History

THE HISTORY OF SAINT MARY'S CHURCH OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION

     The history of St. Mary's Church of the Immaculate Conception, is a story of the beginnings of Catholic life in theWyomingValley. In the life of the Catholic Church itself, one hundred and fifty years is a short time, but in the annals of Catholicism here inPennsylvaniathis history goes back to pioneer days, it goes back to the circuit riding priest who had to depend on the stage or horseback to reach the scattered members of his flock.  It required a man of truly apostolic zeal and great stamina to bring the light and consolation of faith to the numbers who otherwise would be deprived of it, residing in the great territories that were considered parishes in those days.  The establishment of St. Mary's as a parish in 1845 meant that a sufficient number of Catholics had migrated into theWyomingValleyto warrant a resident pastor.  The people for the most part of German and Irish origin had fled the tyranny of Bismark and the persecution and starvation inIrelandin order that they might be able both to live in this greatlandofAmericaand enjoy what we today know as the four freedoms.  These two ethnic groups, united not by a common tongue but by the bond of faith, laid the foundations of the spiritual edifice of Catholicism in this Valley, and the multitudinous church spires testify to the adherence of their children and children's children to the principles which they espoused and willingly left home and country to protect and enjoy.

     A small brochure, published by Reverend Joseph M. McGowan, a former assistant at St. Mary's,  mentions, that evidences of Catholic Faith implanted in the soil of the Wyoming Valley at a very early period were shown literally to be true by the finding some half century ago in an old Indian Burying ground at the southern end of Wilkes-Barre City of a brass crucifix, bearing on one side the figure of the Crucified Saviour and on the other the figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary."

     By the year 1825 it was known that a number of Catholics had taken advantage of the development inSusquehannaCountyof a realtor, Robert Rose, who owned 100,000 acres of land with headquarters atSilverLake.  Bishop Conwell ofPhiladelphiasent a man, a true priest of God, the Reverend Jeremiah Francis O'Flynn, to this new mission, an outpost of the Philadelphia Diocese.  The first chapel was erected here, and the first Mass celebrated in this chapel by Father O'Flynn took place on October 2, 1828.  The first resident pastor in what is now the Diocese of Scranton took up residence in 1825 with jurisdiction over a territory larger than the present Diocese.  The parish comprised eighteen counties; thirteen inPennsylvaniaand five in southernNew York.  According to historical records known as the "Annals of Luzerne County" there is the record of Mass being celebrated inWilkes-Barrein the homes of Mrs. Gorman, Mr. Farrell, Mr. Keating and Mrs. Meagher, the latter being noted as a woman of great Christian charity, caring for the many Catholics who traveled any distance to assist atMass.  It is most probable that Father O'Flynn is the priest mentioned as the Celebrant of theMass.  He died February 9, 1830 while returning fromDanvilletoSilverLakeafter administering to the sick of that town.

     In 1832 Father William Clancy, another priest of the Philadelphia Diocese took up the work of Father O'Flynn.  He established his residence inCarbondale.  From this town,Wilkes-Barrewas visited as a mission.  Father Clancy left in the summer of 1834, no longer having the stamina to continue his mission, and moved toAlbany,New Yorkto work in the state capital for three years.  From there he joined Bishop William Clancy in serving the missions in British Guiana, in South America for nine years and then returned to his nativeCork,Irelandto retire.

     From 1834-1836 the people in this mission had only seen a priest two or three times.  Bishop Francis Patrick Kenrick ofPhiladelphiawrites in his diary that he visitedWilkes-Barrein 1832.  On September 4, 1836 Bishop Kenrick notes that he dedicated the six year oldchurchofSt. RoseofLimainCarbondaleand the church atSilverLakethat was begun in 1828 but not completed until 1836 because of a dispute among parishioners over ownership of the property.  This church was given the nameSt. Augustine.  Bishop Kenrick then left forWilkes-Barre.  So moved was he by his visit to the people ofCarbondalehe wrote to Father Henry F. Fitzsimmons and appointed him pastor of St. Rose ofLimaand placed him in charge of the missions ofNortheastern Pennsylvania.  He had just ordained Fr. Fitzsimmons before he left on this annual tour of the missions, but he felt he needed to do something about their lack of a priest.  Bishop Kenrick asked Fr. Fitzsimmons to report to his new assignment as soon as he could put his affairs in order.  On September 7, Bishop Kenrick notes that "Another journey of thirty miles brought us to the town ofWilkes-Barre, where we celebrated Mass on the seventh day of September, in the home of a widow named Gorman.  I gave Confirmation to four, and Holy Communion to three persons; I baptized also a woman, Connor by name, together with her infant child."

     This is also borne out by a note published in the Wilkes-Barre Record of May 4, 1891 by Wesley Johnson, "The service here spoken of was held at the home of the widow Gorman, a small one-story frame dwelling on Union Street, between Franklin and River Streets."  Mrs. Gorman was a woman noted for her piety and the notation continues that these Catholic services were held in her home long before Father Henry Fitzsimmon's time.

     Father Henry F. Fitzsimmons, the actual founder of St. Mary's Parish was assigned toCarbondaleSeptember 12, 1836, a month after his ordination which took place on August 15, 1836.  While pastor ofCarbondalehe made monthly visits to his chief mission and at the same time visited the Catholics in an area of Waymart, Mauch Chunk and Dushore.  In an address given by Father Richard McAndrew, a former pastor of St. Mary's, to the school and congregation on December 27, 1905 he notes: "Fr. Fitzsimmons was young zealous and energetic and attended the mission of Wilkes-Barre three, four, or six times a year until 1840, when he came bi-monthly, and continued to do so until 1842.  Mass was usually said at the house of a Mrs. Marr or Maher, on the corner ofCanal streetand the alley adjoining the old cemetery."

     Fr. McAndrew continues: "The mines having now opened up, large numbers of Catholics came in from other parts, notably fromBaltimore, then one of the important seaports.  This influx of Catholics so augmented the congregation that it was impossible for them to hear mass comfortably at any house, and made it evident that a church building must be provided.  In 1842, the good priest appointed a committee to take charge of collecting the necessary funds.  It was composed of Edward Birmingham, Patrick Neison, James Dolan and Patrick Kieran.  Then and there the first dollar ever contributed for the erection of a Catholic church inWilkes-Barrewas made by Michael Clinton.  Having started the matter, the work was not permitted to lag, the contract was given to Messrs. Anthony Mowery and Charles Ehret, and the same summer saw a commodious frame church erected onCanal Street, nowSouth Pennsylvania Avenue, just north ofMooney Lane."

     There was still no resident pastor and it was not until the expanding congregation necessitated the building of a new church in 1845 that the actual foundation of St. Mary's as a parish occurred.  This building was erected on the same site and was of a substantial nature being used later as thefirst St.Mary's School.  The first priest to be ordained as pastor for this work was Father Fitzsimmons.  His first entry in the Baptismal Register, September 28, 1845, is the baptism of Alice Neison, daughter of Patrick Neison and Letitia Mullen.  Until the end of that year we find twenty-one entries with such names a McGuire, Farrell, Steward, O'Brien, Devaney, Doherty, Dunn, Kieran and Dindinger.

     Another pioneer priest, Father John Vincent O'Reilly, baptized eight children on March 7, 1846.  On March 22 of the same year, W. F. Jennings baptized one, then the record reverts back to Father Fitzsimmons.

     The early Baptismal Register itself tells the story of the travels and changes of the various early priests who succeeded Father Fitzsimmons in his work.  On July 26, 1846 Father P. A. Prendergast, from Honesdale, took up residence until 1847 with an entry by Father Cudenhove, a Redemptorist Father on September 12 of that year.  Father Cudenhove had evidently come in for the German speaking members of the congregation.  Father Prendergast's last entry is on January 2, 1848.  We have two entries in November 1847 by Father Rudolph Etthofer, but he explains his presence by a notation that at the time he was the administrator inNippenoseValley--(at present, Bastress, in Dushore, about 12 miles southwest ofWilliamsport.)

     Succeeding Father Prendergast is Father Richard O'Connor whose first entry in the Baptismal Register is January 3, 1848 and whose last one is October 16 of the same year.  In November Father Etthofer, mentioned above, took charge and his entries are interesting because the home address of the children who were baptized is supplied.  We note such towns as Pitztown (Pittston), Slocum Hollow (Scranton),Nanticoke, White Haven and Hanover.  It is noteworthy that St. Mary's Church was at this time the only Catholic Church in a territory embraced by the present city ofScranton, as far south asHazletonand east to White Haven.

     During Father Etthofer's pastorate there is a record of a canonical visitation made by the then Bishop of Philadelphia, Right Reverend Francis Patrick Kenrick, D.D.  This visit occurred on July 16, 1849 on which occasion the Sacrament of Confirmation was administered to thirty-six children.  Bishop Kenrick tells us that on the same evening he preached in the Wilkes-Barre Courthouse taking as his subject "The Blessed Virgin Mary."  Shortly after this visit of Bishop Kenrick and with his approval and permission, Father Etthofer consecrated a cemetery, August 20, 1849 "with all due solemnity."  This is the old cemetery, next to the church onCanal Street, which since had been transferred to the present St. Mary's Cemetery inHanoverTownshipby Father O'Haran.

     Father Etthofer lists fourteen deaths, seventy-four baptisms and four converts.  His last record is on September 30, 1849 and Reverend Basil Shorb succeeds him with an entry on October 14, 1849.  His pastorate of one year and a half however has the listing of 146 children baptized which gives an indication of the continuous growth of the parish.  We note among those baptisms the family names of Stapleton, Stegmaier, Kehoe, Gilligan and Mackin. The name of Reverend J. P. Shaughnessy is the next in succession.  He relinquished the pastorate of St. Mary's in 1853 to become the first resident pastor in Pittston, erecting thefirst St.John's Church on its present site.  The next pastor of theMotherChurchwas Reverend O. H. Borgess who administered the parish for three years until 1856, when Father Henry Fitzsimmons, the founder of the parish, returned from a pastorate inPottstown, to remain twelve years as the last pastor of St. Mary's under the Diocese of Philadelphia.  It was also during 1856 that the congregation, which was mostly German and Irish, had so increased that it was deemed advisable to divide the congregation.  The Germans took the wooden building and the Irish congregation the brick church.

     During this tenure we have a notation of Bishop Neumann’s visit to the Valley, where on April 29, 1856 he confirmed seven boys and four girls atNanticoke, a mission of St. Mary's, and on May 1, 1856 he confirmed sixty-eight children in St. Mary's.  He visited and confirmed again on August 6, 1858, fifteen atNanticoke, fifty-eight atWilkes-Barre.  Bishop Wood visited St. Mary's on October 19, 1862, confirming one hundred and seven and again in 1866 confirming one hundred and fifty-three.

     With the creation ofScrantonas a Diocese and the Consecration on July 12, 1868 of Reverend William O'Hara as its first Bishop, one of his first acts was to install a new pastor and one who would have a great influence in the development of St. Mary's as the parish it is today.  In October 1868, Reverend Dennis O'Haran was made the new pastor, succeeding Father Henry Fitzsimmons who had given thirty-two years to the mission work inNortheastern Pennsylvania.  In failing health, he died June 27, 1874 in St. Mary's Rectory and is buried in St. Mary's Cemetery.  He was remembered as a dedicated self-effacing missionary whose priesthood touched upon the lives and the eternal salvation of literally thousands of people.

     Having purchased a new plot of ground, where the church now stands, Father O'Haran set about the enormous task of erecting a Church and rectory. The cornerstone of the present St. Mary's Church was laid in September of 1870.  The architect was Edwin Forrest Durang ofPhiladelphiaand the builder was William O'Malley of Pittston.  Durang was the chief architect for thePhiladelphiaarchdiocese after the civil war.  St. Mary's is modeled after two of his churches inPhiladelphia: St. Charles Borromeo on 21st and Christian andSt. Ann's, Port Richmond, begun in 1868 and 1866 respectively.  The architecture is Roman Baroque. Other buildings in the area designed by Durang include theMethodistChurchin West Pittston (1871), the Pittston Opera House (1874), St. Francis,Nanticoke(1884), the Cathedral inScranton(1883), andSt. John'sin Pittston (1897), among others.  Much of the work was done by the parishioners after they had put in a hard day at their own work in the mines.  According to some old residents the workers were much indebted to the old Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre Coal Company, later the Glen Alden, for the use of heavy machinery which aided materially in the construction.  The church was finally dedicated on December 15, 1872 and there are accounts from the Wilkes-Barre Record of December 11, 1872 describing the church and of December 16, 1872 describing the ceremonies.  The December 11, 1872 account as follows:

 

     "The new Catholic Church onWashington Street, which is to be dedicated on Next Sunday, the 15th, is one of the most grand and imposing edifaces in the State.  Its tall spire pointing heavenward some two hundred feet, and its romanesque style architecture makes it an ornament of which a greater city than ours might well be proud.  The cornerstone was laid in September, 1870 and since that time the building was rapidly pushed toward completion.  The church is sixty-six feet front onWashington Streetand one hundred and sixty-two feet in depth, and was designed by Ed. F. Durang ofPhiladelphia, and constructed under the immediate supervision of Wm. O'Malley of Pittston, the veteran church builder of northernPennsylvania.  As you enter you are struck with the solemnity of the design, that reminds you of the effect produced by viewing the interior of one of the Cathedrals of the old world.  The soft mellow light streaming through the lofty windows of stained glass, reflected on the arched and frescoed ceiling, adds grandeur to the achievements of art.

     As in all churches, inside the sanctuary the visitor finds most attractions.  The elaborately carved altar is supported on each side by lofty columns in front which, on pedestals, are two elegant statues of angels, while in a niche on each side of the altar is a statue ofSt. Johnand the Virgin.

     The magnificent painting in the centre, by Sailing; representing the Crucifixion, John the Evangelist, the Virgin, and Mary Magdalene weeping at the foot of the Cross, will not suffer by comparison with the works of the most celebrated painters of the day.

     The twelve Apostles on either side, by the same artist, clothed in the simple garb of the first century, recalls forcibly to one's mind the simple habits and austere self-denial practiced by the earlier Christians.

     We were not a little surprised to find the painting and gilding and statuary painting were done by J. P. Fell, Esq., ofWilkes-Barre, and recommend those of our citizens who wish such work performed in the best style, to call on that gentleman before seeking abroad for inferior workmen.

     To the Rev. D. C. O'Haran, the pastor, his parishioners owe a debt of gratitude which they can never repay.  For two years he has labored assiduously in the construction of a church for his people.  Night nor day for that period there has been no rest from his toil, and when this generation will have passed away, and that gentleman will receive his eternal reward, the church which he has erected will remain as a monument to his indefatigable zeal for the salvation of those committed to his care."

 

     The December 16, 1872 account:

 

     "The dedication of the new and magnificent church just completed in this city, the imposing ceremonies of which took place yesterday, was an event of great interest to every Catholic in this locality.  Special trains were run over both the Lehigh and the L. & S. Railroads fromScrantonand Pittston, which brought large numbers early in the day from those places.  Previous to the ceremonies, the Father Matthew Society, theSt. Joseph's Society and the St. Nicholas German Catholic Society, paraded through the streets with music and banners.

     At half past ten o'clock the dedicatory ceremonies were commenced with prayer, after which the Bishops, Priest, and Acolytes marched in procession around the exterior of the edifice, singing a psalm, while Bishop O'Hara sprinkled the ground and walls with holy water.  They then marched in through the centre aisle of the church, to the altar, where the psalm was concluded.  The procession then again passed around the church inside, observing the same ceremonies.

     The appropriate mass for the Third Sunday after Advent was then celebrated, after which the Right Reverend Bishop Quinlin, ofMobile, delivered an eloquent and appropriate address.  The choir sang the "Hosanna in Excelsis," after which Bishop O'Hara made a few concluding remarks.

     The following dignitaries officiated on the occasion: Officiating Bishop--Rt. Rev. Bishop O'Hara, of Scranton; Assistant Priest, Rev. Father Finnan; Deacons of Honor, Rev. Father Whitty, of Scranton; Rev. Father Nagle, of Wilkes-Barre; Deacon of the Mass, Rev. Father Hennesey, of Plymouth; sub-Deacon, Rev. Father McMannus, of Scranton; Master of Ceremonies, Father Mulholland; Bishops in the Sanctuary, Right Rev. Bishop Quinlin, of Mobile, Right Rev. Bishop Shanahan, of Harrisburg, Right Rev. Bishop Domenee, of Pittsburg.

     So large was the multitude of people who flocked to the church, that every seat was occupied at an early hour, and many were unable to obtain admittance.  It is estimated that the audience numbered not less than 2,500, while the number of tickets sold is said to have been about 5,000.

     In the evening another vast assemblage filled the church, the Right Reverend Bishop Domenee, ofPittsburg, delivering the address, while services were also of a highly impressive character.

     The music was under the direction of Mr. Hakes, and was performed in a highly creditable manner, the choir being composed of the following: Mrs. Stickney and Miss Mekins, leading sopranos, assisted by Misses Anna McGinty, Maggie Dougher, Mary McLoughlin, Mary McDade; Miss Bella McDade, alto; Messrs. Hakes and Pollok, bass;  Mssrs. Jno. K. Woodward, Hughes, Moore and Deary, tenors;  Mr. F. Barnum, organist.  The principle musical feature of the morning service was the Et in Carnatus, solo of Credo, by Mrs. Stickney, which was rendered in a truly admirable manner.  In the evening Mrs. Stickney also sang the Ave Maria, while the Tantum Ergo was finely sung by a quartette, composed of Miss Mekins, and Mssrs. Woodward, Hakes and Deary.  The organ accompaniments and voluntaries , by Mr. Barnum, were well rendered, although the instrument (one procured temporarily for the occasion, we believe), was not of sufficient power for the immense edifice wherein it was placed.

     It has been a little over two years since the church was commenced.  The society is large and many of the members are wealthy citizens, and they all have contributed generously to the erection of this large and costly edifice.  The size of the building, as described in these columns on Wednesday last by a correspondent, is 66 feet onWashington Street, and 162 feet deep; the tower, being at the rear of the church, is about 200 feet high.  The materials of the building are brick with brown stone base and caps.  The entire structure is massive and ornamental, and reflects much credit upon the designer, Mr. Durang, and the builder, Mr. O'Malley.  The main floor is several feet above the ground, and with a few feet elevation, gives a large hall in the basement nearly 11 feet high, 60 by 120, and well lighted from side windows.  This hall is intended, doubtless, for Sunday schools, lectures, etc., and when completed will accommodate a thousand people.  There are no central walls. the church floor being supported by 34 large iron posts.  It is ceiled up half way, and has two entrances in front and two in the rear.  Back of this large hall there is a room about 20 feet square for the purpose of a library for the Sabbath schools.  Above this library room there is a vestry room about the same size. 

     The church room proper, or auditorium, is the most important and attractive part of the structure.  It is about 60 by 135 feet, and has on the main floor 228 seats, each of which will accommodate six persons.  It has a gallery upon three sides, supported by 24 ornamental iron posts.  There are 88 seats in the gallery which will accommodate at least 528 more persons, making the sitting room of the church sufficient for 1896 grown persons.

     There is room in the aisles and the rear entrance to accommodate several hundred more with temporary seats, if desired.  The sacred emblematic ornamentations about the altar, with the seven high windows upon each side of the church, beautifully distinguished from each other by the varied colors and designs in the glass in each, contribute to make the large room very attractive to visitors and members.  The glass and paintings of the windows at the altar were the gifts of Charles Barry and his wife.  The glass and paintings of the windows of the body of the church were the gifts of different persons and societies, viz: Rosary Society, Terrence Rooney, St. Mary's Benevolent Society, Father Matthew Total Abstinence Society, Mary Campbell, Michael Regan, A. J. Mallery, Allen Walsh, andSt. Joseph.  The six massive gold covered candlesticks, statues of angels, the eight large fluted columns in the rear of the altar, the painting of the crucifixion, the emblems, characters, etc., which adorn and illustrate the inner temple, were fully described by the correspondent referred to and need not be repeated.

     The church is lighted by numerous side gas brackets, without the aid of a ponderous central chandelier, as in older times, to put in peril all those seated under it.  The old organ is used for the present, but everything else is new and creditable.

     There are three front entrances, and stone steps the full width of the building.  In case of emergency the two entrances in the rear would facilitate the exit of an audience.

     In connection with this praiseworthy improvement, the Society erected a three story brick parsonage upon the church lot, only a few feet off, and both buildings are nearly completed, outside and in, and enclosed by a substantial iron fence.

     These improvements do credit to the city, and more to the pastor and congregation who have borne the chief burden of the two years' enterprise.  Doubtless this is the finest Catholic church outside the large cities, and the Society should rightly feel proud of its achievement."

 

     Of the windows mentioned in the above articles, the older windows of the church;  include the two windows in the sanctuary which depict the assumption of Mary and Jesus gathering the children, the seven interior narthex screen windows that include depictions of Mary with her mother Ann, an image of Mary in the center and Joseph with two doves for the presentation of Jesus at the temple, and the six windows in the stair ways of the rear of the church that depict the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, St. Patrick and the woman religious who probably depicts St. Catherine of Siena or possibly St. Brigid; all date back to the original construction of the building in 1870-1872.  These windows were fabricated using handmade, mouthblown antique glass and painting in the traditional Trace and Matte technique of Glass Painting.  The windows are designed in the style of theMunichSchoolof stained glass and are signed by the Von Gerichten Studios of New York,MunichandColumbus.

     This school of stained glass was established by King Ludwig ofBavariain the early 1800's in the city ofMunich.  Ludwig is most commonly known for building the romantic castles ofBavaria, the most famous of which is the castle at Neuschwanstein, which is the model for Sleeping Beauty's castle inDisneyland.

     Some distinct characteristics of most Munich School windows are that the figures are highly realistic, painted in a German Baroque style on antique glass utilizing the traditional Trace and Matte techniques of glass painting.  If the theme is a scene, it is often extended from one lancet to another.  Usually, but not always, the figures are set in a realistic scene framed by elaborate white and gold columns and canopies.  The lines formed by the lead become subordinate to the highly painted glass.

     Because of the elaborate and detailed glasspainting, staining and etching that is found in theMunichSchool, these windows are of a quality that, because of today's high labor costs, would be extremely costly to duplicate.  Today there are only a handful of studios throughout the world that employ glass painters that can execute this type of realistic figure painting.

     The other windows in St. Mary's church were replaced around 1920 by Rev. J. J. Curran, two years after he became pastor, these lower quality windows, themselves, had to be replaced after the flood of 1972 by the present windows which come from the Edward J. Byrne Studio of Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

     The Church with Rectory and furnishings cost $250,000 dollars which was promptly paid.  St. Mary's ofWilkes-Barrebeing the first Church in the Diocese to be free from debt.

     The cyclone that came throughWilkes-Barreon August 19, 1890 at 5:20 p.m. did not spare St. Mary's Church.  In the city, 14 people were killed and approximately 400 structures were damaged or destroyed.  The church roof was damaged and the tower in the rear of the church was blown down.  The church bell tower was never rebuilt but, rather, was simply capped off.  Some repairs were made to the interior of the church also at this time and a new marble altar was built which cost $5,000.  The church was consecrated in 1891 by Most Reverend P. J. Ryan, Archbishop of Philadelphia with Bishop Phelan and Bishop McGovern in attendance.  Bishop McGovern celebrated the Mass instead of Bishop O'Hara, the Bishop of Scranton, who was ill at the time.

     The bell presently in the steeple of St. Mary's Church was cast in 1914, under the pastorate of Rev. Patrick J. McManus by the Meneely Bell Co. of Troy,New York.  A tradition of casting bells places words on the bell itself and these words are understood to be what the voice of the bell is saying every time it is rung.  This tradition of giving a voice to a bell was used in St. Mary's bell tower.  The voice of the bell calls "Mary", the patron saint of this church and of the United States of America, when it is rung, perhaps asking for her intercession on behalf of all who gather here to pray.  The inscription on the bell appears as follows:

 

"Mary"

 

St. Mary's Church

Rev. Patrick J. McManus Rector

Wilkes-Barre PA

A.D. 1914

Meneely Bell Co.

Troy NY

 

     Father O'Haran was also instrumental in starting the first school.  He had the old church fitted up as a school in August 1875.  With Bishop O'Hara, he went toPittsburghwhere the Sisters of Mercy were established since 1843, to secure teachers for the new school.  The following month, nine Sisters of Mercy came toWilkes-Barreand opened the school on October 11, 1875 with an enrollment of 400 students.  Included in these nine Sisters, who pioneered the first school, were the following:  Sisters -- M. Regina Cosgrove,Superior; M. Josephine McCaffrey; M. Louise Griffin; M. Alberta Breen; M. de Ricci McQuade; M. Amelia McGrath; M. Columba O'Brien.  The first candidates to enter St. Mary's Convent and be professed were Catherine Keegan as Sister M. Austin, and Delia McGann as Sister M. Catherine.  The students at theCanal Streetschool came not only fromWilkes-Barrebut carrying their "dinner cans" they walked from Ashley, Miners Mills, Plains, Parsons,Plymouth,Nanticokeand Sugar Notch.

     In that same year Father O'Haran bought the site for what would be thelast St.Mary's Convent and High School.  He paid $4,200 for the grounds and improvements, and awarded the contract for erecting the Convent to William O'Malley of Pittston, who had remodeled the old church into a school house and, as previously mentioned, oversaw the construction of the present St. Mary's Church.  Father O'Haran had spent according to his own estimate $229,000 of parish funds.  The following parishes were formed during his pastorate:Plymouthin 1872, Sugar Notch in 1879, Parsons in 1882, Plains in 1883,Kingstonin 1885, and Ashley in 1887.

     Assistant priests to Father O'Haran have been the following, in order of occurrence: Reverends J. M. Loughran, C. A. Mattingly, P. J. McManus, Felix McGuckin, Timothy Donohue, Thomas J. Rea, E. J. Lafferty, F. P. McNalley, John G. Dunn, J. W. Dunn, T. J. Comerford (related to the theatre owners and to whose family a past lighting system of the Church served as a memorial), J. A. Moffitt and J. I. Dunn.

     The last baptismal entry by Father O'Haran was September 1, 1889.  He died that same year and was succeeded by Rev. Richard A. McAndrew.  Father McAndrew, imbued with a great desire to promote the Christian education of the children of the parish, set about to erect a new school.  St. Mary's High School was the result of that desire.  Erected at a cost of $87,000 it took seven months to build.  The school often had been referred to as a model school and at the time of its completion was one of the finest in the State.  It was a substantial building and served the large student body of both the High School and the Grade School.  Its total enrollment in 1945 was almost 800 students.  The interior of the Church was also improved and beautified.  Father McAndrew placed the Stations of the Cross, which are made of hand carved wood, as memorials.  We note the following donors:  M. P. and Mary A. Butler, The Altar, Rosary and Scapular Society, James M. Boland, Mrs. George Stegmaier in memory of Mary Costello, Annie McGuire for her parents, the children of the parish, Thomas Connel in memory of his wife, men and women of the congregation, In memory of Mary Campbell, St. Mary's T. A. B. Society, Blessed Virgin Sodality, McGuigan family, John Guiney for father, mother and son.

     Father McAndrew promoted the devotion to the Sacred Heart in the parish by establishing the Apostleship of Prayer on October 7, 1899.  Because of his priestly zeal he was made a member of the Papal Household with the title of Monsignor.  He died November 17, 1909 in his 59th year.

     The Very Reverend Patrick J. McManus, formerly an assistant under Father O'Haran, succeeded Monsignor McAndrew, and he set out plans for the beautification and care of the Cemetery.  St. Mary's has had three Cemeteries.  The first, already mentioned, was adjoined to the old Church onCanal Street; the second, onDarling Street, had been purchased by Father Fitzsimmons.  Father O'Haran had purchased 59 1/4 acres of ground inHanoverTownshipon July 16, 1881 for $20,000 from Charles Parrish, and theDarlingStreetCemeterywas no longer used as a parish cemetery.  The deed for the new Cemetery was written in the name of Right Reverend William O'Hara, Bishop of Scranton "to be held by the said Rt. Reverend William O'Hara, Bishop of Scranton, his executors, heirs and assigns in trust for St. Mary's Catholic Congregation of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to be used for a Cemetery or burying ground."

     On February 5, 1890 for the consideration of $3,000 Rev. R. A. McAndrew purchased from Anna M. Stephens, a tract of land containing seven acres inHanoverTownshipwhich is now the northeastern part of the Cemetery.  The deed was to "Rt, Reverend William O'Hara, in trust for the Roman Catholic Congregation of St. Mary'sChurch of Wilkes-Barre,Pennsylvania."  On December 3, 1914, Reverend P. J. McManus, with a group of parishioners made application to the Court of Common Please of Luzerne County for a charter for St. Mary's Cemetery Association.  On December 28, 1914 a charter was granted by the Court.  On January 1, 1915 when the charter was granted, the name "St. Mary's Cemetery Association" was used.  The efficiency of the Association today owes much to the devotedness of the secretaries, Mrs. Agnes Hally Kupstas, who served until 1945, and Miss Marguerite Corrigan who then took over these responsibilities and has worked for St. Mary's parish for the past 50 years.

     Father McManus spent a great deal of time and effort to beautify this plot of ground, the last resting place of the beloved dead.  It stands as a loving memorial to his energetic planning.  The following priests were stationed at St. Mary's as assistants to Father McManus:  Reverends John J. O'Malley, E. J. Flood, J. J. Heffernan, J. E. Lynott, M. H. Dunn, James J. Golden, W. A. Healey and M. T. Shields.

     Called to his eternal reward on December 18, 1918 at the age of 70, Fr. McManus was succeeded by Father John J. Curran.  After serving as an assistant pastor at St. Rose inCarbondalefor eight years, Father Curran then assumed the pastorate ofHolySaviorChurch, when it was formed as a separate parish from St. Mary's on October 20, 1895, and subsequently builtHolySaviorChurchand rectory.  After becoming pastor of St. Mary's, in 1918, he set about renovating and improving the present Church.  The interior of the church was repainted and repictured; the old wooden side altars and wainscoting were replaced by a very fine grade of onyx marble of theSouthern Californiatype.  The glass partition was constructed in the vestibule and the wooden wainscoting was replaced by the same marble as that in the sanctuary.  The aisle, sanctuary and vestibule floors were covered with the best quality of marble tiling, while the pews were stripped, repainted and revarnished.  Most of the original stained glass windows were removed and replaced.

     On the exterior, one half inch of the old brick surface was chipped off and three layers of the finest concrete were laid over the walls and blocked off in imitation brown stone.

     The basement of the church was renovated soon thereafter.  All confessions were heard in the basement church and two Masses were added there every Sunday in order to relieve over crowding of the main church.

     Also, under Father Curran's pastorate, the Opus 60 pipe organ, built originally in 1901 by the Muller and Abel organ company ofNew York City, was rebuilt in 1927 by the M. P. Moller organ company ofHagerstown,Maryland.  The pipe organ was subsequently rebuilt again in 1954 and in 1974 with more releathering done in 1985 due to a failure of the Moller organ company to use leather in the 1974 rebuild.  An experimental plastic material was used in place of leather in an attempt to reduce costs but was found to come unglued after a few years.  Presently the organ is maintained by Burness and Associates of Montgomeryville,Pennsylvania.  Repairs are regularly made to keep the organ in good working condition, but because of its age, major work and most likely replacement is soon to be inevitable.

     Father Curran built in 1923 the new rectory, a face brick building, well constructed and attractive in its architectural lines.  Father Curran, a socially active citizen as well as priest, was a staunch supporter of the laboring class and acted as arbiter in many labor disputes.  In his role as a mediator in resolving the labor dispute with the miners, Father Curran and President Theodore Roosevelt became close friends.  It is said that President Roosevelt stayed over night in St. Mary's Rectory when in town for a campaign stop.  He gave the gift of a grandfather clock to Father Curran which remains, to this day, in St. Mary's Rectory.

     During Father Curran's pastorate, three new parishes were formed: St. Patrick's in 1920,St. John'sin 1927 and St. Therese's in 1929.  Fr. Curran, for his accomplishments, received the title of Monsignor from Pope Pius XI at the request of Bishop Thomas C. O'Reilly.

     The priests who served as assistants to Monsignor Curran were: Reverends Michael Shields, William Healey, James Golden, Raymond Fitzpatrick, John J. O'Leary, Joseph L. McHugh, Serenus O'Connoll, Thomas W. Carmody, Charles C. Conaty, Robert C. Morrow, Thomas J. Burke, Stephen H. Casey, Anthony A. Finnerty, Thomas P. Leonard, James F. Carroll, Aloysius T. Boylan, Hugh O'Neill Kelley, James R. Reilly, John R. Burnett, Edward J. Walters, John J. Dzurko, Raymond A. O'Neill, Paul J. Cary, Joseph M. McGowan, Thomas W. Manley, William E. Burchill and Matthew F. Boylan.

     On November 7, 1936, the parishioners were grieved to learn of the death at the age of 77 of their pastor, Monsignor Curran, but were gladdened by the announcement of Bishop O'Reilly that a native son, Rev. John J. O'Donnell, after successful pastorates at St. Anthony's, Stowell, St. Mark's Inkerman and St. Francis', Nanticoke, would become the pastor of St. Mary's.  To summarize the tenor of Father O'Donnell's pastorate, we quote here an editorial of The Catholic Light, written on the occasion of his death on March 7, 1945, "He was every inch a priest of God.  His duty to Him was always uppermost in his mind.  It must not be thought however that Father O'Donnell had no outside interests.  He was interested in everything that affected the people over whom he had been placed in charge, and thus he took an active participation in all that in any way touched their lives.  Father O'Donnell had his own convictions on every question of the day and what is more, he had the courage and strength of character to stand by those convictions no matter what others thought or said.  Yet withal he was realistic in his work and ambitions; honest in his views and attitudes.  He disliked pretense and display because he could not brook even the slightest departure from sincerity.  He was sharp of wit; sometimes of retort, but always the priestly gentleman."  Assistants under Father O'Donnell were:  Reverends Raymond O'Neill, William E. Burchill, Thomas Manley, Stephen H. Casey, Thomas J. Knight and Leo V. Murphy.  Father O'Donnell returned to his home parish of Holy Saviour as its pastor on February 15, 1943 and was succeeded as pastor of St. Mary's by the Most Reverend Martin J. O'Connor, D.D., V.G., Titular Bishop of Thespiae, Auxiliary to the Bishop of Scranton.  He had been consecrated a Bishop on January 27, 1943 at St. Peter's Cathedral,Scranton.  He took up residence at St. Mary's on February 10, 1943 and during his three years of residence had expended $57,800 on improvements and repairs to the property.  He installed in the High School a modern library, a chapel and a clinic, and at the same time renovated the interior of the school building.  The choir loft had been renewed, together with the heating system in all the buildings.  The Sunday announcements were printed and the Church had a new public address system that met with the approval and blessing of the parishioners.  On the third Sunday of each month the Solemn High Mass was broadcast.  The following priests served as assistants to Bishop O'Connor in the spiritual ministrations of the parish:  Reverends Raymond O'Neill, Thomas J. Knight, James M. Lowry, Stephen H. Casey, John J. Gorman, Francis A. Kane and John W. Casey, while in residence was the Diocesan Director of Charities, Reverend Joseph T. Hammond.

     The spiritual side of the parish, which is one of the intangible things about which little can be written, reflects itself in the number of Communions distributed and the advancement of the various Church Societies.  On December 8, 1944, the Immaculate Conception Post 242 of the Catholic War Veterans was established, and in January of 1945, the first meeting of the Legion of Mary took place in the Sacristy of St. Mary's Church.  In 1945 the following vital statistics of St. Mary's parish were listed:

          Catholic Population of the Parish          -          4,120

          Catholic Men          -          -          -          -           1,290

          Catholic Women    -          -          -          -            1,777

          Catholic Children   -          -          -          -            1,053

          Catholic Families    -          -          -          -               990

          Catholic Individuals          -          -          -               941

          Catholic Boys and Girls serving in

               the Armed Services       -          -          -               673

     St. Mary's Centennial was fittingly commemorated on October 28th, the Feast of Christ the King with a solemn Pontifical Mass by Most Reverend William J. Hafey, Bishop of Scranton, and the following assistant priests:  Reverends Raymond Larkin, Archpriest; Cyriac A. Staib and Walter A. Losieniecki, Deacons of Honor; Charles A. Gallagher, Deacon; Thomas Monahan, Subdeacon; Robert A. McNulty, John J. Gorman, Masters of Ceremonies; Chaplains to Bishop O'Connor, Reverends Peter A. Nolan and Charles A, Murray; Page Boys to Bishop Hafey, Master James Tansey and Master Thomas Gildea.  Very Reverend Joseph S. Gagion, V.F., spoke eloquently on the historical development of St. Mary's Parish.

     St. Mary's Choir of 40 voices, under the direction of Mrs. Lawrence A. Sheridan sang the responses for theMass.  Bishop Hafey, in speaking to the crowd assembled at the Mass, asked the parishioners to follow the lead of their pastor to instill Christian principles in their children and bring back Christian living in their homes.

     In 1947, Bishop O'Connor left St. Mary's to become the rector of theNorthAmericanCollegeinRomeand later, the President of the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications at theVatican.  Bishop O'Connor also was elevated to Titular Archbishop ofLaodiceainSyria.  He died on December 1, 1986.  A Memorial Mass was celebrated in St. Mary's Church of the Immaculate Conception and the Funeral Mass in St. Peter's Cathedral.

     On June 4, 1947, Msgr. Francis A. Costello was appointed pastor of St. Mary's Church after serving as pastor to the newly organized parish of the Good Shepherd in Drums and of St. Peter's Cathedral.  Monsignor Costello was very active during his pastorate at St. Mary's and was involved in many Catholic organizations as well as civic and ecumenical groups.  He also implemented the renewal and liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.  Under the pastorate of Monsignor Costello the lighting system in the church was replaced by the Byrne Studios.

     June of 1972 saw the closing of St. Mary's High School with the opening ofBishopHobanHigh Schoolthe following September.  St. Mary's grade school remained open for another year and then combined with thegrade schoolofSt. Nicholas' Church on September 1971 in an effort to combine resources.  Saint Mary's School was later reopened for a brief period after the flood of Hurricane Agnes in 1972 whileBishopHobanHigh Schoolwas being repaired.  The building at165 South Washington Streetwas eventually sold to the Wilkes-Barre Redevelopment Authority and demolished.

     Monsignor Costello died on November 15, 1971 while in the 24th year of his pastorate at St. Mary's Church.  Assistant pastors under him included:  Reverends William J. Pakutka, John J. Gorman, John W. Casey, Francis A. Kane, Donald A. Deuel, John J. Jackson, John J. Green, Andrew J. McGowan, John R. Ferguson, William D. Campbell, Charles J. O'Donnell, Francis J. Houston, James P. Flynn, Thomas J. Maloney, Joseph C. Rusin, Andrew J. Marcinko, John D. Lawler, Charles J. Zazzera and Joseph J. Adonizio.

     On December 15, 1971, the 99th anniversary of the dedication of the present St. Mary's Church, Monsignor Joseph A. Madden was appointed pastor of St. Mary's.  Monsignor Madden served as an assistant pastor at St. Rocco's, Dunmore; St. Lucy's, Scranton; St. Francis, Nanticoke and St. Peter's Cathedral before being appointed Vice-Chancellor of the Diocese in 1947 and later as Chancellor in 1956.  He also served as Master of Ceremonies to several Bishops of the Diocese of Scranton and taught at the University ofScrantonas well as serving on the Diocesan Building Commission and the Diocesan Board of Consultors.  St. Mary's was Monsignor Madden's first and only pastorate, from which he retired in 1985.

     Extensive renovations, necessitated by the flood of 1972 and to further conform with the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, were made to St. Mary's Church and rectory under the pastorate of Monsignor Madden.  Under the direction of architect Anthony C. Melone, the doors of St. Mary's were replaced along with the stained glass windows previously mentioned.  The sanctuary underwent a complete change with the high altar as well as the other old furnishings being removed to make way for an altar table, pulpit and Eucharistic pillar made of Botticino and Portasanta marble sitting on pedestals of redVeronamarble.  Wainscoting of Travertino Noce was used in the Sanctuary and vestibule areas and new pews were placed in the church while theatre style chairs were installed in the gallery.  Carpeting was installed in the church before the pews were installed.  The roof of the church also was replaced at this time.  General contracting work was performed by Grosek & Sons, Inc. of Plains.  All work was completed in 1975.

     Assistant pastors under Msgr. Madden included:  Reverends Kenneth J. Dolan, Robert N. Shilala, Paul J. Flynn, William M. Petruska, James Tracy, Charles Trotten, John S. Terry, John J. Kilpatrick, Michael J. Kirwin, Edward P. Lyman, John J. Houston, Paul F. Gerosky, Leo McKernan and John M. Siddons.

     At the time of his death, on October 2, 1990,  Monsignor Madden was Pastor Emeritus and was buried from St. Mary's Church.

     With the retirement of Monsignor Madden in 1985, there came to St. Mary's another first time pastor, Monsignor Thomas V. Banick in September of that year.  Before coming to St. Mary's, Monsignor Banick served as the Director of Spiritual Life and Director of Music at St. Pius X Seminary, Diocesan Director of Music and chairman of the Diocesan Music Commission, Director of Music and Liturgy at St. Peter's Cathedral (where he oversaw the installation of the Casavant pipe organ), Lecturer in Religious Studies and Theology at the University of Scranton, Lecturer in Music and Liturgy at Marywood College, Director of Continuing Education of Priests, and, his last assignment before St. Mary's, as Vice Rector at the North American College in Rome where he also served as Director of Music.

     Monsignor Banick was named a Prelate of Honor on May 28, 1985 while concluding his assignment inRome.  Unknown to him, his superior, Monsignor Lawrence M. Purcell recommended him to Bishop Timlin for this honor in a letter dated February 19, 1985.  Bishop Timlin readily agreed and sent the necessary petition to the Holy See and on February 28 informed the Rector of the North American College that the process was underway.  Archbishop Pio Laghi, the Apostolic Pro-Nuncio inWashington,D.C., acknowledged receipt of the petition on March 5 and noted that the necessary documentation for the granting of a monsignorate ordinarily takes five full months.  However, before the summer of 1985 arrived, Pope John Paul II unwittingly influenced the timing of Father Banick's honor.  The Pope announced an increase in the College of Cardinals, which included the Archbishop of New York, the former Bishop of Scranton, John J. O'Connor.  The consistory at which he and other Bishops were to be formally honored was scheduled for May 25.  On this short notice, Bishop Timlin made plans to lead a delegation of people from the Diocese toRometo honor his friend and predecessor.  Bishop Timlin also decided to try to expedite the proposed Papal Honor to Father Banick so that while he was inRomehe could present the award to him personally.  Archbishop Justin Rigali, an influential American fromLos Angeles, was contacted in theVatican's Secretariat of State.  Apprised of the unusual circumstances, he promised to do his best.  As a direct result, the necessary rescript was approved, signed, and hand-delivered to Bishop Timlin at his Roman hotel.  A visit to theNorthAmericanCollegefollowed on May 28 where Fr. Thomas Banick was informed by his own Bishop that he was now a Monsignor, a Prelate of Honor.  Msgr. Banick was then assigned to St. Mary's Church as pastor in September with the mandate from Bishop Timlin to bring new life to the parish of St. Mary's.

     From the very beginning of his pastorate, Msgr. Banick established the liturgical celebration of the liturgies of Sunday as the highest priority of parish life and ministry.  As Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy notes, the liturgy is the source and summit of the Church and the font from which all her power flows.  Soon there was a pastoral team in place to assist him in this and the other work of the parish community.

     With Monsignor Banick's direction, several major projects were undertaken.  The desperately needed offices to house both the expanded pastoral services and the administration of St. Mary's Cemetery were added to the front of St. Mary's Rectory with construction begun in October of 1988 and completed in March of 1989.  The architectural design was drawn up by Ralph J. Melone and construction was provided by P & R Builders of Wilkes-Barre.  The interior and exterior of the Church were painted and new windows were installed in the Rectory.  On May 25, 1995, ground was broken for theParishCenter.  After a parish study was conducted, revealing almost 500 meetings per year taking place in the rectory, it was decided that a parish center was needed and a four year fundraising campaign was begun prior to the ground breaking.  Ralph Melone was called on once again to prepare the architectural design with the construction contract being awarded to Panzitta Enterprises of Wilkes-Barre.

     The beautiful hand-carved wooden Christmas Manger was donated during the first year of Monsignor Banick's pastorate by Dr. Francis M. Grem in memory of his wife, June.  Many people have admired its beauty over the past ten years.

     On May 15, 1989, St. Mary's gained a mission church, St. Joseph's Church on Hillside Street,  seemingly reversing the early years of St. Mary's history, when St. Mary's was the mother church for the many parishes established during that time.  Once again, St. Mary's has become a renewed mother church.

     Today, Saint Mary's Church serves as a model in the Diocese.  Under Monsignor Banick, the parish has been significantly restructured so as to solicit the broad participation of the laity in the ministry and mission of the Church.  Parish ministry groups include the Worship Commission, the Religious Education/Formation Commission, the Human Services/Social Concerns Commission with its Respect Life Committee, the Social Affairs Commission, the Pastoral Council, the Finance Council, the Youth Council, and the Evangelization Council.  Hundreds of lay women and men and children participate in the Liturgical and Music Ministries of the Parish.  A Pastoral Care (Outreach) Ministry reaches out to the sick and infirm at home, in hospitals and nursing homes.  A Campus Ministry provides interfaith cooperation atWilkesUniversity.  Two societies, the Altar and Rosary Society and the Holy Name Society, serve the spiritual and financial needs of the parish.  The parish community gives determined moral and financial support to St. Nicholas-St. Mary's Elementary School andBishopHobanHigh School.

     Under the inspiring leadership of the priests and several lay persons who constitute the pastoral team, the parish enjoys membership in many ecumenical, interfaith, and community groups, including the Wyoming Valley Council of Churches, the Downtown Ministerium, the Interfaith Council of Wyoming Valley, the Interfaith Resource Center for Justice and Peace, the Martin Luther King Committee, the United Way of Wyoming Valley, the Children's Service Center of Wyoming Valley, the Catholic Youth Center, Catholic Social Services, St. Vincent DePaul Kitchen, and V.I.S.I.O.N. Shelter for the Homeless.

     Some parish statistics include the following:

          FAMILIES:                                            1031

          Male Members:                                       912

          Female Members:                                  1318

          TOTAL MEMBERS                              2230

 

          Children enrolled in Religious Education:  124

          Children enrolled in Catholic Schools:        153

              BishopHobanHigh School:                     37

               St. Nicholas-St. Mary's

                    Elementary School:                               116

          TOTAL SCHOOL CHILDREN:                      277

 

          Number of Councils/Ministries for

               parish participation:                                22

          Number participating in

               Councils/Ministries                               307

 

     Assistant pastors serving under Monsignor Banick have included:  Reverends John M. Siddons,  John C. Lambert, Martin M. Boylan, James J. McGee, Jack D. Anderson, Joseph G. Quinn, Michael B. Harris, Bert S. Kozen, J. Duane Gavitt, Robert M. Timchak and presently, Kenneth M. Seegar.

     On December 8, 1995, Bishop James C. Timlin, Bishop of Scranton, made a pastoral visit to St. Mary's Church to celebrate the 150th anniversary of St. Mary's Church and to dedicate the newly completedParishCenter.  Musical accompaniment for the liturgy was provided by the 50 voice choir, consisting of members from St. Mary's Adult Choir and Family Choir andSt. Joseph's Choir, and organ and brass instruments under the supervision of Mark Ignatovich, Director of Music Ministry since February 1986 and Doreen Ignatovich, Director of Choirs.  The music of the liturgy ranged from 13th century chant to contemporary music.

     On this the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of St. Mary's and of the Church in the United States, may God give success to the work of the hands (Psalm 90) of this venerable Catholic-Christian community of Saint Mary's Church of the Immaculate Conception in Wilkes-Barre.

 

 

HISTORICAL SKETCH PREPARED BY:

     The First 100 Years by Rev. Msgr. Francis A. Kane, rev. and ed. by Mark Ignatovich

     The Last 50 Years by Mark Ignatovich

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

     Gallagher, Rev. John P., Ph.D.,  A Century of History; The Diocese ofScranton: 1868-1968,Scranton,PA, The Hadden Craftsmen, 1968.

     Gallagher, Rev. John P., Ph.D.,  A Second Century Begins; The Diocese ofScranton: 1968-1993,Scranton,PA, The Hadden Craftsmen, 1993.

     Harvery, Oscar Jewell & Smith, Ernest Gray,  A History of Wilkes-Barre, Vol. IV,  Wilkes-Barre, PA, The Smith Bennett Corp., 1929.

     TheWilkes-BarreRecord, December 11 and 16, 1872.