The first Mass celebrated in southwestern Pennsylvania was at Fort Duquesne (where the city of Pittsburgh now stands), 17 April 1754, by Father Baron, a Franciscan friar, chaplain of the French troops. The chapel of the fort was dedicated to the Assumption of Our Lady of the Beautiful River – la belle riviere being the name given to the Ohio by the French pioneers —and the chapel is so styled in the register of the baptisms and burials that took place from the fort from the year 1753 to 1756 inclusive, which was discovered in Canada and printed by Mr Shea in 1859. Among the fifteen baptisms recorded therein is that of John Baptist Christiguay, the great chief of the Iroquois, in the ninety-fifth year of his age.
Fort Duquesne was abandoned in the autumn of 1758, and the spot where stood the altar of Mary long remained desolate and unhonored. When Father O’Brien went to Pittsburgh in 1806 there were only six Catholic families in the place. Now it is the see of a bishop and has numerous churches. Among these is the church of Saint Mary of Mercy, which contains a memorial altar, under the title of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin of the Beautiful River, to perpetuate the memory of the spot where Our Lady was first venerated under that truly beautiful title one hundred and twenty-nine years ago. Such an altar, an historic as well as religious memorial, deserves the special devotion of the Catholics of the valley of the Ohio River. This memorial altar has been erected through the untiring efforts of the Rev. A. A. Lambing, who is the rector of the church, and who has published a pamphlet containing the history of “Mary’s First Shrine in the Wilderness.” He is also the author of A History of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and other books. With his permission we give above a picture of the “Memorial Shrine.”
- “Our Lady of the Beautiful River”. , 1884. CatholicSaints.Info. 7 January 2017. Web. 22 February 2017. <>