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The “Silent Hill” church – Last church standing in Centralia

September 2019

On a hill overlooking Centralia, Pennsylvania, a partially abandoned ghost town deep in Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region, sits Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church. While fans of the Silent Hill movies and video games will recognize the church as the fictional “Silent Hill” church, this church is actually one of the few remaining buildings in the area of this once busy town.

While sitting just outside the borough limits of Centralia, many of the church parishioners were once residents of Centralia. Built in 1911, it’s the last of the seven churches in that once populated Centralia: the First United Methodist (1863-1985), Holy Trinity Episcopal (1866-1966), Presbyterian (1867-1954), St. Ignatius Roman Catholic (1869-1995), First English Baptist (1887-1917) and St. Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox (1916-1986).

The Borough of Centralia once had a population of almost 2500 residents in the 1940s, but has been reduced to just six residents today due to an out of control coal-mine fire that has been burning under the town since 1962.

Legend tells that Centralia was cursed by the long-deceased priest of St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church, Father Daniel Ignatius McDermott, the first Roman Catholic priest to call Centralia home. Town founder Alexander Rae had been murdered on 17 October 1868, while riding in a horse-drawn buggy between Centralia and Mount Carmel, four miles to the west. Suspicion fell on members of the Molly Maguires, an Irish-Catholic secret society that fought the coal barons of the day for the rights of coal miners.

Father McDermott, suspecting the killers were members of his congregation, began denouncing the Molly Maguires from the pulpit. On a night in 1869, a group of men attacked Father McDermott in the church cemetery in retaliation.

According to the legend, Father McDermott made his way back to the church after being assaulted and rang the church bell to summon the townsfolk, after which he pronounced a curse on the town. According to Father McDermott, a day would come when only St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church would be left standing in Centralia.

Well, McDermott appears to have been partially right. Although there are eight buildings remaining in Centralia, St. Ignatius Church is not one of them. The church closed in June 1995 and was demolished in November 1997, due to the fact that it was directly in the impact zone of the mine fire and posed a danger of carbon monoxide exposure to anyone inside the church.

The only church remaining in the immediate area is Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Ukrainian Catholic church just outside the northern limits of the borough. Although technically not a Centralia church, many of the former residents were parishioners. Some believed that Father McDermott’s prophecy simply foretold the wrong church.

Further diminishing the accuracy of the story is the fact that the bell McDermott allegedly rang to summon the townsfolk was actually not installed at St Ignatius until 1874, two years after he left the parish. Even with these inaccuracies, this legend came up in conversation in the early 1980s as Centralia residents saw their borough slowly disappearing.

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was spared the same fate as other buildings in Centralia because a geological survey determined that the church was built on top of rock rather than coal.  It still serves a thriving parish family and was declared a holy pilgrimage site in 2016.

If fans of “Silent Hill” who wish to make their own pilgrimage to the church can find it on Paxton St, overlooking the empty streets of “Pennsylvania’s Lost Town.”

Sources: http://www.vpnavy01.com/websites/church, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centralia,_Pennsylvania, http://catholicphilly.com/2017/08/news/national-news/pa-town-just-a-memory-but-thriving-parish-now-a-pilgrimage-site/

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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