On June 10, 1874; the Reverend A.D. Filan of St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, Reading, bought from the Reading Railroad Company the property on which St. Joseph’s Church is situated today. The lot was 100 feet front by 115 feet deep, and on it a back building, 40 by 60 feet. Father Filan acted on behalf of Most Reverend Frederick Wood, Archbishop of Philadelphia. Among the reasons given for the erection of St. Joseph’s Church were that St. Paul’s church was overcrowded, that all the sermons were in the German language, and that the distance was too great for the families in the northern part of the city to attend St. Peter s church, located on South Fifth near Pine.

Owing to the financial crisis that triggered a depression in Europe and North America that lasted from 1873 until 1879, and even longer in some countries, nothing further was done to erect a new church at the time than to secure the lot.

On October 18, 1874, Father Filan was transferred to St. Cecelia, Philadelphia.

His successor, the scholarly and beloved Rev. Dr. P. J. Reverend Doctor Garvey, was formerly connected with St. Cecelia, and also St. John’s, Philadelphia. In August, 1882, Rev. Dr. P. J. Garvey was appointed pastor of St. James’s church, Philadelphia. His successor was the Rev. P. Coghlan, of St. Aloysius church, Pottstown.

Below: Rev. Gerald P. Coghlan.
Rev. Gerald P. Coghlan

In 1886, the project of building a new Catholic Church resumed. The people interested in the church showed by the sacrifices they had already made that they were prepared and willing to commence the erection of the building of a new church, and to bring it to a happy and successful conclusion. They enabled Rev. Gerald P. Coghlan, of St. Peter’s church, by their voluntary contributions, unsolicited by him, to pay off a mortgage of $1,600 that was due the Reading R. R. Co. This was the work of only a few months’ collecting. Plans of the new church were prepared. E. F. Durang, of Philadelphia, was the architect.

On July 26, 1886, Rev. Coghlan removed the first sod where the church now stands. He was accompanied by Edward Durang, architect, the prominent Dr. K.L. Wenger, William Kelley, and John J. Culler. The design of the original exterior of the church was in the Gothic style.

On October 3, 1886, the cornerstone was laid by Most Reverend P.J. Ryan, then Archbishop of Philadelphia, with impressive ceremonies shortly after 4 o’clock. For an hour previous the Streets leading to the church were lined with people, and it is estimated that from 8,000 to 12,000 people were present. They were closely packed together and some occupied positions on neighboring housetops. The day was a beautiful one. The parade of the Catholic societies, headed by the Shillington band, arrived shortly before 4, marching in 9th street. All Catholic societies of Reading attended, with Mr. Kelley as Chief Marshall.

The contents of the cornerstone included: copies of the Catholic Standard of Philadelphia, the Reading Eagle, a statement concerning the efforts made in the erection of this new church, and a statement in Latin telling that the stone was laid during the Presidency of Grover Cleveland, the governorship of Robert S. Pattison, and the mayoralty of James K. Getz. A penny with the portrait of Washington, various French coins, and one coin of each of the contemporary pieces of U.S. silver were all laid within the stone. The stone was laid at 1018 North 8th Street. At the conclusion of this part of the service, the Rev. Father Rowan, of Tamaqua, preached the sermon, basing his remarks upon the words found in the the 25th chapter of Exodus: “And they shall make me a sanctuary, and I shall come and dwell with them.”

On September 25, 1887, Rev. Coghlan’s work was rewarded. The Church of St. Joseph was formally dedicated with the Rev. Ryan giving the address. Immediately afterward, the first Solemn Mass was offered in the church by Very Reverend P.A. Stanton, D.D., O.S.A., Philadelphia. The assistants were the Rev. George Bornemann, St. Paul’s, Reading, and the Rev. Michael McGinn. Seated in the sanctuary were the Rev. Doctor Garvey, the Rev. A.T. Gallagher, Pottsville, and the Rev. F.X. McGowan. Father Coghlan remarked that the building costs to date amounted to fifteen thousand dollars, but most of this was being paid off.

Below: Sketch of Original Church – Touch or Click Images to Enlarge.
Below: Original Church.
Original Church

When the service had been completed Rev. Father F. X. McGowan, O. S. A., preached the dedicatory sermon – a sermon remarkable for its beauty of eloquence and power. Here are the words of his text: ”In the days of those Kingdoms the Lord of Heaven will set up a Kingdom, and itself will stand forever.” Father McGowan said by way of introduction that a sense of justice as well as reciprocal sympathy encouraged him to preach to his audience. The sermon was a most eloquent recital of three eras of Catholic persecution in which the church ultimately but grandly triumphed each time.

First, “Her conflict with Judaism, which had crucified her founder and maltreated and killed her children. Yet in God’s fateful time she saw Jewish power fall beneath superior Roman force. She saw the last temple of Judaism razed to the ground and the Jewish people sent out as a wandering race, without nationhood or country.”

Second, “Her triumphs over the persecutions of Rome. For 250 years she endured the iron hand of pagan oppression. Driven into the very bowels of the earth she still kept intact the faith of her founder, and after the persecutions ceased she sat enthroned on the Seven Hills of Rome.”

Third, “Her triumph over the heresies of Asia and Africa. The contest here was a violent one, for she had to deal with the malice of her own wayward children. She conquered the Arianism that once ruled the world, and saw Pelagianism go down into oblivion like a thunderbolt into the sea. Her contest in our day is with the numberless sects born of the Reformation, but the mother church will conquer because her life is divine in its utmost essence and progressively divine in its outward manifestations.”

When the remainder of the service had been concluded Archbishop Ryan said: “I desire briefly to congratulate you upon the zeal and morality the erection of this church has perfected. The great work is to the glory of God, the glory of yourselves and the glory of your children. It is evidence of material prosperity, also prosperity religiously, and will be a great convenience to the people of this section of your city. Here you and your children will battle against the triple combination, the World, the Flesh and the Devil. You have, too, very fittingly, called it St. Joseph’s church. Imitate this man of God in your conduct here and in your everyday lives. Bring your children here that they may learn to love God here in this house of St. Joseph and like him sanctify your daily life and remember the good God.”

A priest from St. Peter’s Church offered Holy Mass every Sunday from the dedication date until January 4, 1891. During that period, the church was known as St. Joseph’s Chapel. The early membership was predominantly Irish or of Irish descent.

The first wedding in St. Joseph’s Chapel was that of Mr. John Kramer and Miss Mary Sullivan. It took place on September 29, 1887. The first mission opened on October 14, 1887. Many who had drifted away from religion were reanimated with the faith at this mission, where special services and prayers were offered. Fathers McGowan and Sullivan, Order of St. Augustine, were in charge.

On Sunday, February 10, 1889, the one-thousand-pound bell was blessed by the Very Reverend P. A. Stanton, assisted by Fathers Coghlan and Murphy of St. Peter’s and Rev. Edward McKee, Chaplain of St. Joseph’s Hospital, Reading. The Very Rev. F. X. McGowan, of Philadelphia, delivered the sermon on the occasion and the choir of St. Peter’s Catholic Church chanted. Prof. Frank Lutz officiated as organist. Sponsors for the ceremony included Dr. M.L. Wenger and C.R. Heizmann. The bell, which was made by the McShane Company, of Baltimore, was placed at the altar entrance, and after it had received the blessing from Rev. Dr. Stanton the thurible containing the burning incense was placed under it. Rev. Father McGowan’s discourse was one of the most eloquent ever heard in the church. He spoke of the introduction and manner of blessing church bells in ancient times, and said everything connected with the consecration of a bell breathes God’s work. The church bell sounds forth the behests of God, and is an agency of His worship. There are a number of lessons to be learned from the blessing of a Church bell, and its sounding asks us to come and partake of God’s mercy. It tells you of joy and it tells you of gloom. In his peroration Farber McGowan hoped the bell of St. Joseph’s church would ring out happiness and peace to all.

The high executive ability of Father Coghlan enabled him to be transferred to Philadelphia in October of 1889. The Rev. Father Coghlan said he was sorry he was compelled to sever the happy relations which had existed between himself and people for the past seven or eight years, during which time he had been so ably seconded by the congregation in ever religious and charitable undertaking. It was sad, he said, to say farewell upon any occasion, but peculiarly so his case. The relations of priest and people was marked by a trust and confidence which is even closer and stronger and more enduring than the natural relation of families. He becomes their advocate at the throne of grace, and reconciles the sinner to his offended God in many cases, and in this way wins the affection of his people. Rev. Coghlan said that not only had his relations with his congregation been happy, but with the people in general in Reading. He felt deeply grateful for the valuable assistance rendered him by the different societies of the church. He would have a heart of marble were he not moved by parting with men who had shown their worth by their work in the church. They have been faithful in their attendance and have contributed liberally for the relief of the poor. The temperance society brought together the good, honest, hardworking men of the parish, while the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin embraced most of the true men and ladies.

On October 14, 1889, the Reverend E. Cleary was assigned to the Rectory of St. Peter’s. He and his assistants attended to the spiritual needs of St. Joseph’s Chapel until January, 1891. Father Cleary worked zealously, building up a sound Sunday School program. He felt, however, that a resident priest was needed, for St. Joseph’s was reaching maturity.

Below: Rev. Patrick J. Mellon.
Rev. Patrick J. Mellon

On January 1, 1891, Father Cleary announced that, on the next Sunday, the first Rector of St. Joseph’s would be installed before the congregation. The first Rector was Reverend Patrick J. Mellon, whose pastorate was one of the most eventful and constructive periods in the history of the church. About two hundred and fifty members attended the first formal meeting of St. Joseph’s Parish on the evening of January 4, 1891. Father Mellon informed the group that authoritative sources thought he’d not succeed in maintaining residence at St. Joseph’s, for the Parish was in need of many improvements. A Parochial residence was the chief need. The Rector was residing at the home of Thomas McGovern, 756 North Eighth Street. Later he lived with Dr. Wenger, close to the church site. At the meeting, Fr. Mellon appointed a Ways and Means Committee to raise funds for a rectory.

A plan was adopted so that each member would volunteer to give a day’s pay per month until the rectory would be completed and paid for. The Parish accepted the plan formally; however, the Rector did not know how many members he had within his jurisdiction, as the boundary line between St. Peter’s, on South Fifth Street, and St. Joseph’s had not been determined. St. Peter’s claimed their north boundary as Oley Street. St. Joseph’s south boundary was Buttonwood Street. Hopefully, the Rector began the first Formal Parish Census on January 19, 1891. The census took ten evenings, and the sum of one hundred and sixty dollars made up the “Day’s pay collection” for January of that year. On January 31, 1891 Archbishop Ryan fixed the boundary line at Greenwich Street, nine and one half squares north of St. Peter’s and four and one half squares south of St. Joseph’s. The census showed that one hundred thirty English speaking families resided within the Parish. Of this number, ninety-eight families agreed at once to give the one day’s pay for improvements. Of the thirty-two non-contributors, seven flatly refused on the grounds that they didn’t want to give up going to St. Peter’s. The others couldn’t offer anything but prayers for success, owing to lack of funds.

On St. Patrick’s Night, 1891, the Rev. Walter P. Gough of Philadelphia delivered a lecture in the church for the benefit of the Altar Society. The proceeds on this occasion amounted to five hundred and three dollars. Father Mellon used this to beautify the whole interior of the church. Work was to begin on March 18, 1891. A building committee was to aid the Rector in plans for building the new parish House, etc. A large Gothic main altar was installed. William Fink did architectural work for Father Mellon. The contract for the Rectory was awarded to Cornelius Fink, builder. The Rectory was completed on November 1, 1891.

Below: Sketch of Original Rectory.
Sketch of Original Rectory

On May 18, 1891, to emphasize the new internal changes, a Grand Concert was presented in the church under the leadership of Mr. A.H. Rosewig, Philadelphia. St. Charles’ Choir of the Philadelphia Catholic Seminary joined St. Joseph’s Choir in the program. Featured was a rendition of “Gloria” from the Twelfth Mass by Mozart. The newly frescoed interior was displayed for the first time. The Altar was beautified extensively by the presence of flowers and tropical plants arranged by the “altar girls.” The High Altar piece, depicting the Death of St. Joseph, was unveiled. The Saint was seen in the arms of Jesus with many angels hovering overhead. The concert closed with a congratulatory note by Mr. Rosewig to the local choir and its director, Mr. Joseph McConnell.

The First May Festival, a tradition at St. Joseph’s, was held on Sunday, May 28, 1891, under the auspices of the Sunday School directors. The main speaker was the Reverend P.F. McNulty of Philadelphia, a former college friend of the Rector. The glories of Mary, Queen of the May, were retold by all the children of the Parish. In more recent years, the May Procession around the grounds of the church and the First Communion ceremony for future members have been held jointly on the same day, sometime during the May season.

The Children’s First Communion was held for the first time on Sunday, June 28, 1891. After careful preparation and satisfactory examination, most of the potential candidates were deemed worthy to receive the Sacrament for the first time. In September of 1891, the first Parish Fair was conducted, and $3,178.00 was raised only in that one month.

On November 7, 1891, Father Mellon, after thirty-seven weeks of residence at the home of Dr. Wenger, moved into the new Rectory. During the Christmas season, the first Forty Hours’ Devotions and “Adoration of Our Divine Savior” were held. The services lasted for three days. Many priests were guests of Father Mellon for these services within the octave of the Nativity.

On New Year’s Day of 1892, Father Mellon revived the financial settlement of the Parish for the first time. Of a totally-insured debt of $11,349.00, $8,400.00 had been paid off, leaving a balance of $2,949.00.

A Society of St. Vincent de Paul was organized February 3, 1892. On February 28, the original Stations of the Cross were erected canonically by the Rev. G.P. Coghlan, then of Philadelphia. They were of “bas-reliefs,” three and one half by five feet. Painted by Mr. Ches. Halbeisen of Camden, N.J., they were Gothic in design. They were set up as pious memorials for deceased members.

The first formal Grand Concert took place early in 1892, featuring the St. Charles’ Choir of Philadelphia and the full Germania Orchestra. Some selections included the “Intermezzo” from Cavalerie Rusicana. Rossini’s a Stabat Mater, and Mendelssohn’s Elijah. On Holy Thursday, St. Joseph’s Repository was a display of sparkling lights and rich flowers for the first time. An unusual event of those early days was the Solemn High Mass celebrated during Easter, 1892. The celebrant was Father Mellon, assisted by Reverend Professor Hugh Henry end Rev. J. O’Connell of the St. Charles’ Seminary.

An outstanding social event of 1892 was the Lawn Festival of the Sodality held at Wagner’s Park. Electric lights end a large stage contributed to the amusement of many participants. Sweet meats and solid merriment were abundant. Hoop drills, parasol drills, and the recitation of “Sheridan’s Ride” by a Sunday School orator highlighted the program. A Catechism Contest was held in July, with the members answering questions of liturgy in hopes of getting a five-dollar gold piece as a reward. Frequent Sunday School socials took place at Mineral Springe Park in the 1890’s and later. The Rector was always an interested and active participant in these affairs. Many outings were held in Wyomissing Grove Part, transportation being by electric cars.

A notable event in the annals of St. Joseph’s was participation in the 400th Anniversary of the Discovery of America by Columbus, held on October 12, 1892. At 1:00 p.m., the Sunday School pupils marched to the music of a brass band to St. Paul’s School House, where they sang in unison with the children there the “Star Spangled Banner.” Following St Paul’s children, they marched with precision over a long route to the old Academy of Music, known today as the Rajah Theater, where in song and story they told of the triumphs of Columbus. The Tambourine Drill interspersed with vocal choruses reflected the efforts of St. Joseph’s teachers. At 7:00 p.m., St. Joseph’s men, in conjunction with all the Catholic Societies of Reading, participated in a demonstration and parade surpassing all previous parades in the city. Roman candles and rockets marked the line of the march. At the Academy, orators of the night paid tribute to Columbus, carrier of Christianity to the New World. Orators from the city spoke in English, German, and Polish. “Ave Maris Stella” was sung zestfully. The general director of the commemorative program was Rev. George Bornemann, St. Paul’s Church.

Archbishop Ryan of Philadelphia made his first canonical visit to St. Joseph’s on November 19, 1892 for the purpose of administering Confirmation here for the very first time. He celebrated Mass and then confirmed one hundred children and ten adults. He imported the Episcopal blessing to the congregation at the close of the ceremony. In the afternoon, the catechumens were photographed at the altar rail. The photographs served the double purpose of keepsakes and certificates of both First Communion and Confirmation.

On Christmas Day of 1892, Father Mellon informed the congregation that he had good news. Improvements on the church value amounted to $4,035.00. The new Rectory was valued at $7,000. Current expenses (1891-92) amounted to $3,600.00. Christmas gifts from the members amounted to $14,635.00. Thus there remained only a balance of $800.00 due. The names of all those who during Father Mellon’s pastorate contributed amounts ranging from one to one hundred or more dollars were placed on the Right Royal Roll. Pew holders were so designated on the roll.

The first baptism on record under the pastorate of Father Mellon was that of Charles A. O’Connor, son of Michael and Agnes O’Connor, the first of thirty-two such baptisms during 1891. The first baptism of 1892 was that of Leo Kelley, son of Thomas end Catherine Kelley on January 3, 1892. Four weddings were solemnized in St. Joseph’s in 1891: the same number were solemnized in 1892. The Marriage Register contained 576 pages which were being filled at the rate of one half page per year at that time. A member estimated that it would be filled at that same rate by 3,045 A.D.

St. Joseph is the Catholics’ patron of a happy death. The first of the flock who died was William C. Kelley on March 21, 1891. The second was an infant, Bridget Torpey who died July 9, 1891. Master Charles Rebholy was the third and last death of 1891. In 1892, there were twenty deaths in the Parish.

On Ash Wednesday, 1893, two adorning angels of most inspiring aspect and a memorial cross with a figure were privately blessed by the Rector. The angels were a pious gift in memory of his loved brother John, who died in 1890. The cross was a token of respect for the late Mrs. Anne Nolan who often labored for the benefit of the church.

A collection for the Philadelphia Seminary was started in 1891. This became an annual practice of St. Joseph’s. The 1891 collection amounted to $126.00. The 1892 collection amounted to $87.50. In 1893, $114.00 was received.

In November 1895, farewell services were held in the church for Father Mellon, who was transferred to a Philadelphia pastorate. He had built up a membership of 166 families and was able to raise $21,000.00 during his stay. Seven thousand – five hundred dollars was expended on charities; $7,000.00 was spent in the parsonage; $6,500.00 went into church improvements. The members of the Knights of St. John of which Father Mellon was a member, and a uniformed guard connected with the order, attended. The church was filled to capacity. The Ancient Hebemians attended this farewell service. Vespers were conducted by Joseph F. McConnell, assisted by Kiss Rose K. Brady. Father Mellon was presented with a purse which contained a handsome sum. Father Mellon, expressing thanks for the gift, said that he’d remember the congregation in prayer and if, possible, he could do anything to aid St. Joseph’s in the future, he would be available. At the conclusion of the service, the congregation individually shook his hand.

Father Mellon was succeeded by Father O’Reilly, former rector of a parish in Shenandoah. In January, 1897 the Rev. Father O’Reilly was transferred to the Catholic Church at Downingtown, Bucks County, his former charge. Father O’Reilly sought this change as his present charge compelled him to attend to too much work, which he was unable to do owing to his advanced years, being 65 years of age. During his short stay he had made the acquaintance of a number of residents, both Catholic and Protestant, who regretted to learn of his departure.

Father O’Reilly was succeeded by Rev. Father Berresford, of Newtown, near Philadelphia, where he had charge of St. Andrew’s parish. At the same time he served a mission at Yardley.

On April 15, 1897, the Rev. Father Berresford was found dead in his bed in the rectory. His death was caused by asphyxiation by gas. The discovery was made by Claude Brennan, the sexton of the church, who had gone to the room of Father Berresford for orders in regard to the services of the day. The sexton knocked at the door but received no answer. He knocked again and then opened the door, but as it was secured by a chain on the inside he could not open it further than three inches. Through the opening he saw the priest lying on the bed. He hurried around to a window and raising it sprang into the room. There was a strong smell of gas and on examination he found the burner half open. He informed Miss Maggie Maloney, the housekeeper, and she ran to the office of Dr. M. LeRoy Wenger, nearby. Dr. Wenger found the body still warm, but life was extinct. He thought death ensued about 1 ½ hours before the discovery.

The supposition is that death was the result of an accident. The bracket has a downward curve, and at the bottom of the curved part the stop-cock is located. Under this bracket is Father Beresford’s kneeling bench. Dr. Wenger thinks that while kneeling in prayer, just before retiring, the rector struck the stopcock, and retiring fell to sleep without discovering his peril. Or in undressing one of his garments may have struck the bracket. The deceased was never in the habit of using gas in his bedroom, but invariably lit a lamp, which rested on a bracket. The lamp was burning when his lifeless body was found.

Father Beresford held services Wednesday evening before a large audience. After the congregation was dismissed he drilled the altar boys for Thursday’s services. Subsequently he decorated the altar. He then retired to the parsonage. Here he spoke a few words to Mr. Brennan about several matters pertaining to the worship Thursday. He was the last in the house to leave for bed. Brennan thinks he retired about 11:15. During Wednesday evening he seemed to be in the best of spirits and health.

Father Bornemann and other priests called at the rectory, and Archbishop Ryan was informed of the sad event. Undertaker Felix took charge of the remains, and Coroner Griesemer was notified.

Father Berresford was about 50 years of age, and was born in County Waterford, Ireland. He has sisters and brothers living in his native country, and two nieces and a nephew residing in Philadelphia.

“Fannie,” a pet terrier dog, owned by Father Beresford, was found lying on the bed of her master, also under the influence of the gas, but afterwards revived. The animal was a great favorite and often slept in the room.

On April 18, 1897, the funeral of Rev. Father Philip Beresford took place. His remains lay in state in the church on Sunday evening and were viewed by several thousand persons. The church was decorated in black and the candelabra on the altar and the pictures of the Stations of the Cross were draped in mourning. The morning train from Philadelphia brought a large delegation of priests. At 10 o’clock the forty priests seated in the sanctuary chanted the Divine office in common. At the conclusion of the office, a solemn high mass was held at 10:30, with Rev. Joseph O’Neill, of Philadelphia, ordained in the same class as deceased, as celebrant; Rev. Joseph C. Kelly, of St. Mary’s church, Philadelphia, deacon, and Rev. Father P. F. Fogerty, of St. Vincent’s church, Philadelphia, sub-deacon. Rev. Father George Michel, of St. Paul’s church, Reading, was master of ceremonies.

At the conclusion of the mass Rt. Rev. E. F, Prendergast, of the Cathedral, Philadelphia, delivered the sermon, after which the remains were blessed by the officiating clergyman and removed to the Pennsylvania station, from where they were conveyed by the 1:45 p. m. train to Philadelphia, where interment took place in the Holy Cross cemetery.

Father Nagle, of St. Charles’ church, Philadelphia, was placed in charge of St. Joseph’s church temporarily. On May 17, 1897, Father Nagle was replaced by Rev. Father Wynn, of Catasauqua.

On June 16, 1897, Rev. James M. Flanagan, a former Ashland boy, who had been an assistant in St. Francis Xavier’s, Philadelphia, had been appointed pastor of St. Joseph’s Church by Archbishop Ryan.

Father Flanagan organized a mandolin orchestra in 1903. In 1904, he started publication of the St. Joseph’s Chronicle, a calendar of church events and activities, etc. In it were found parish regulations concerning Mass attendance, confessions, baptisms, marriages, and sick calls. It also contained news of church social functions, poetry, and articles by members of the higher clergy.

On February 4, 1905, the Rev. Father James Flanagan purchased the dwelling house and lot at 1040 North 8th, property of Dr. M. LeRoy Wenger for $8,000. Dr. Wenger was a general practitioner. The building was built in 1891. No contract work was done on it. Dr. Wenger supervised every stone laid in the foundation and every brick in the super-structure. All the bricks were of the best pressed quality. The roofing was made of peach bottom slates. Originally, there had been a stable on the rear of the lot. The dwelling would be converted into a convent.

On March, 21, 1905, Rev. James Flanagan purchased the lot at 1046 North Eighth, adjoining the Wenger property, from the owner, James H. Hafer. The property would be used to build a school.

Money to build a school was raised by holding bazaars in the Jacksonian Hall (later renamed Jackson’s Apartment House), 9th and Douglass Streets. Cake sales were also held. A board was appointed by Father Flanagan to handle the building of the school. It consisted of Mr. John Chelius, Mr. Pat McCall, and Mr. Andrew Fleming. Father Flanagan engaged Architect Leh, of South Bethlehem, to draw up the plans and specifications for the school. Mr. Leh also drew up the plans for the parochial school of St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

On June 26, 1905, contractor James O’Rourke was granted a permit for the school building. Construction of the school began shortly thereafter. The erection of the school was in charge of the following Building Committee, composed of members of the congregation: Patrick J. McCauley, Chairman; Andrew Flemming, Secretary; Rev James F. Flanagan, Treasurer; William Deysher, Joseph Miller, James O’Rourke and Charles Graul.

On March 11, 1906, the handsome parochial school building of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church was nearly completed. It was nearly paid for too, which was a source of great satisfaction to the members of the congregation.

Thus, the long wish of the pastor, Rev. James F. Flanagan, was realized. For some years he had been looking forward anxiously to the time when St. Joseph’s congregation would have its own school to educate its several hundred children, who until now, had been compelled to seek an education elsewhere. Father Flanagan had labored earnestly to gain the desired end and in this work he had the co-operation and assistance of his congregation.

On Monday, March 18, 1906, the new parochial school, completed at a cost about $22,000, was dedicated by Bishop Prendergast at 11.30 a.m. At the close of the confirmation services a procession was formed, headed by Bishop Prendergast in full pontifical attire, and followed by the Catholic clergy of the City and Father Scholly, of New York.

The altar boys, attired in their gowns, and the confirmation class brought up the rear.

Upon reaching the school building the Bishop sprinkled the walls with oil and invoked a blessing upon them.

This ceremony was performed in every room in the building and was very impressive.

One hundred and forty-eight persons were confirmed in the church. The children met in the parish library and headed by Father Flanagan marched in a procession into the church.

Mass was said by Father Flanagan, followed by the confirmation services by the Bishop. There were 54 boys, 85 girls, three men and seven women in the class.

The school building, a three-story brick structure, with dimensions of 60 by 67 feet, cost $25,000. The building contained 12 rooms. The first and second floors were devoted to school purposes. Quarters for a club were fitted up in the basement. It contained four large rooms. The rooms were nicely furnished and contained billiard and pool tables, shuffle boards, etc. The rooms made an ideal place for the young men of the congregation to spend their leisure time. A hall on the third floor accommodated a large number of people. A stage was erected later for the holding of plays, entertainment, etc.

The convent building, adjoining the school building to the front of it, was the home of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who presided over the school. The first floor housed a living room, reception room, music room, dining room, and kitchen. The second floor contained a community room for meetings, a chapel, and dormitories or cells.

On September 10, 1906, the parochial school of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church opened with an enrollment of 160 pupils. The children attended mass in the church at 8 a.m.

Below: St. Joseph’s Church, 1915.
St. Joseph's Church, 1915

On May 30, 1915, the Rev. James M. Flanagan celebrated his silver jubilee in the priesthood at a solemn high mass of thanksgiving at 9:45 o’clock Sunday morning. Father Flanagan was the celebrant with Rev. Philip J. Mullen at the altar as deacon and Rev. William J. McGarrity as subdeacon.

Although the sun was obscured by clouds and a steady rain dampened the outside world the scene within the edifice was one that will linger long in the memories of those who witnessed the impressive ceremonies, many gifts were presented to the beloved priest.

The celebration began with a precession of schoolchildren, members of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Sodality, The Holy Name Society, priests and acolytes. Had the weather been more pleasant it had been planned to hold the procession outdoors but this did not detract from the splendor of the occasion.

As the procession moved a chorus of mixed voices, augmented by an orchestra under the direction of Raymond Wenger, with Robert C. Henke at the organ, burst forth in the processional hymn “Unfold Ye Portals Everlasting.” As the marchers wended their way through the church they created a profound impression. At least 200 girls and women attired in white, a like number of men walking behind, the handsome banner of the Holy Names Society, acolytes in their cassocks, and surplices. Miss Rita Leitham with Catharine Bums and Catharine Feather as attendants, bearing a silver crown upon a tray bedecked with flowers and last the priests of the parish in the handsome and costly robes, afforded a seen that did justice to the memorial event.

Immediately after the procession a solemn high mass was sung. The choir sang several hymns. Father Mullen delivered the anniversary sermon taking for his subject, “The Priest Another Christ.” He said in part:

“The Lord hath sworn, and he will not repent: Thou are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” Ps. 110:4.

“We are assembled today, my friends, to assist at the Mass of a priest who, twenty-five years ago was ordained by his Bishop to the sacred order of the priesthood. As we follow with interest all his mystic movements, made so sacred by the tradition of the ages, and hear his utterances of the words that have come down to us unchanged, our minds go back to the upper chamber of Jerusalem – to the first ordination and the first Mass. It takes but little fancy for us to picture to ourselves the eleven Apostles gathered anxiously about their Risen Lord, almost doubting their senses that He whom they saw so lately dead on the Cross, stood living before them, gazing half afraid of what they thought to be an apparition of the One they loved, but believing indeed when His words assured them that it was He. We see them kneel and hear words of authority communicated to I them: ‘All power is given to me in heaven and on earth; going therefore teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Ghost: and whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.’ Thus they were ordained priests and given priestly power on that day over the mystical body of Christ, even as on the night before He died, in the scene still burning in their hearts, they had been given power over His real body. For there at table with them, He had taken the bread and blessed it and gave it to them to eat, saying ‘This is My I Body.’ And the wine He had blessed and gave to them, saying. ‘This is My Blood: Do this for a Commemoration of Me.’ They had done it in commemoration of Him; indeed, strong in the Holy Ghost, they went forth on His mission and ordained and authorized others to continue that work.

“In our mind’s picture we see in succession these other ordinations that followed in the ages. The candidates kneeling eagerly in the gloom of the catacombs while their Bishop says the words of authority, kneeling, listening anxiously, accepting gladly, that wondrous power when it meant martyrdom for God. And in I the first days when Constantine and the Christian emperors ruled, we see in fancy the thronged basilicas, the joyful candidates, the gorgeously robed Pontiff who breathes on the Levites as Christ breathed on the Apostles, and so gives them the Mystic power in the words of authority. And in the days when the church ruled the world, when in the great Cathedrals were anointed by the Prince Bishop, men exulting and eager to be made a part of the great ruling force before which kings and empires knelt in submission. In the penal day, and in our own day, we see young men gladly accept the eternal and never-to-be effaced mark that gives them the right to go forth and preach Christ to the pagan world and prove their preaching with their blood.

“Priest Another Christ”

“What a glorious white robed army reaching from the upper chamber of Jerusalem to these our days, and to this our parish church. A glorious army that perpetuates Christ’s work. For if the Redemption had ended with Christ, then His mission would have been absurd, and Calvary would have been but a memory, and the three years of Christ’s public life but a tale to be told from father to son. But that His mission might be perpetuated there must need be some permanent establishment in which all His powers are active and His authority conserved. For this did He ordain His Apostles, ‘As the Father hat sent me, so do I also send you.’ ‘He that heareth you, heareth me.’ For thus did they ordain and transmit the power as other Christs. Just as the sun descending in a glory of color in the western horizon lives again in the moon and the planets that shine with the sun’s reflected light and illumine the darkness, so Christ indeed returned to His Eternal Father, but lives again in the priests of His Church which exercise His power and fulfills His mission. If the priest is not another Christ, then indeed there is no reason for his existence; and if Christ’s work is to remain, every priest must perforce be another Christ, doing Christ’s work, strong in Christ’s powers.

“Every priest, therefore, must have the purity and piety of Christ, the learning and wisdom of Christ, and must be as gentle as Christ. He must, in a word, be a saint, a scholar and a gentleman. He must be as holy as Christ because of the work that is his: ‘imitamini quod tractatis – he like to what you touch. Be as pure as the Holy Body of Christ that you handle in the Mass, as the Sacraments, the divine channels of grace, that you transmit from God to man. The priest must be as learned as Christ, because he is to be teacher, counsellor, and guide for men. ‘And the Child advanced in wisdom before God and men,’ and the wise man says, ‘The lips of the priest shall guard wisdom.’ He must be learned because he must know to teach, and to teach not the discoveries of his study, nor the vagaries of his mental conceits. ‘Not as the Scribes and Pharisees, but as one having power,’ must he teach Christ and Him crucified. He must be as gentle as Christ. Christ was the most perfect gentleman, and so must the priest be. ‘A gentleman is one who never consciously gives pain,’ says Cardinal Newman; and so the priest must set forth Christ in his life of gentleness and kindness. But if there be need, then must that gentleness give place to forcefulness. Christ could forgive Magdalen with a smile, refuse to condemn the adulterous woman, and say to her. ‘Go, sin no more.’ He could lift up in loving forgiveness the repenting St. Peter who denied Him: but with the flashing eye and biting words He denounced the hypocritical Scribes and Pharisees. Thus in holiness and knowledge and gentleness must the priest have Christ live again on earth.

“If such be the high qualities requisite in a priest, then God should select His angels for this office, for they alone, pure spirits as they are, whom the knowledge of sin has never sullied, and who have been strengthened against sin in their creation, surely they are more worthy to he as Christ than sinful men. Besides Christ in His life was surrounded by the purest and the best. Born of a Virgin, His mission announced by St. John the Baptist who had been sanctified in his Mother’s womb, attended by angels in all His life, it would be but fitting that angels, and not men, should preach His Gospel. It would indeed be more fitting, but it is one of the sweet consolations of the Church that men and not angels are selected to do Christ’s work. If angels stood at the Altar, or sat in the confessional, or came to us in our last moments, who would dare approach them? Who would open his heart’s secrets stained in sin to the pure spirit of God’s angel?”

In conclusion the speaker said:

“And now, dear Father, my sermon is ended. There remains for me to extend to you the hearty congratulations of Father M’Garity and myself as well as those of this congregation who love you so well. We rejoice with you on this beautiful occasion. We do ask you, however, that when you take the pure white Host in your hands today, as you did for the first time as young priest twenty-five years ago, that you will not fail to pray for us to that Loving Lord coming down on our altar at your command. In return, we assure you that our prayer today will he for you that God may be pleased to preserve you in health and vigor for many more years to come and when death shall have summoned you to give an account of your stew-you to give an account of your stew-you have served so well may the good deeds of these five and twenty years be your pledge of assurance of ever-lasting joy with him in heaven.

At 3:30 o’clock solemn vespers were sung the pastor being the celebrant, Rev. Mr. Mullen, deacon, and Rev. Mr. McCarrity, sub-deacon.

The choir of mixed voices, augmented by Fahrbach’s Orchestra, again chanted the hymns. The services were closed with benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

Fully fifteen hundred members and friends of the parish crowded the church in the evening to tender Father Flanagan a reception during which the various societies presented; gifts of appreciation and prominent members of the congregation extended congratulations. The musical end of the program was one of the brilliant features of the reception.

The chorus, under the capable direction of Raymond Wenger, outdone themselves in the singing the hymns while the soloists richly deserved the generous applause. The program was opened with a selection by the orchestra. Stephen McDonough as chairman of the meeting delivered the introductory remarks.

He then introduced Miss Millie Wise who read an original poem written for the occasion.

The hymn “Gloria In Excelsis Deo” was sung by the chorus of mixed voices. In behalf of the Women’s Blessed Virgin Sodality, Miss Regina Felcy, presented the pastor with twenty-five white roses. She said:

“With all our hearts we ask you to accept these flowers, which I offer in the name of mv co-sodalists, as a token of our affection and regard. Flowers carry a sweetness and a remembrance. Thus we assured that our acceptances of them will be as a simple indication of the attachment which each one of us cherishes towards you. May you live many more years to watch over us, and when evening comes, and the shadows lengthen, and your day’s work is done, may our Lord find for you a safe refuge in his heavenly kingdom, there to enjoy sweet repose after a life well spent in his service.”

Lawrence Neiman, in a rich, bass voice, sang the benediction hymn, “O Salutaris Hostia,” and richly deserved the applause that followed. In behalf of the congregation William H. Keffer, superintendent of the Reading division of the P. & R-Railroad, and a boyhood friend of Father Flanagan, extended hearty felicitations to the priest. He spoke humorously of Ashland, the priest’s native town, telling of numerous incidents that happened during their boyhood days. He termed Berks County as the garden spot of the world, and said it was good enough for both his pastor and himself. He concluded by asking the members to arise to show that they were with him in extending to their pastor the esteem, love and honor that he won through constant years of preaching and work.

Following the rendition of ‘‘The Lost Chord” by the male choir, Joseph Nagle, as a representative of the Men’s Blessed Virgin Sodality, presented a purse to Father Flanagan with appropriate remarks.

The orchestra rendered a selection, after which, in behalf of the Men’s Holy Name Society, Edward J. Johnson presented to the pastor another purse of gold, in his speech Mr. Johnson credited the pastor with being the will that is back of the society, which today numbers over a hundred members. He extended the hope that another twenty-five years would be added to his career. James Ellis sang ‘‘Ave Verum.”

Miss Helen E. Gantert, on behalf of St. Catherine’s Auxiliary, Knights of St. John, delivered an address, during which she extended the congratulations of her society and presented the pastor with a handsome lace surplice.

William Riekenhach then spoke humorously on the subject, “A Would-Be Jubilarian.” He thought it funny that so much fuss should be made over a silver jubilee when it was a monthly event in the church, referring to the collections taken up for the expenses of the church. The Emporium Four sang “The Rosary.”

A solid gold chalice and paten, the gift of the congregation, was next presented to the pastor by Francis J. Whelan. The chorus then sang the hymn “Dixit Dominus,” which created a profound impression upon all and merited many congratulations upon the singers at the conclusion of the reception.

The next sneaker was Rev. William J. McGarrity, assistant pastor and a member of the same ordination class as that of Father Flanagan. He told of the honor paid by the school children at the morning service, remarking that the sight of a hundred or more scholars of the parochial school in the procession touched a tender spot in the hearts of both priests and people.

Rev. Phillip J. Mullen, whose untiring efforts helped to make the jubilee a success, was the next speaker. He heartily congratulated the pastor upon attaining the 25-vear mark in the service of the Lord. He spoke endearingly of the relationship that existed between the priests in their private lives.

Mr. Flanagan then delivered his response to the numerous congratulations. He opened his remarks with saying: “Kind friends, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. The feelings which swell up within me as I look at these handsome gifts is one of thanksgiving that my labor has not been in vain. My idea, however, of celebrating this event was far from what it has been. It was my plan to read a mass, and, with my two assistants, spend the day quietly within the parish doors; but others willed different, and I unwillingly consented. This has been one of the two happiest days of my life. The first day was the day upon which taking the chalice for the first time in my hands just 25 years’ ago, I offered up my first mass. I was a member of a class of seventeen, eleven of whom were ordained in May, the other six being held over until September owing to lack of charges to place them. Among the six to remain was my beloved assistant, Rev. William J. McGarrity. The second happy day of my life was today, when another chalice was presented to me by Mr. Whelan, and, as he earnestly hoped. I will remember everyone in my prayers as I raise this chalice, after its consecration, in the offertory of the mass.

“Forget this day never. You have touched a chord in my heart which has tightened the bond of friendship I have for you. The priesthood is not an occupation such as is given out by bosses – it is a calling that comes to men. A priest is taken from among men and not of men. The life of a priest is not a natural one – it is a spiritual one. Separated from the bonds of family ties, he is stationed in strange towns, where he must make the acquaintance of strangers, and he must spend man hours in solitude; in fact, he spends the greater part of his time alone, for he is constantly in communion with God in his prayers, which are so needful in his work. The priest is not free to go where he pleases or to select a certain haven, but must go when his bishop says go. It has pleased me, however, to be stationed in this parish for the past 17 years, and I am perfectly satisfied with my lot. It, however, has not only been my work that has brought success to this congregation, but I have been backed by stalwart and faithful men, who, when I feared to take a decisive step, said: ’Go ahead; we’ll take care of the rest.’ To the integrity of these men I must congratulate this parish upon the erection of our handsome parochial school.

“In conclusion I wish to thank you again for the hearty reception you have tendered me, and in my prayers I will make a fervent supplication for continued blessings from him from whom all blessings flow.”

With the entire audience standing, the hymn “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name,” was sung with fervor.

Among the other gifts received were: A complete set of robes, from the sisters of the House of Good Shepherd; a preaching stole and veil, Sisters of the Immaculate Heart, of Reading; surplice. Sisters of the Immaculate Heart; West Chester; silver paper cutter, Mother Gertrude, Philadelphia; silver hair brush, Sister Seraphi (formerly Miss Julia Nevin, of St. Joseph’s parish); shaving set, Mother Helen, of the House of Detention, Philadelphia, formerly of Reading; desk fixtures, Mother Bernadine, of the Provincial Order, Philadelphia; lace center piece, Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Germantown; traveling bag, Sacred Heart pictures, sick call outfit and other gifts from numerous friends.

In the afternoon the children held their reception in the school hall, with an excellent program of music and literature. Tuesday afternoon the Sisters of the House of the Good Shepherd tendered Father Flanagan a reception at the home in Glenside. The jubilee was brought to a close on Wednesday evening with a banquet at the Hotel Berkshire, under the auspices of St. Joseph’s Musical Society, composed of the choir and members of the Holy Name Orchestra.

Father Flanagan served faithfully until his death on February 2, 1918. His death was mourned by all parishioners.

On Tuesday, February 6, 1918, the funeral of Rev. James M. Flanagan, honored by parishioners and friends, was held.

From the time when the body reposed in state at 4 p.m. Tuesday, until mass was celebrated, thousands with whom he was associated in both spiritual and worldly affairs assembled at the church to once more view the remains of one they held in such high esteem and whom they will long remember. From the time the remains of the beloved father were placed upon the bier in the church, until after the mass, guards watched over the body. These guards were selected from the Knights of Columbus and the Holy Name Society of the Church.

Nearly 100 priests from all parts of the state arrived in this city during the morning to pay a last tribute to their deceased brother. The visiting priests were housed at the different parish houses, while others arrived in Reading just in time for the funeral.

Among the visiting priests were Rev. Ferton Fitzpatrick, Rev. Joseph J. Hannigan, Rev. Thomas Hanney, Rev. Frank Hamilton. Rev. John J. Rooney, Rev. Thomas McCarty, Rev. Anthony J. Zeller, Rev. Francis Wastel, Rev. John Carr, Rev. John Harkins, Rev. Eugene Kelly, Rev. Frederick Fasig, Rev. Francis Bienkowski, M. S. C. Rev. Emil Kuntz, M. S. C. Rev. Albinas Kaminski, Rev. Francis T. Meagher, Rev. Miles A. Keegan, all of Philadelphia; Rev. Patrick J. Hannigan, Mauch Chunk; Rev. A. L. Ganster, Chester; Rev. Joseph Schaeffer, St. Clair; Rev. Hugh J. Boen, Lansford; Rev. S. A. Fasig, Hamburg; Rev. A. L. Ganter, Chester, Rev. Martin Dalek, Pottstown, and Rev. James F. McCloy, Parksburg.

At 4 p.m. Tuesday, when the body was taken from the rectory to the church, 450 school children of the parish, 50 representatives from the Knights of Columbus and the Holy Name Society, formed a guard of honor from the house to the church through which the remains were carried. After the body rested in the church the burial services were conducted by local priests. Those officiating were Rev. John F. Kiernan and Rev. James F. Toner, St. Peter’s Church; Rev. A. Malusecki and Rev. B. J. Zywicki, St. Mary’s; Rev. Leo J. Letterhouse, St. Paul’s, and Rev. Charles Bornemann, Wyomissing.

In the evening at 8:30 o’clock Catholic societies, including the Holy Name Society, Knights of Columbus, Altar societies and Rosary societies, conducted services. Prayers said for the dead were in charge of the assistant rector of the church, Rev. David Kelly. At these services the edifice was filled to its capacity. Hundreds of parishioners and others went to the edifice at that time to view the remains.

The casket, in which the body rested, was placed in the center of a large stand below the altar of the church, the guards on duty at its side. The body, which faced the pews of the church, was gowned in the mass vestments and wore the baretta. The chalice, with which Father Flanagan received communion at the masses he celebrated, was placed in his hands.

The casket was of solid mahogany, copper lined, with antique silver extension bar handles, trimmings and plate bearing the name and age.

The following tributes assisted in beautifying the stand: Galax wreath, from the church; design of roses, Holy Name Society; large cross design, Knights of Columbus; galax wreath, Mrs. Helen Nolan; galax wreath, Knights of St. George; large wreath, Sodality of the Blessed Virgin; wreath, Steckler family.

Services began at 10 a. m. with the reciting of the divine office in charge of Rt. Rev. Mgr. Michael Crane, rector of St. Francis DeSales Church, Philadelphia.

Following these services a solemn high mass of requiem was celebrated. Rev. A. Malusecki, rector of St. Mary’s Church, officiated. Rev. John F. Kiernan acted as sub-deacon and Rev. William Wachter, rector of St. Aloysius Church, Pottstown, officiated as master of ceremonies. An elegant sermon, dealing with the pious life led and good works of the late Father Flanagan, was delivered by Rt. Rev. Mgr. Henry T. Drumgoole, rector of St. Charles Seminary, Overbrook, Philadelphia, of which institution deceased was a graduate. He took for the theme of his sermon, “I am come, that they may have life and may have it more abundantly; I give life everlasting.” The theme was selected from the parable of the Good Shepherd, 10th chapter of St. John.

At these services, delegates of the Knights of Columbus, Knights of St. George, Knights of St. John, Boniface Society, Holy Name Society and Catholic Literary and Social Union attended.

After the mass, a guard, in the form of a lane consisting, of members of the Knights of Columbus and Holy Name Society, was placed from the door of the church to the hearse and the body passed through this guard.

The bearers were selected from members of the parish. They were Louis M. Gantert, Edward Johnson, Stephen McDonough, John B. McDonough, Andrew J. Flemming, William H. Albright, John Chelius and Adam J. Ganter.

Sixteen cabs and three trolley cars, filled with mourners, accompanied the cortege to Gethsemane cemetery, the burial grounds, which, with the assistance of St. Paul’s Church, deceased, purchased. Interment was made there. Funeral Director Dougherty had charge.

On February 16, 1918, the Rev. George P. Degnan, pastor of St. Mary Catholic church at St. Clair, Schuylkill County, was transferred to St. Joseph’s Church, to succeed the late Rev. James F. Flanagan. Archbishop Prendergast decided upon the transfer and notified Father Degnan of his appointment. Beginning his services here at the time when the United States had become involved In the World War I, he immediately became an active and outstanding representative of the Catholic clergy and laity in the many patriotic affairs and war charities of that day. He was one of the most able orators in the diocese and gave many helpful addresses in campaigns for war drives and charities.

Father Degnan was an intimate friend of Father Flanagan and served on the altar at St. Joseph church on several occasions in the past. He was about 45 years old, and was very active. He was looked upon as one of the most eloquent priests of the diocese. He was formerly first assistant priest of St. Agnes church, Philadelphia.

In February, 1920, St. Joseph’s Parish was divided with the organization of St. Margaret’s Parish. This deprived St. Joseph’s of a considerable portion of its membership and laid a financial burden on the remaining members and on Father Degnan, but Father Degnan gave much time and energy unselfishly to the development of the new parish.

On May 2, 1924, the Rev. George P. Degnan celebrated his silver jubilee in the priesthood at a solemn high mass of thanksgiving at 10 o’clock Sunday morning. Father Degnan was the celebrant. Many of his former classmates at the seminary were present and took part in the ceremonies.

Cardinal Dougherty, through Rt. Rev. Monsignor Joseph A. Whittaker, chancellor of the diocese, sent his expressions of congratulations. Rev. James E. Dougherty, pastor of St. Barnabas’ Church, Philadelphia, was deacon at the mass; Rev. U. P. Read, pastor of the Holy Savior Church, Philadelphia, was sub-deacon; Rev. William J. Casey, pastor of the Church of the Ascension, was master of ceremonies; Bishop Nichols, of Duluth, Minn., a personal friend of the jubilarian, was present, and his chaplains were Rev. A. B. McKay, pastor of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Philadelphia, and Rev. William A. McDonnell.

In the sanctuary were many other priests, friends of the celebrant who journeyed to this city yesterday to help in the anniversary. Rt. Rev. Monsignor Whittaker, at the post communion of the mass, offered Rev. Degnan the congratulations of his eminence. Father Degnan responded briefly, thanking his eminence through the chancellor.

The children of the parochial school tendered Father Degnan a reception Saturday afternoon, at which time the students presented him with a check for $500. The rector addressed the children and thanked them for their expression of love.

A special program of music was rendered by the choir under the direction of Prof. Robert C. Henke. The church was decorated with palms and bunting. Above the sanctuary in the center was a large wreath of Callow lilies, backed by fern, in the center and appearing in large silver numerals were 25. On each side altar hung large wreaths of rosebuds, also backed with fern. The altars were a mass of spring blooms and potted plants.

Rev. Father Thomas Lanshe, assistant rector, and to whom a large part of the success for the arrangements were due, spoke at all the masses regarding the parish celebration which was held at the Berkshire Hotel, 5th and Washington Streets, Tuesday evening. Each member of the parish was invited and Rev. Degnan was the guest of honor.

On July 9, 1925, the Rev. George P. Degnan passed away at St. Joseph’s Hospital at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. Father Degnan had been in ill health for a long time, but he managed to direct the duties of his parish until a short time before he was removed to the hospital, having been admitted to the institution on June 29.

Father Degnan was known for terse but informative sermons. He was a strict disciplinarian. He succeeded in raising a great deal of funds for improvements: however, his untimely death prevented his realizing the beneficial changes that were to be brought about later.

On October 23, 1925, the Rev. Father Thomas J. Harron was appointed pastor of St. Joseph’s Church. The appointment was delayed several months because of the absence from the country of the head of the archdiocese.

Father Harron made extensive changes to the church, both externally and internally. On July 16, 1926, the contract for the work, which included a mourning chapel, enlargement of the present church and a new interior, was awarded to Daniel Hunter, Reading contractor. G. C. Freeman was the architect.

The erection of the morning chapel on the south side of the present structure, between the church and rectory, started immediately. Following completion of the chapel, the entire rear wall of the church was torn down and an addition built extending to Nicolls Street making the church 22 feet longer. A large circular stained glass window was installed in the rear of the main altar. New stained glass windows replaced the original windows. The original Stations of the Cross were also replaced.

For a brief period during the improvements, church services will be held temporarily in the school hall to the north of the church.

New floors were laid, and new pews replaced the original ones. A modern heating plant, to care for the church, school and rectory, was installed in the basement of the church, eliminating the present system in the school basement.

New confessionals, extending into the court-yard surrounding, were also added.

With those improvements completed the entire interior of the church was frescoed.

The edifice of the original church was of red brick and a modest Gothic style. The renovations transformed the edifice of the church into a striking example of Spanish architecture. The Mueller Mosaic Company of Trenton, New Jersey, installed the interior and exterior tile.

About May of 1927, the church, renovated at a cost of $80,000, was ready for occupancy again.

Below: St. Joseph’s Church, about 1927.
St. Joseph's Church, about 1927
Below: Mueller Mosaic Company Tile Work.
Mueller Mosaic Company Tile Work

In 1945 Father Harron was transferred to St. Helena’s, Philadelphia.

Father Harron was succeeded by Reverend Daniel A. Daly who paid off parish debts almost completely. He retired in January, 1953, after forty-five years of parish duties in various schools and churches. An elderly man, he had little taste or desire for any changes, but reduced the parish debt.

In January, 1953, the Reverend Joseph J. McGrenra, formerly of St. Gabriel’s, Philadelphia, succeeded the Reverend Daly. Under the rectorship of Father McGrenra, the Parish remained debt free and saw many improvements. A First Communion Book was started as a part of the Parish records in 1953. Two new Rose-stained-glass windows fashioned in glass were installed in the Choir Loft. The School and Convent were completely refloored with Michigan hard-maple, re-wired for electricity, newly plastered and painted, and new lighting and ultra-violet health lights installed every class-room. The Convent exterior was resurfaced with stucco to match the Church and Rectory.

Below: Interior of St. Joseph’s Church, about mid-1950’s – Touch or Click Images to Enlarge.

On Dec. 13, 1957, the Rev. William A. Ferry was appointed pastor. Born in Norristown, a son of the late Patrick and Mary (Shinners) Ferry, he was ordained on May 25, 1929, in Philadelphia by the late Dennis Cardinal Dougherty. He began his seminary career in St. Charles Seminary, Overbrook, after attending high school in Norristown. Immediately after his ordination, Father Ferry served at the Resurrection Church, Chester. He was the assistant pastor at the Transfiguration of Our Lord Roman Catholic Church, Philadelphia from 1937 until his appointment as pastor of St. Joseph’s Church. Father Ferry received his doctorate of canon law from the Catholic University, Washington, D.C. The Rev. William A. Ferry retired as pastor in 1966.

In November of 1966, Rev Richard J. Loeper, principal of Holy Name Catholic High School, was appointed pastor of St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church. Father Loeper, a native of Reading, was educated at St. Paul’s Grammar School, 9th and Walnut streets; Central Catholic High School; St. Charles Seminary, Overbrook; Millersville State College and Villanova University.

Ordained in the priesthood at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, Philadelphia, on May 27, 1950, Father Loeper first served as assistant pastor of St. Mary’s Church, Phoenixville, and later served as a professor at Allentown Central Catholic High School.

Father Loeper was appointed principal of Pius X High School Roseta in 1958. When the Diocese of Allentown was established in 1961, Father Loeper was named secretary to the diocesan building committee. He was appointed the first principal of the new Holy Name High School which was opened in 1964. Father Loeper had resided at SS. Cyril and Methodius Church, 6th and Laurel streets, during his appointment as principal.

On Sunday, May 18, 1975, Father Loeper celebrated his 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. Msgr. Loeper was the celebrant of a solemn Mass of Thanksgiving in the parish church at noon. The choir, under the direction of Anna Sullivan, presented a special program for Pentecost Sunday and his silver jubilee. Representatives of all parish organizations hosted a testimonial dinner to honor the Monsignor. The dinner was held in St. Catharine’s School Hall, Mount Penn, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. In lieu of personal gifts, parishioners contributed to a scholarship fund for needy students. The fund was entrusted to Msgr. Loeper at the dinner. Entertainment was provided by Leo Brailer and pupils of Central Catholic High School.

On July 22, 1977, Msgr. Loeper was named pastor of Holy Guardian Angels Church, Hyde Park. He was replaced by the Rev. Thomas L. Edwards, pastor of Mary Queen of Peace Church, Pottsville, since 1970. Born in New Philadelphia, May 13, 1929, Father Edwards attended Holy Family Parish School there and Pottsville Catholic High School. He studied for the priesthood at St. Charles Seminary and was ordained in 1958. He served as assistant pastor at St Joseph’s Church, Reading, 1958-63; St. Patrick’s Church, Pottsville, 1963-67; and St. John Baptist de la Salle Church, Shillington, 1967-70.

On September 8, 1990, Bishop Thomas J. Welsh, then the Bishop of Allentown, blessed and dedicated a new $2 million banquet hall and gymnasium. More than 300 people attended a banquet in the new hall, known as the Cloister at St. Joseph’s. Mayor Warren H. Haggerty Jr. served as toastmaster.

On July 25, 1995, Father Edwards became pastor emeritus and was replaced by the Rev. David C. Gillis, formerly at Ashland. Gillis, 41, a native of Girardville, Schuylkill County, graduated from Cardinal Brennan High School, Fountain Springs. He studied for the priesthood at Pius X Seminary, Dalton, and Mary Immaculate, Northampton. He was ordained in 1979. Gillis spent a year as assistant pastor at St. Bernard, Easton, and then began an education career as teacher at Allentown Central Catholic and Roseto Pius X high schools, vice principal at Allentown Central and principal at Cardinal Brennan. He became pastor of St. Mauritius, Ashland, in 1990, and added the pastorate of St. Joseph, the other Ashland Catholic church, in 1993.

In June, 1996, the Rev. David C. Gillis was replaced by the Rev. Thomas D. Baddick, who had been an assistant at Notre Dame, Bethlehem, and a former St. Joseph assistant and Central Catholic professor. Father Baddick, a native of Tamaqua and a Marian High School graduate, graduated from the seminaries of St. Charles Borromeo and Mary Immaculate. He was an assistant at St. Joseph from 1984 to 1988, a Central Catholic professor from 1984 to 1993, and a Catholic campus minister at Albright College from 1988 to 1993.

In January, 1999, the Rev. Richard H. Clement, former assistant pastor of St. Catharine of Siena Roman Catholic Church, Exeter Township, was appointed pastor of St Joseph’s. Rev. Thomas D. Baddick was appointed pastor of Holy Trinity, Whitehall, Lehigh County. Father Clement, a native of Philadelphia, was raised in Lansdowne. He attended Monsignor Bonner High School, Drexel Hill, and studied at St. Charles Borromeo, Brisson and Mary Immaculate seminaries. He was ordained in Allentown in 1985.

In June 1999, Bishop Edward P. Cullen established the Office of Hispanic Affairs to provide interaction with other offices to assure that services are available throughout the diocese and serve as a liaison and catalyst for the Hispanic Community. The office also assists parishes directly in the diocesan-wide mission to serve all Hispanic Catholics within its boundaries in whatever way possible.

At present there are ten parishes in the Diocese of Allentown where priests, deacons, women religious and lay faithful are actively involved in the sacramental and pastoral ministry of welcoming immigrants and serving well established citizens in their native language.

For years, many of the faithful have been evangelizing fellow Hispanics through solid Catholic Lay Movements such as Cursillo de Cristiandad, Encuentro Matrimonial, Renovacion Carasmatica, and Juan XXIII. As of January of 2012, the Diocese’s official Marriage Preparation program is being offered diocesan wide in Spanish as it is in English.

In September, 1999, with St. Joseph School in need of renovation, Fr. Clement organized a school study committee. The Rev. Dennis T. Hartgen, pastor of HGA, and Philip Fromuth – then HGA principal – along with several parish representatives, met with the St. Joseph School Study Committee in October 1999 to suggest a regional Catholic elementary school for both parishes. At a meeting January 9, 2000 the parish community received the study committee’s recommendation. The St. Joseph study committee recommended accepting the HGA proposal. The groundbreaking for the regional school, located behind Holy Guardian Angels Church on Kutztown Road, was held in 2000 and the building was completed in 2001.

On June 24, 2001, ninety-five years of history at St. Joseph’s School was celebrated at a closing Mass for the school, for which alumni and past members of the faculty and staff joined the school community in a celebration of faith and education.

St. Joseph's School, 2001

“What a blessing St. Joseph School has been to Reading all these years,” offered Sr. Cecelia DiDonato, I.H.M., principal of St. Joseph School.

“The Lord has blessed me and our community to be allowed to share in the treasure that is St. Joseph,” Sr. Cecelia said, reflecting that the IHM’s (Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary) have served the school since its inception.

The Rev. Richard H. Clement was main celebrant of the afternoon liturgy at the parish. Rev. Thomas D. Baddick, former pastor, was concelebrant and the homilist of the Mass, which was followed by a reception at the Cloister at St. Joseph.

Presenting the gifts at the Mass were former Principal Sr. Judith Kriepe, I.H.M, and school secretary Linda Vicari.

Many IHM sisters attended the Mass as representatives of their community, including Sr. Maryann Nyzio, I.H.M., who thanked the St. Joseph family for letting the IHM’s be a part of their lives for all these years. Those attending, included sisters who had served the school, as well as former students who have pursued vocations as woman religious. Catherine Divine, a 1928 graduate of the school, was also able to join in the celebration.

“On behalf of Sr. Rosemarie DeCarlo, I.H.M., Sr. Maryann Nyzio, I.H.M., and all our sisters who have labored in love at St. Joseph’s School, I thank God and you for allowing St. Joseph School to be a very special part of our lives in giving service to the church,” Sr. Cecelia shared with those gathered. “Little did Mother Mary Leonard and the first sisters realize in September of 1906 that little St. Joseph’s would steal our hearts away.”

Sr. Cecelia also voiced gratitude to the late Dr. M. LeRoy Wenger who gave all – even his home – to spread Jesus’ message. Fr. Clement expressed profuse thanks and admiration to the IHMs who had served the school with steadfast dedication and love, especially Sr. Cecelia, who had suggested that the liturgy for the feast of John the Baptist’s birthday would be very appropriate.

“Who more than John the Baptist symbolizes transition, the closing of one era and the beginning of another?” Fr. Clement mused, adding that John the Baptist also epitomizes the spirit that is the IHMs, “women who take seriously their baptismal role in spreading the Kingdom of God and heralding his Good News by molding and fashioning the minds of what will be the future of our church.”

Fr. Baddick recounted the wonderful story of “Camelot” and how it would always remain because King Arthur’s story is told again and again, just as the story of St. Joseph School will be retold through the lives of the past and present school family.

Fr. Baddick recounted that the courage and hard work of St. Joseph’s second pastor, the Rev. James Flanagan, as well as five IHMs and parishioners, enabled the building of St. Joseph School – “our own Camelot.” “So began a 95-year love story, inviting thousands of children and their families to know, love and serve Christ and the church!” Fr. Baddick enthused:

“Each evening from December to December, before you drift to sleep upon your cot, think back on all the tales that you remember of Camelot. Ask every person if he’s heard the story, and tell it strong and clear if he has not. That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory, Called Camelot.”

“Camelot was not just a place – the victory of Arthur is that the story of Camelot lives! The truths and ideals of Camelot will live on in real people,” Fr. Baddick said. In turn, “St. Joseph School is not just a place, not just a building – it is people with faith, hope and love, energy, courage and a great sense of humor. It is our mission … to keep on telling the story of Jesus far and wide, clear and strong … reminding those who know it, and proclaiming it afresh to those who have never heard it.”

In August, 2001, St. Joseph students joined students of Holy Guardian Angels School at the newly constructed Holy Guardian Angels (HGA) Regional School.

In 2005, the Rev. James M. Torpey was appointed pastor at St. Joseph Church. Father Jim Torpey was born in Pottsville in 1955. He was educated at St. Patrick Elementary School and Nativity BVM High School in Pottsville. He prepared for the priesthood at St. Pius X Seminary, Dalton, PA; Mary Immaculate Seminary, Northampton, PA; and Mount Saint Mary Seminary, Emmitsburg, MD.

Most Reverend Thomas J. Welsh, then the Bishop of Allentown, ordained Father Torpey at the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena in Allentown on May 14, 1983.The new priest’s first assignments were as assistant pastor at Our Lady Help of Christians Church, Allentown and then at St. Jane Frances de Chantal Church in Wilson. From 1986-1989 he was Secretary to Bishop Welsh and Diocesan Director of Vocations. He was Diocesan Master of Ceremonies from 1986-1996. He was in residence at St. Elizabeth Church, Whitehall from 1989-1996. Father Jim was appointed to his first pastorate at St. Joseph and St. Stanislaus Churches in Summit Hill in 1996.

In 2006, the Rev. Luis A. Bonilla Margarito was appointed pastor of St. Joseph Church. Father Bonilla was ordained in 2000. He served at St. Joseph the Worker Church Orefield; St. Peter Church, Reading; and St. Ann Church, Emmaus before his appointment as pastor at St. Joseph’s. In 2008, Father Bonilla was appointed Chaplain of Central Catholic High School.

In 2009, the Rev. George R. Winne was appointed pastor of St. Joseph’s and Chaplain at Reading Central Catholic High School. Fr. George Winne, a native of Reading, attended St. Catharine of Siena Elementary School and Reading Central Catholic High School. While attending St. Pius X Seminary in Dalton, PA, he earned a BA in Philosophy and Spanish from the University of Scranton. He continued his seminary formation at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD, where he earned a M.A. an M.Div. in Theology in 1983.

Father Winne was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Allentown on May 14, 1983, by Bishop Thomas J. Welsh. He served as an Assistant Pastor at St. Peter’s, Reading, for 7 years, and St. Anne’s, Bethlehem for 4 years. He was Director of Spiritual Activities and Theology teacher at Allentown Central Catholic High School for 5, and then served as Director of the Diocesan Office of Hispanic Affairs for 4 years. He then became Director of Spiritual Activities and Theology teacher at Marian Catholic High School, Tamaqua, with residence in All Saints Parish, McAdoo. While at Marian, he celebrated Mass each Sunday in Spanish at Annunciation BVM, Shenandoah.

In June, 2014 the Rev. Msgr. John J. Grabish was appointed pastor of St. Joseph’s Church and St. Paul’s Church. Before his appointment as pastor at St. Joseph’s he was pastor of Sacred Heart in Allentown.

Father Grabish was raised in the coal region town of St. Clair, a small “patch” neighborhood known as “Arnott’s Division.” Although his family was Catholic, he attended public grade schools in St. Clair. He attended Nativity B.V.M. High School, Pottsville (9th to 11th grades), and studied at St. Charles Seminary, Overbrook. He served his deacon internship at Kennedy House, Reading. Father Grabish, who is fluent in Spanish, was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Joseph McShea, then the Bishop of Allentown, on Saturday, March 18, at 10 a.m. in the Cathedral of St Catherine of Siena, 18th and Turner streets, Allentown.

In 2016, St. Joseph’s Parish celebrated its 125th Anniversary.

Below: Image Gallery – St. Joseph’s Church – Touch or Click Images to Enlarge.

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