Six 117-year old doors from the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse have found new life at a historic chapel-turned event space in Tarentum, Pa.
For many years, the heavy wooden doors led guests into the “heart” of the Sisters home and place of worship. Four of the doors were in a front hallway that once connected a section of the Chapel with the convent and two glass-paneled doors led to porch areas within the motherhouse. During building additions and interior renovations, the doors were replaced to comply with fire and safety regulations.
Upon their retirement, each door was placed into storage in the Sisters’ barn and rarely thought about until last April when Sister Lyn Szymkiewicz met Michelle Wright, a WTAE Pittsburgh news anchor and fellow beekeeper, at an educational apiary gathering. Just two months earlier on Valentine’s Day, Michelle had purchased the former St. Paul’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tarentum and was in the process of restoring the church into an event space called Tarenbee.
Feeling the grace of Saint Valentine, the patron saint of beekeepers, Michelle and her beekeeping mentor, Jim Fitzroy, also planned for the facility’s commercial kitchen to be used for honey production and bottling. While their small work crew spent months refinishing the church’s hemlock floors and exposing an original rock wall, they searched endlessly for exterior doors that would complement the original workmanship of the 129-year-old church.
“I knew they had to be heavy doors and I wanted some glass to let in light but not too much that someone could break in,” Michelle says.
With unsuccessful searches on Craigslist, eBay and in every local store, Michelle says she turned to prayer. Perhaps it was divine intervention – paired with a nearby family visit – that landed Sister Lyn in the Tarentum area. She stopped to see the church that Michelle and Jim, whom she knows through the Beaver Valley Beekeepers Association, were restoring. During the tour, Michelle mentioned that their last task was to find welcoming doors that fit the atmosphere of the church.
A few weeks and several phone calls and text messages later, Sister Lyn invited Michelle to Baden to view two doors that could potentially serve as exterior doors for the event space. Two doors quickly blossomed into a gift of six doors as the group uncovered two glass-paneled interior doors and two more wooden doors that matched the original pair Michelle had come to see.
“When Sister Lyn showed me her doors I wanted to cry. They were perfect. They were heavy with frosted lead glass. They were made around the same time as the church building was built and were simple yet stunning,” says Michelle of the front doors. “Not only would they tell a beautiful story for people entering Tarenbee, but they held such meaning coming from Sister Lyn since I already thought so much of her as a person.”
Once all of the doors were transported 40 miles from Baden to Tarentum, contractor Larry Mattoon was tasked with the challenge of turning six individual doors into three sets of French doors. He spent several weeks lining up the window frames, putting on new hardware and measuring to ensure each door would fit just right.
After many years of dormancy and dust, the doors stand resurrected to extend the Sisters’ spirit of love and unity to our “dear neighbors” who gather at Tarenbee for special occasions. The wooden doors can be seen at the front entrance and rear exit and the glass-paneled doors are within the interior entryway.
“Part of the charism, or spirit, of our Congregation is hospitality so it’s wonderful that our doors – which hold in them more than 100 years of greeting and celebration – will be able to welcome people into such a warm and rich environment for celebrations,” says Sister Lyn.
Photos courtesy of Tarenbee and Michelle Wright