Case File: Holy Trinity Church
Location: Ambridge, Pennsylvania
Date: March 24, 1989
Description: Holy Trinity Church is a community Catholic church in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. Above the alter is a large life size crucifix called "The Blinking Crucifix."
History: Throughout the Twentieth Century, the Catholic church investigated numerous miracles throughout the world. One of the most well-known instances was the The Fatima Miracle that occurred in Fatima, Portugal in 1917. That year, three children claimed that God promised to show proof of his existence. On the specific day and time promised, hundreds witnessed as the Sun apparently fell from the sky and touched the Earth. Today, thousands make an annual pilgrimage to Fatima to celebrate this divine occurrence. More recently, another miracle reportedly took place in the Yugoslavian village of Medjurgorje. Starting in 1981, several young men and women reported being visited by the Virgin Mary.
However, many churchgoers in Ambridge, Pennyslvania, claim that a miracle has taken place in their own town. Ambridge is located twenty miles north of Pittsburgh. The area surrounding it has been slowly dying due to the closure of steel mills. However, many of the residents refuse to leave the town. Several of them gather together at the Holy Trinity Church. The church is proud of its suspended crucifix, which has been there since 1931. It was refurbished in January of 1989 by local artist Domenic Leo. He worked for several hours to bring the crucifix back to its original form. He paid particular attention while painting Jesus's eyes.
On March 24, 1989, a special three-hour mass was held at the church to commemorate Good Friday. Over three hundred Catholics in a prayer group were at the church that day to celebrate mass. Jim Cvitkovic was the nephew of the parish priest; that day, he was serving as an altar boy. While he was praying during Holy Communion, he looked up and made a stunning discovery: the eyes of the crucifix, which were normally open, now appeared to be closed. He had feelings of happiness and shock.
Jim told his brother Tom to look as well; he confirmed that the eyes appeared to be closed. However, he was not sure if it may have been a trick of the light. Jim went to the other side of the altar to confirm this. When he got there, he looked up and the eyes still appeared to be closed. After the end of the mass, the brothers began crying. Their uncle, Reverend Vincent Cvitkovic, asked them what was wrong and they told him that the eyes on the crucifix were closed. Vincent and another priest went to look at the eyes; they both confirmed that the eyes appeared to be closed.
Vincent called for Domenic to come and look at the crucifix as well. When he looked up, he was shocked to see that the eyes were closed. It appeared to him that the eyes were moving and tears were coming from them. He began to cry as well. Since the crucifix was suspended twenty-two feet in the air, a ladder was brought in to allow for a closer look. Domenic was the first to look closer at the crucifix; he saw that the left eye was completely closed, and the right eye was slightly opened.
Another parishioner, state trooper Chris Marion, was skeptical; he wanted to make sure that no one had tampered with the crucifix. However, when he got up the ladder to look at the eyes, he was certain that no one could have tampered with it. Based on his knowledge of his fellow parishioners, he was certain that this was not a hoax. Sue Tolfa, another member of the prayer group, was familiar with the crucifix. When it was previously in an alcove area with light-able candles, she often saw it there. She was certain that the eyes were open every day until Good Friday.
That night, as he stood below the crucifix, another parishioner claimed to have received a divine message. He wrote it down to share with his fellow believers. It read, in part: "I have given this sign for all those who have faithfully come... truly my presence is within this church... within the months to come, many will flock to see what I have done. Welcome them, just as the people of Medjugorje welcome those who flock to see my mother." Interestingly, many of the Holy Trinity Church parishioners are of Yugoslavian descent, which is where Medjugorje is located. Also, four former Ambridge priests were born in Medjugorje.
Although the members of the Holy Trinity Church are convinced that a miracle took place, others are skeptical. They believe that the "miracle" may have been a hallucination or a hoax. Since March 24, thousands of people have flocked to the church to see the crucifix for themselves. Even if it didn't blink, many believe that a miracle still occurred, as the "blinking crucifix" brought many Ambridge parishioners away from their town's sadness and despair.
Background: Ambridge, Pennsylvania, is about twenty miles north of Pittsburgh and is slowly fading away because of the closed steel mills. The Holy Trinity Church is located there and its crucifix has been there since 1931. It was refurbished by artist Domenic Leo in January 1989.
Investigations: Suzanne Reinee is a Catholic scholar; she feels that the parishioners' impassioned faith led them to see something that was not actually there. She believes that the prayer group sees this as a sign that they are successful, and that their group is "pleasing to God". The Catholic Church agrees in this skepticism; they have noted that this event will not be authenticated as a miracle until several tasks and tests are completed. Ron Lengwin, a priest from the Diocese of Pittsburgh, noted that the Catholic church wants parishioners to come back for the right reasons. He does not want them to come back to the church, only to later learn that the "miracle" was not legitimate.
There is some suspicion that the "miracle" was actually a hoax; however, the parishioners insist that it was real.
Extra Notes: The case first aired on the September 27, 1989 episode.
Results: Unresolved. Several weeks after Unsolved Mysteries completed filming this story, the bishop of Pittsburgh's commission announced his decision on the events that took place at Holy Trinity Church. The commission reviewed videotape and photographs that showed the crucifix before and after the alleged miracle of Good Friday. It stated that there was no convincing evidence that a miracle, properly defined, occurred at the church. This decision means that the Vatican will take no further action on the case.
However, the bishop's commission did note that the witnesses were sincere. Many of the witnesses involved are still convinced that a miracle took place. The church was closed in 2004.
Reverend Vincent Cvitkovic resigned in August of 1989. He passed away in 2004 at the age of sixty-five. Artist Domenic Leo passed away in 2017 at the age of ninety.
- Parishioners say statue closed its eyes
- Artist calls crucifix eye-closing divine
- Thousands Visit Church Where Crucifix Closed Its Eyes
- Hundreds Going to See Crucifix
- Looking for a miracle in closed eyes
- Panel: Crucifix didn't blink
- 'Miracle in Ambridge' church pastor resigns
- 'Miracle' pastor resigns
- Religion: 'Miracle' Pastor Resigns
- With miracle discounted, mill town pastor resigns
- Four parishes to close six church sites
- It's a Miracle!
- Obituary for Reverend Vincent Cvitkovic
- Obituary for Domenic Leo