entrusted with management by the Pennsylvania State Legislature in an Act of Assembly on August 7, 1821. These trustees “evinced a disposition not only to manage the temporalities with an independence too often characteristic of such persons, but also to control the pastor to an extent that would deprive him of the freedom necessary for one in his position.” The best demonstration of this dominance by the trustees was the fact that the house at Sportsman’s Hall Parish where Father Stillinger expected to reside was occupied by the person in charge of the farm, and so the pastor decided under the circumstances to live in Blairsville for the time being. He resided in Blairsville until 1835 when the new parochial residence at Sportsman’s Hall was ready for occupancy.
But from the onset Father Stillinger took a firm stand with the trustees at the Sportsman’s Hall Parish and gave them “to understand that he considered himself capable of managing his own affairs.”
A meeting of active members of the parish was held on May 28, 1832, and it was unanimously decided that no more elections for trustees should be held, but that “it should go by appointment, and that it should rest with the Right Rev. Bishop and the Pastor to make the appointments.” Also in 1832, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reversed the 1821 Act of Assembly that had granted to the board of trustees such extraordinary powers.
Peace and harmony were restored to the Sportsman’s Hall Parish, and the congregation began to increase rapidly. Thus it was that the little rough hewn Church of the Holy Cross, built in 1810 during the pastorate of Father Helbron, proved to be too small. In addition – as Father Stillinger reminisced in his 1870 autobiographical letter – this church was “in a decayed state, and rudely built.” Father Stillinger also saw the need for a residence in which the pastor could live; the only present accommodation for the priest was a “rickety log shanty” – thus giving an added reason why Father Stillinger lived in Blairsville during these years. Thus Father Stillinger, in the summer of 1833, proposed to the congregation the erection of a more substantial church, the Saint Vincent Church, and a parochial residence. To this proposition the people gave their ready assent. Also Bishop Kenrick was very supportive of these plans.
At the same time in the early 1830s when the Saint Vincent Church was being constructed, Father Stillinger turned his attention to the erection of a parochial residence. The same construction firm, Kerrins and Wilson, that was building the church, erected this house. It was a two-story brick structure 40 ‘ x 40 ‘, that was located approximately one hundred and fifty feet north of the church. It was erected at a cost of $2,600.00. Father Stillinger was able to move into this parochial residence in the summer of 1835, and so he transferred his living quarters from Blairsville. For the next nine years he would continue to live at Saint Vincent parish, while also attending to the congregation at Saints Simon and Jude Parish in Blairsville.
One other matter concerning Father Stillinger and the Saint Vincent Parish that should be mentioned, was his concern for education. The prime example was his dream of opening a college and seminary on the Sportsman’s Hall tract of land. But, as shall be seen later, major credit for the impetus of founding this institution of secondary education really belongs to others.
We know that, in November 1844, Father Stillinger transferred his place of residence from Saint Vincent Parish at Sportsman’s Hall to Saints Simon and Jude Parish in Blairsville. But, just as he had done while living in Blairsville from 1830 to 1835, he continued to minister to the congregation at Saint Vincent parish from November 1844 until the appointment of a pastor to succeed him at Saint Vincent. An indication of this contemplated move was given by Bishop Kenrick in his March 23, 1843, letter to Father Stillinger in which he spoke of the latter’s “desire to be relieved from the charge of St. Vincent’s congregation,” but it would take several years and a change in diocese and bishop to effect this transfer. Bishop O’Connor, not long after his installation as Bishop of Pittsburgh, appointed Father Michael Gallagher as the sixth resident pastor of Saint Vincent Parish.
Thus came to an end the fourteen-year pastorate of Father Stillinger at Saint Vincent Parish. He kept faithful records of baptisms, marriages and funerals in the parish, and these records are preserved in the Saint Vincent Archives. Between the years 1830 and 1844 there were 597 baptisms recorded over Father Stillinger’s signature, 124 marriages and approximately 140 deaths of adults and children. What a record of pastoral service was thus made by Father Stillinger to the Saint Vincent Parish while he was also pastor in Blairsville and ministering to diverse missionary stations. Also to the credit of Father Stillinger was the harmonious adjustment to the difficulties with the trustees at Sportsman’s Hall. But it is with surprise that one learns from Father Lambing, writing in 1914, that Father Stillinger’s agreement with the Saint Vincent Parish congregation, that he “should receive $200.00 a year with a certain part of the produce of the farm,” was not fully honored. In a letter which Father Stillinger wrote to Bishop O’Connor after leaving Saint Vincent, he stated that, after laboring there for fourteen years, instead of getting $2,800.00 he had received only $700.00.